A series of independent United Nations human rights experts today voiced concern about the impact of the trial of a prominent Spanish judge on his independence, particularly his efforts to investigate more than 100,000 allegations of enforced disappearances during the country’s civil war and then under the regime of Francisco Franco.
Judge Baltasar Garzón is currently on trial in Spain, charged with “knowingly exceeding his jurisdiction” by admitting and investigating complaints related to crimes against humanity regarding allegations of enforced disappearances between 1936 and 1951.
These cases are allegedly inadmissible because of a Spanish amnesty law introduced after General Franco’s death and the expiration of the statute of limitations, and last week the country’s Supreme Court rejected a prosecution request to dismiss the case against Judge Garzón.
In a joint statement, Gabriela Knaul, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and the five-member UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, said it was “regrettable that Judge Garzón could be punished for opening an investigation which is in line with Spain’s obligations to investigate human rights violations in accordance with international law principles.”
Ms. Knaul noted in the statement that “supposed errors in judicial decisions should not be a reason for the removal of a judge and, even less, for a criminal proceeding to be launched,” adding that “autonomy in the interpretation of the law is a fundamental element in the role of a judge and for progress in human rights.”
The Working Group, for its part, underlined that enforced disappearance is a continuing offence and human rights violation as long as the fate or whereabouts of the victim remain unclarified.
“Reconciliation between the State and the victims of enforced disappearances cannot happen without the clarification of each individual case, and an amnesty law should not allow an end to a State’s obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for disappearances.”
The Working Group, set up in 1980 to help families determine the fate or whereabouts of disappeared relatives, is currently comprised of Jeremy Sarkin (Chair-Rapporteur), Olivier de Frouville (Vice-Chair), Ariel Dulitzky, Jasminka Dzumhur, and Osman El-Hajjé.