Spain’s most important jurist, Baltasar Garzon, one of the most important defenders of human rights internationally, faces the insult today of suspension from his functions as magistrate.
Garzon’s alleged crime is moving from international and current human rights cases to the ultra-sensitive topic of Spanish history.
Right-wingers in Spain have been trying to whitewash the crimes of the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, who ruled the country from 1936 to 1975, and whose army imprisoned and executed countless thousands of people, then dumped bodies in mass graves during the Spanish Civil War. (1936-1938).
The Civil War was a prelude to World War II, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy providing material support to Franco, even training his National Guard.
Seventy-five years after the fact, much is still unknown, many bodies uncovered.
Spain’s supreme court has now suspended Garzon from his duties while it decides whether he overstepped his authority by investigating mass graves during the Franco period. Garzon says his inquiries are legitimate, and he doesn’t take his responsibility and the potential liability lightly.
It is certain that he respects the system in which he works and his responsibility as a magistrate. He once told me he had to cancel a speaking engagement in the United States because court administrators had not given him permission to leave Spain.
He knew that he could not lightly defy the system, but a speaking engagement is one thing. Defending justice and uncovering past crimes on moral grounds is another, worth fighting for. In the meantime, Garzon says he wants to do some work with the International Criminal Court at the Hague, which has also been controversial – when U.S. officials among others, have rejected its authority. If Garzon spends time working there, it will be time well spent, and his principles undoubtedly will raise the standards of judicial inquiry wherever he focuses his time.