Thursday, February 09, 2012

Human Rights Enforcement: The End of an Era

Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who, in 1998, issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and, in 2008, initiated an investigation of crimes against humanity committed during the Franco regime, has been found guilty of illegally ordering wiretaps of lawyers' conversations with clients in a political corruption case.  While Spanish law permits such wiretaps in terrorism cases, it is vague concerning their permissibility in other cases.  Garzón was convicted by a panel of judges in Spain's Supreme Court, fined, and removed from the bench for eleven years.

There are additional legal problems for Garzón.  A second trial, also on charges of exceeding his legal authority, has just concluded.  Garzón is accused of opening the investigation of the Franco regime's crimes in violation of a 1977 amnesty law.  He told the panel hearing that case that he was motivated by "the helplessness of the victims."  A verdict is expected to take weeks.

Although the verdict already rendered effectively ends Garzón's career as a judge in Spain, the case involving his investigation of Franco-era crimes is drawing even greater attention.  Garzón has argued that his investigation was proper because there can be no amnesty for crimes against humanity.  This position has been supported by a group of UN human rights experts who issued a statement calling it “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.”

Right-wing groups in Spain have resented Garzón's international fame and have been angered by his interest in digging up Spain's troubled past.  Garzón, on the other hand, has viewed the investigation of Spanish crimes against humanity as a logical extension of his international investigations.  According to one of Garzón's attorneys, Gonzalo Martinez-Fresneda, "The question that Garzón was always asked is: 'Why are you prosecuting Pinochet, why are you going after the Argentinean dictators, why are you after the Nazis, but you're not investigating the war crimes committed in Spain?"

There remains the possibility that Garzón might be able to end his career as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.  He served as a consultant to the ICC after his suspension from the bench in Spain.