UPDATE: Spain’s Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) convicted Judge Baltasar Garzón of abuse of authority (prevaricación) in the “Gürtel” case last Thursday in connection with wiretapping ordered during a corruption investigation involving the current ruling party of Spain.  The sentence subjects Garzón to an 11-year ban from the judicial bench. Following the court’s pronouncement, a poll commissioned by leading Spanish daily El País showed a whopping 61% of the Spanish public thought Garzón was being subjected to persecution (“[e]sta siendo objeto de una persecución”), compared with only 36% who felt there were legitimate bases upon which to judge him (“[h]abia motivos suficientes para juzgarle”).

Yesterday, some 2000 protestors gathered in front of the Tribunal Supremo chanting “Shame! Justice!”  Garzón’s legal team raised the possibility of bringing a case before the European Court of Human Rights in light of the Gürtel ruling.

Under Spanish law, Garzón has no right to appeal the Gürtel decision, except on limited constitutional grounds in an amparo filing.  Spain’s failure to provide for a regular appeals process in certain criminal cases has previously been found to be a violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (see paragraph 47 of General Comment 32 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee).

Today, the Tribunal Supremo dismissed the remaining charges against Garzón in a separate case involving bribery allegations.  The court has yet to rule on the most notorious case of the bunch, in which Garzón is being prosecuted for investigating Franco-era human rights violations.  The same poll commissioned by El País showed 77% of the Spanish public felt Garzón’s investigation of crimes by Franco agents “could not be considered a crime,” (“no puede ser considerado un delito”) contrasted with only 18% who thought Garzón should be convicted in that case as well.


Feb. 8, 2012

Pending for Spanish Judge Prosecuted for Investigating Franco-Era Atrocities

As the Spanish Supreme Court ponders whether to rule against Judge Baltasar Garzón—on trial for, among other things, investigating Franco-era abusers who escaped accountability—we take this opportunity to re-post Judge Garzón’s lecture at Harvard Law School last year on the subject of universal jurisdiction.

A man wearing a suit gestures in front of a podium.
Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón gives a lecture on universal jurisdiction at an HRP event last fall.

“This is a man of courage,” said Dean Martha Minow, upon introducing Garzón at the standing room only Human Rights Program event on September 26, 2011.  Indeed, Garzón has made a career out of staring down fierce opposition in order to investigate some of the world’s most notorious abuses, from state-sanctioned murder in Argentina under the military junta to state-sanctioned torture in the United States Guantánamo Bay detention center. He is perhaps most famous for issuing the extradition request that triggered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998.  It was a watershed moment in the international push for greater accountability for human rights violations.

Garzón did not shy away from controversies in Spain either, leading criminal investigations on such issues as the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) separatist group and political corruption.  But his 2008 criminal investigation into enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions under the rule of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco y Bahamonde led to a severe backlash. Ironically, the man who devoted much of his career to the task of eliminating safe havens for those who committed atrocities around the world now finds himself on trial in his own country for his efforts to investigate some of Spain’s gravest crimes.

As of this writing, the Supreme Court has yet to rule in any of the cases.  

For Spanish language readers, here is an editorial from El Pais. The New York Times also weighed in this past weekend with an editorial here.