Saturday, May 22, 2010

Spain / Spanish Civil War / Universal Jurisdiction

Crusading Spain Judge Garzon Himself a Defendant
By Henry Chu
The Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2010
Photo: "People holding pictures of victims of the Franco regime take part in a demonstration in support of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon in Madrid on Thursday." (Pedro Armestre, AFP/Getty Images)
"Is it a horrible irony or poetic justice? For years, Baltasar Garzon has been Spain's most controversial crusader, a judge on a mission to fight whatever he thinks is an abuse of power wherever he sees it happening. He has used his courtroom here in Madrid to investigate allegations of torture at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to indict Osama bin Laden and, most famously, to go after former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Garzon, 54, is due in court again soon for yet another trial involving an alleged abuse of power. This time, though, he's the defendant. In a case that has divided the nation, Garzon is to be tried before Spain's highest court on charges that he deliberately overstepped his authority by opening an investigation of atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War, the blood-soaked conflict that propelled Gen. Francisco Franco to power in the 1930s.
The Spanish legal system gives national criminal magistrates such as Garzon wide latitude not just to adjudicate cases but to initiate investigations if they see fit. Garzon has used that platform to embrace the concept of 'universal jurisdiction,' which holds that certain crimes against humanity, such as torture and genocide, aren't limited by geography when it comes to pressing charges in a court of law. The complaint against him in the Franco-era case was filed by right-wing groups who accuse Garzon of flouting an official amnesty covering deaths and disappearances during the long-ago civil war. Equally vociferous are Garzon's supporters, who have mounted protests in his behalf that have attracted thousands of people, including such well-known figures as filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Now Garzon's fate lies in the hands of a court led by a justice who also happens to be one of his critics. If Garzon is found guilty and receives the customary sentence of 20 years' suspension from the bench, his judicial career would in effect be over. One of his lawyers worries that it already is. This month, the high court decided that there was enough evidence for the case to be brought to trial and ordered Garzon suspended in the interim. In a country with an unemployment rate of 20%, he was suddenly its most famous man out of a job. [...]"

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