Eminent Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon has complied with a public prosecutors' demand that an investigation regarding the disappearances of thousands of people during General Francisco Franco's dictatorship be handled by regional courts.
In a verbal statement made public today, Judge Baltazar Garzon has stood down as the head of inquiries into disappearances under Franco's regime. The about-turn on his October 16 stance illustrates once again Spain's difficulties with facing up to its own past.
Judge Baltazar Garzon will have drafted and signed this verbal statement with a heavy heart. In the 150-page document, he relinquishes control of the ongoing inquiry over disappearances under Franco into the hands of the local courts governing the areas where the communal graves he'd ordered to be dug up are located. He states that the High Court, which he serves, has "lost its jurisdiction" in this case. He also affirms that the case against the deceased dictator Francisco Franco and 44 other members of his regime has expired.
The judge has bowed to an appeal by the Public Prosecutor's Office, which does not consider the case relevant because of the 1977 Law of Silence. Under this Law, inquiries into crimes committed during the Francoist regime were deemed invalid through lapse of time. Garzon's latest move pre-empts the High Court judges' official opinion.
The Judge's decision is a setback for the victims' families, whose aim is to retrieve the remains of their loved ones via legal channels. "We will be studying Judge Garzon's statement in detail over the next few days, and analysing the routes left open to us. But it's bad news. We're up against social and political issues," laments Fernando Magan, a lawyer for ARMH (Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory). More specifically, those close to the victims attribute this development to media and political pressure from the sector of Spanish society that refuses to "re-open the wounds of the past", as conservative Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy put it.
The disappointment of the families of the victims
"I'm unemployed, the crisis affects us too," says Julian Casanova ironically. A historian specialising in the Franco era, he's one of the experts appointed by Garzon to the inquiry committee. This researcher says that handing power back to local authorities means that "each request by victims' families is at the mercy of the local judge's goodwill." For now, the opening-up of mass graves has been stopped, and left in the hands of local jurisdictions - the High Court has blocked exhumation orders issued by Garzon.
Since the year 2000, the ARMH has been carrying out exhumations under its own steam. The association has brought the issue into the public arena, and Julian Casanova says that the recovery of historic memory "can't be stopped. Under the Historic Memory Law that was passed last year, the State has at least the theoretical powers to act. The problem is that the Law has never been applied!" he insists. "Now it's up to the Justice Ministry to open an inquiry via the historians' committee set up by Garzon, to look into the victims' cases."
The association reckons there are 400 mass graves which should be dug up, and it says there's no reason why it shouldn't take its case to the European and international courts now.
Date created : 2008-11-18