UN concerned over prosecution of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Feb. 10 expressed its concern over the trial of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, which involves his investigations of acts that occurred during the Spanish Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville indicated that judges should not be criminally charged for investigations performed within the scope of their judicial duties. Colville stated, “judges should not be subject to criminal prosecution for doing their job…Spain is obliged under international law to investigate past serious human rights violations, including those committed during the Franco regime, and to prosecute and punish those responsible.”

Garzon is on trial on charges of exceeding his jurisdiction by investigating complaints he received that would constitute crimes against humanity occurring under the rule of Franco between 1936 and 1951. The investigations and rulings by Garzon are argued to be illegal because of an amnesty law that bars prosecution for claims of human rights violations during the Franco regime (passed in 1977, two years after Franco died in power). Colville reminded Spain of a OHCHR recommendation given in 2009 to reform the amnesty law, arguing that it is not in accordance with international human rights law.

Last month, Garzon took the stand to defend his actions in ordering the probe into crimes committed under Franco. Garzon denied that his investigation was politically motivated, and stated that he was seeking justice for the victims of Franco-era crimes. Last March, Garzon filed a petition with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), challenging the 2010 abuse of power charges. In May, he was suspended as investigating magistrate at Madrid’s national court pending the outcome of the case.

Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Garzon was also convicted by the Spanish Supreme Court last week on charges of approving illegal wire taps, and was given an 11-year suspension from the judiciary. (The case concerned eavesdropping on calls between attorneys and detained suspects in the “Gürtel” corruption scandal involving the right-wing Popular Party.) He is still awaiting a third trial on bribery charges over money he received for seminars conducted in the US. (AP reports that on Feb. 12, some 10,000 rallied in Garzon’s support outside the Supreme Court in Madrid, chanting, ““Garzon, friend, Spain is with you.”)

From Jurist, Feb. 10. Used with permission.

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