Charges against Spanish investigative judge must be dropped

Amnesty International has strongly condemned the ‘outrageous’ charges brought against a leading investigative judge who is due to appear before the Supreme Court in May on charges of abusing his power.   Baltasar Garzón will appear before the country’s Supreme Court next month accused of breaking a 1977 Amnesty Law by launching Spain’s first-ever investigation into crimes committed during the Franco era. “This is outrageous. As a matter of principle, Amnesty International does not take a position on the merits of the specific charges made against a person under investigation by a court, but in this case – where investigative Judge Baltasar Garzón is being brought to justice for investigating past human rights violations – the organization cannot remain silent,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director of Amnesty International. “Whether the investigation by Judge Garzón violated Spanish national law or not is simply irrelevant as the law itself violates international law. Investigating past human rights violations and setting aside an amnesty law for crimes under international law, such as enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions and torture, should never be treated as a criminal act.” Judge Garzón, a high court judge who investigated abuses committed under Latin American military governments and abuses committed at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, announced in October 2008 that he would investigate the forced disappearance of more than 114,000 people between 1936 and 1951. Under Spain’s 1977 Amnesty Law, members of the Francisco Franco government cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Spanish civil war or the subsequent Franco government which ruled the country between 1939 and1975. However, Judge Garzón, who now faces being disbarred for 20 years, argued that amnesty laws do not apply to crimes against humanity under international law, a position which Amnesty International supports. The UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture recently warned that Spain should repeal the amnesty law. They reiterated to Spanish authorities that enforced disappearances and torture are not subject to amnesty and that statutes of limitations do not apply to such crimes. “The 1977 Amnesty Law barring prosecutions of crimes under international law violates Spain’s obligations under international law and it is a duty of the Judiciary, sooner or later, to state that such a piece of legislation is simply null and void,” said Widney Brown. Amnesty International urges Spanish authorities instead to concentrate on finding justice for the relatives of the estimated 114, 266 people who disappeared at the hands of the Franco government. “Instead of a criminal complaint against Judge Baltasar Garzón for investigating crimes under international law committed in the past, Spain should, irrespective of the date of their commission, bring perpetrators to justice. They should take all measures to disclose the truth about the thousands of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture committed during the Francisco Franco era and provide full reparations to the victims and their families. “Any attempt to prosecute a judge for an independent and impartial exercise of his jurisdiction or to challenge the legality of an amnesty law is not in accordance with Spain’s obligations under international law and should be reversed,” concluded Widney Brown.