I’ve been away from blogging for a while. I’ve not lost interest but I do feel like it’s never the right time, or I never have the right time, to express myself properly. This post, being written on Tuesday night, should appear on the site at 1000 Wednesday, in association with other blog posts defending Spanish judge Balatasar Garzón who is about to face prosecution for knowingly undertaking investigations outside of his jurisdiction.
I’ll start off with two frank admissions. Firstly, I’m no legal expert. Like many others, I do my best to understand and follow the intricacies of various aspects of law connected with my work and with subjects that interest me. This case obviously falls into the latter category. Secondly, I wouldn’t call myself Garzón’s number one fan. The man strikes me as something of a pompous ass so I’m not writing to try to defend his character. That’s OK, though, because a question of law shouldn’t be framed as a question of debating a man’s politics or hairstyle.
Baltasar Garzón is a prosecuting judge in Spain’s top criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional. He’s world famous for his – sometimes successful – attempts to bring dictators and agents of dictatorship to justice for their crimes against humanity. I first heard about him when his court issued an arrest warrant for General Pinochet, leading to that man’s arrest in England. Pinochet was later released because of ‘medical conditions’ he later seemed to recover from. Margaret Thatcher made a big show of having him over for tea, proving a disdain for democracy and decency some had only guessed at.
Garzón also investigated multiple cases in Spain, including the PSOE government’s GAL ‘contra’ group in the ’80s and corruption in the huge BBVA bank.
More recently, Garzón turned his attention to the various crimes committed by Spain’s fascists during the civil war and the dictatorship that followed. He announced that he considered the ‘disappearance’ of well over 100,000 republicans to be officially crimes against humanity. It is this legal position that has resulted in Garzón being indicted for exceeding his jurisdiction. The events he wanted to investigate are covered by a 1977 act of amnesty, a legal instrument that was enacted as Spain took its first steps towards democracy – under the constant threat of yet another fascist coup.
It is important to note here that this is not a case brought by the judiciary itself, or by the police. Rather, it is more like an English private prosecution, brought by the far-right wing ‘trade union’ Manos Limpias – essentially a fascist defence group which has attempted such action against Garzón around twenty times before (according to Wikipedia).
The reason I support Garzón in this case is simple: I don’t accept that the 1977 amnesty should be legally binding for crimes against humanity or genocide. I don’t accept that it should apply to any crimes, especially not after the end of the Spanish civil war. My understanding is that there is a significant opinion in Spain’s legal community that international law can – and must – supercede local laws when dealing with what are considered to be international crimes. This is what has happened in other countries: it would be madness to allow anything else to happen.
It is my belief that the charges levied at Garzón in this and in two other lawsuits are entirely politically motivated. I don’t think that Garzón is a saint, or that he’s incapable of doing wrong. I do, however, fear for Spain’s democratic future if this right-wing attack on justice is allowed to succeed. Spain’s history needs to be investigated and until another judge comes along who has the courage to do it, Garzón is our only hope.