(IPS) – Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who became world-famous when he issued the warrant that resulted in former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998, is now facing legal charges himself, which could cost him his job.
Garzón, who sits on the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s highest criminal court, is accused of overreaching his judicial powers for his 2008 decision to investigate human rights crimes committed during Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war and the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which were covered by an amnesty issued by parliament in 1977, two years after the dictator’s death.
The high court magistrate began investigating the forced disappearance of some of the more than 100,000 victims of that crime, arguing that under international law no amnesty can apply to crimes against humanity.
In response to legal action brought by “associations for the recovery of the historical memory” which group the families of victims of forced disappearance in different regions of the country, he ordered the exhumation of 19 unmarked mass graves around the country.
One of the graves is said to hold the body of poet Federico García Lorca, who was killed by pro-Franco forces in 1936 in the southern city of Granada.
The charges against Garzón were filed by the far-right organisations Manos Limpias, which calls itself a trade union but is not registered as such, Libertad e Identidad (Freedom and Identity), and Falange, Spain’s fascist party.
The groups accuse him of abuse of power for investigating crimes that were covered by the 1977 amnesty.
On Mar. 25, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Garzón, who argued that he did not overstep the bounds of his jurisdiction, and that his investigation was legitimate. The Court thus ruled that the case against him could proceed.
The case will be put in the hands of ultraconservative Judge Adolfo Prego, a member of the Honorary Board of the extreme-right “Foundation for Defense of the Spanish nation” (Denaes).
The charges against Garzón have triggered an outcry in Spain, from socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – who pointed to the judge’s fight against terrorism – trade unions, civil society organisations and judicial colleagues.
The two main trade union federations, the UGT and CCOO, issued a statement “publicly expressing our solidarity at this time with Judge Garzón.”
International organisations have also expressed their concern. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) presented an open letter to Spanish judicial authorities requesting that the charges against Garzón be dropped.