Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón today was barred for 11 years after being found guilty with no appeal for using illegal wire taps during a case involving the ruling Partido Popular.
Garzón gained international recognition when he used Spain’s doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which permits prosecution within the country of crimes committed elsewhere, to bring an inquiry against the Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet in 1998 for human rights violations.
During his time as a magistrate in Spain’s criminal court Juzgado Central de Instrucción No. 5 he also brought cases against terrorist groups and attempted to indict members of the Bush administration for justifying torture.
In 2008, Garzón broke nation-wide silence and opened an inquiry into the atrocities that took place in his own backyard: the crimes against humanity committed by the Nationalist government during and after the Spanish civil war.
Garzón’s actions were highly controversial because of an Amnesty set in 1977, two years after dictator Francisco Franco died, barring any investigations into criminal offenses before 1976.
Considering the current amount of crimes against humanity trials (Ratko Mladic, Khmer Rouge) and the UN’s condemnation of the ongoing atrocities in Syria, it is appalling that Spain refuses to recognize the killing that occurred for 30 years under Franco’s rule.
I have no doubt that the ruling today and Garzón’s efforts to bring to light the massacre in Spain are directly related. Franco lost power only when he died. There was no coup, no popular uprising and his influence on modern Spanish politics is still felt. Many politicians in the ruling Partido Popular were appointed by Franco. A YouTube channel dedicated to Franco shows that not only is Franco still revered by many people in Spain, but there is a collective sweeping under the rug of the violence and killing that occurred during his rule.
Unlike many other countries that have been ripped apart by civil war and dictators, Spain has risen to become a wholly European country. It has developed by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years in terms of human rights, healthcare and renewable energy, not to mention the world class cuisine and top-level athletes the country produces.
Garzón’s work for human rights under the universal jurisdiction now seems sadly hypocritical in light of the current trials. Perhaps it won’t all be in vain considering the reaction to the verdict on the wiretapping case in Madrid. What is left to be seen is the verdict on Garzón’s investigation into crimes carried out under Franco’s dictatorship but it’s about time the Spanish government held itself to the same standards as it does the rest of the world.