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Geopolitics

As Spanish Human Rights Judge Baltasar Garzón Faces Trial, Meet His Nemesis

Judge Garzón rose to prominence for ordering the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Now, the famed judge is the defendant after a right-wing Spanish attorney accused the crusading magistrate of illegally opening national wounds from the Franco E

Baltasar Garzón, Spanish judge (www_ukberri_net)
Baltasar Garzón, Spanish judge (www_ukberri_net)
Sandrine Morel

MADRID - In his office, just a stone's throw from the headquarters of the Spanish socialist party he so abhors, Miguel Bernad savors his victory. On Tuesday, after almost three years of waiting, the general secretary of the ultra-conservative Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) union finally saw Judge Baltasar Garzón placed in the dock for attempting to investigate disappearances that occurred during the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent years of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

Bernad, a 68-year-old lawyer who represented Spain's far-right Frente Nacional (National Front) party in the European elections of 1989, is the man who filed the complaint in May 2009 against Baltasar Garzón, a celebrity human rights defender, now on trial on charges of abusing his judicial powers.

A believer in "universal justice" and famous for ordering the international arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, Garzón is "a cancer in the Spanish justice system," declares Bernad. The conservative attorney accuses Garzón of knowingly ignoring the country's 35-year-old amnesty law in his attempt to judge abuses committed during the Franco regime. Spain's various political parties signed the so-called "pact of forgetting" in 1977 in order to stabilize the new democracy.

Judge or politician?

The affair began in October 2008, when Garzón, one of the highest-ranking judges in Spain at the time, accepted a complaint lodged by 22 charities representing families who lost members in the Civil War (1936-39) and the ensuing dictatorship (1939-1975).

He declared himself legally eligible to investigate some 114,000 "forced disappearances' carried out in the context of what he describes as a "crime against humanity." Garzón accused dictator Franco and 34 of his generals of an "uprising against the legally formed government" and of "systematically exterminating political opponents." A month after taking on the case, however, Judge Garzón closed it due to a lack of living suspects, transferring responsibility to regional tribunals for opening Spain's Franco-era mass graves.

In the meantime, Bernad and others in the judiciary launched into action against Garzón. "Garzón acted more like a politician than a judge, and used the judicial system for his own glory," says Bernad, who takes pride in having filed 10 different cases against the judge. "He calls himself a "universal" judge, but he only tackles crimes of genocide committed by the right, never those committed by the communists."

Francoism today

Decorated on Dec. 3, 2011 by the Francisco Franco Foundation for his "services in defence of the movement," Migual Bernad denies that he is a "Francoist," insisting that he fights against "all corruption, be it economic, political or moral."

Since he founded Manos Limpias in 1995, he prides himself on having filed more than 1,000 complaints against gay marriage, abortion clinics, corrupt members of Parliament both from the right and the left, and the legalization of the pro-independence Basque Party. He declares the right to denounce "everything that seems illegal – which can be quite a lot in the current day and age."

According to Bernad, Francoism was "an authoritarian regime, perhaps dictatorial, but which quickly became democratic." He says the regime "enabled the transformation of a chaotic situation into one of full employment, where there were fewer rights and less freedom, but more security."

Bernad is not alone in holding this opinion. Indeed, Francoism is still tolerated by a section of Spanish society – by people on both the right and left – who oppose efforts to "reopen the wounds' of the past. Supporters of Garzón, on the other hand, cite the case itself as a sign that certain injuries never healed over in the first place.

Read the original article in French

Photo – www_ukberri_net

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Geopolitics

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