Imagine being prosecuted by your own country and stripped of your position of authority; imagine you are thrown off your fame and worldwide recognition and the only crime you are accused of committing was helping victims of past atrocities, to prosecute their offenders and those accused of mass killing during a dictatorial rule. That is exactly what happened to prominent Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon.
Judge Garzon was initially suspended in May 2010 by a judicial board after he lost an appeal asking the Spanish Supreme Court to dismiss his indictment; Garzon was charged for intentionally violating his jurisdiction by beginning an investigation in October of 2008 into the execution and disappearance of over 100,000 civilians declared missing during the Spanish Civil War; the killings occurred at the hands of supporters of then Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
Before the investigation by Garzon, there had been no inquiry into the mass killings because Spain’s Parliament in 1977 granted an amnesty to end all official inquiries into the atrocities as a result of a reconciliation agreement entered into two years after the death of Francisco Franco. The Spanish government had decided at the time to move forward by healing old wounds of Franco’s rule and it was in the nation’s interest to close the books on all inquiries.
Judge Garzon decided to reopen all investigations into the atrocities of war, he claimed the crimes committed were crimes against humanity which a case body of international law says should have no statute of limitation and therefore, should not be covered by amnesty. Garzon took the case to the European Court which sparked outrage and criticism from the Spanish government and the far right political group “Manos Limpias” or clean hands.
In January 2012 Judge Garzon was put on trial and brought before the Spanish Supreme Court for revisiting Spain’s dark history by trying to investigate crimes committed during the civil war. Spain’s Chief Prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza challenged Garzon’s investigation as a violation of the amnesty law of 1977 even though, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has urged Spain to repeal the law because it will make it difficult to prosecute those who commit crimes against humanity.
In February 2012, a separate trial began over whether Judge Garzon had misused his authority by ordering eavesdropping as part of a corruption investigation. The case followed his indictment for opening investigation into the atrocities of war but those in support of Garzon’s actions to prosecute war crimes believe the latest charge was an attempt by the far right to prosecute and punish the Judge for defying Spanish authority by investigating war crimes.
On Thursday February 9, 2012 Judge Garzon was finally convicted for ordering illegal wiretapping in the corruption case; he has now been suspended from the courts and his position for 11 years. The decision of Spain’s Supreme Court to bar Judge Garzon from the judiciary to which he has dedicated his entire life is generating criticism of the Spanish authority all over Europe, for targeting an independent Judge who has acted to protect human rights.
The 7-0 ruling that led to the sanction of Judge Garzon came as a result of a 2008 corruption case in which the Judge ordered wiretaps to secretly monitor the conversations between lawyers and their clients. Garzon argued the wiretaps were necessary to ensure the defendants would not transfer money from their corrupt dealings while held in jail and while the investigation was ongoing. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled against Judge Garzon on the principle that his wiretap orders contravened defense rights and damaged such right to confidentiality.
Although Judge Garzon’s actions are known to be controversial, his investigations have helped worldwide and are seen as inspirations for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has been instrumental in the global fight against impunity, his actions helped bring General Pinochet to justice and his global campaigns for justice had a chilling effect on the prosecution of war crimes in Rwanda.
Now that Judge Garzon has been disbarred, it is likely human rights organizations and victims of war crimes in Spain would appeal his case to the European Court. Irrespective of the outcome, the Spanish narrative shows how far a nation can go to protect its own law and authority when the offender, has only acted in the defense of human rights and justice for the atrocities of war.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations and the United Nations. Follow on Twitter @san0670.
Categories: Foreign Affairs