The following is a guest post kindly contributed by Dr. Vincent Druliolle of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, in Spain.
Accused of abusing his powers for investigating Franco’s crimes, judge Baltasar Garzón was recently acquitted by Spain’s Supreme Court. The Court confirmed the amnesty law of 1977 prevents such an investigation, but did not sentence Garzón for initiating it. Nevertheless, a few weeks earlier he had been suspended for eleven years for ordering illegal wiretapping in a corruption case, which put an end to his investigations and career. Finally, Garzón was cleared of bribery charges in another case opened against him.
The suspension of Baltasar Garzón has been both celebrated and condemned in Spain, while international media and NGOs have criticised Spain and its judicial system. Because Garzón faced three legal cases, his defenders claimed conservative forces were orchestrating a witch-hunt. The media too have mixed up the three cases and their legal, political and moral dimensions, either to welcome his suspension or on the contrary to criticise it. Thus, Garzón’s condemnation for illegal wiretapping was condemned in the name of Franco’s victims and their right to reparation, and the judges were called ‘fascists’.
Understanding Garzón’s suspension as a conspiracy further undermines the legitimacy of the Spanish judicial system. Although thorough reform of that system is long overdue, it is systematically accused of being politicised by those it finds guilty, especially as cases of corruption have increased in the past few years and are used instrumentally by political parties. Analysis of the Supreme Court’s ruling was here replaced by hasty moral judgement and ideological arguments along party lines, obscuring the meaning and implications of the ruling. Eduardo González, of the International Center for Transitional Justice, highlights them for victims. He laments that the Supreme Court understands the ‘right to truth’ as the academic study of history on the ground that narrating the past is not the judges’ job while the relatives demand official recognition and reparation. Reminding us that Garzón’s trial was the first opportunity for the relatives of the victims of Franco’s dictatorship to testify in court, though only in defense of Garzón, González concludes that ‘it is dismaying to note the court heard their voices only as a kind of inventory, directing them to try their luck in the vagaries of parliamentary politics and offering a condescending lecture on criminal law’.
Last week, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that crimes committed during the dictatorship cannot be retroactively qualified as crimes against humanity and are protected by the amnesty law. However, the Court recognises the identification and proper burial of the victim as a legitimate demand. It declares local courts competent to assist the relatives of the victims who request it, and reminds the Spanish state of its responsibilities, including those outlined in the ‘Law of Historical Memory’ passed in 2007. Memory and justice no longer cross paths, but the struggle to open the mass graves of the dictatorship continues, depending ultimately on the goodwill of politicians and the courts.
Dr. Vincent Druliolle is a Post-doctoral Fellow at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. His main reserach area is the relationship between memory, transitional justice and democracy; commemorative practices and memorialization. He is the co-editor, with Francesca Lessa, of The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).