Baltasar Garzon, Spain’s most famous judge, took the stand on Tuesday as he faces charges of abusing his judicial authority. Private prosecutors are alleging that Garzon, who is most well-known as the judge who sought the extradition of Augusto Pinochet from England to face charges of torture and murder, pursued criminal cases against the perpetrators of human rights abuses under General Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from the 1930’s to 1970’s, despite amnesty laws that were passed after Franco’s death. After the seven judge panel of the Spanish Supreme Court rejected the applications by both state prosecutors and Garzon’s defense team to throw out the cases, private prosecutors were cleared to pursue the charges. Spanish law permits private parties to prosecute criminal charges.
While on the stand, Garzon remained silent and refused to answer the questions posed by the prosecutors. He did, however, respond to questions posed by his own counsel taking the opportunity to explain his investigation into complaints of people still missing from the Franco era. He claims that he found evidence of a systematic plan against Franco’s opponents that included forced disappearances, illegal detentions and assassinations.
Spanish Parliament unanimously passed the amnesty law in 1977 and prosecutors are accusing Garzon of thinking himself to be above the law. Garzon has characterized the crimes of the Franco backers as “permanent crimes”, which is consistent with the view taken by international law. Crimes such as torture, illegal detention and widespread and systematic murder are viewed as peremptory norms which no law can override. These crimes are also viewed as having no statute of limitations. Thus, despite Garzon’s disregard for the amnesty law, it would appear that his actions were legally justified.