On Friday, 14 May 2010, Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary in an emergency session decided to suspend National Court investigating judge Baltasar Garzón pending his trial for knowingly exceeding his jurisdiction by initiating an investigation into the crimes committed during the country’s civil war and the Franco regime, despite an existing amnesty law.
Garzón is widely known for investigating, among others, human rights abuses by Latin American military regimes, like the high-profile case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other cases against officials in Argentina and Guatemala, on the basis of the universal jurisdiction provisions in Spain’s criminal law. In these cases the Spanish courts denied the application of the amnesty laws of the countries where the abuses had taken place.
Earlier last week Supreme Court judge Luciano Varela rejected an appeal by Garzón, allowing the trial to go ahead. No final trial date has yet been set. In addition, Garzón is also involved in two other cases, facing charges of alleged bribery and illegal wiretapping.
The indictment charges Garzón with ‘prevaricación’ (i.e. deliberately wrongful decisions) for opening an investigation in 2008 into the disappearance of many thousands of people during the 1936-1939 civil war and General Franco's ensuing dictatorship and ordering exhumation of a number of mass graves in Spain. The case against Garzón was brought by several extreme-right groups who claimed that his investigation ignored a 1977 law granting amnesty to all involved in political crimes committed during the civil war and under Franco's rule.
Garzon has argued that the disappearances constituted crimes against humanity and were therefore not covered by the amnesty. Human rights groups and others claim that Garzon’s decision not to apply the 1977 amnesty law is supported by international law, which imposes on states a duty to investigate crimes against humanity.
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) warned that the prosecution of Garzón will have a chilling effect on both Spanish and international efforts to promote accountability for international crimes.
See also the new blog on international criminal law and universal jurisdiction at http://justiceupdated.com/?s=Garzon.
For a discussion on the legality of amnesties in relation to human rights abuses, see http://opiniojuris.org/2010/04/09/more-on-the-upcoming-garzon-trial-are-amnesties-illegal/.