April 19, 2014
Friday, December 27, 2013

Franco-era victims closer to testify in Spain

Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría is investigating in Argentina the crimes committed during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
A Spanish prosecutor says a case could be opened in Spain, which could block Argentine investigation

The case for crimes committed in Spain during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship seems to be making progress. Yesterday it was reported that witnesses in Spain will testify, via a videoconference system, before Federal Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría, who will remain in Buenos Aires.
Spanish Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza said that he was willing to file a lawsuit to examine those crimes in Madrid, which could put an end to the investigation Servini de Cubría is currently heading.

Plaintiffs try to keep calm and consider that every step benefits their struggle, that is what Argentine lawyer Carlos Slepoy — a survivor from the Argentine dictatorship who lives in Spain and has promoted the cases against Argentine military officers who committed crimes against humanity during the military regime and who is trying to take Franco-era perpetrators to court — told the Herald yesterday.

Relatives of the victims yesterday celebrated that they will be able to testify after decades of delay before a judge, something impossible in Spain due to the existence of the general amnesty law, which prevents investigations of those who tortured or killed people who were illegally in custody.

Since the case was filed in Buenos Aires city in 2010, around 200 people travelled from Spain to give their testimony but hundreds of others could not afford such a trip, so they have been waiting for Judge Servini de Cubría to go. The Argentine Supreme Court authorized her trip months ago but the magistrate decided to stay in the country because she found it hard to carry out her work in less than a week. Now the Argentine Embassy in Spain will open its doors for victims or relatives to attend to testify.

Slepoy explained to the Herald that the first testimonies will be delivered by the end of February. In May, there was an attempt to make the victims declare in the Embassy, which had to be postponed due to what organizations reported as “pressure” from Ma-riano Rajoy’s government.

“We wish there weren’t any problems and witnesses could testify,” Slepoy highlighted.

But there were some news items which set alarm bells ringing for the plaintiffs.

Prosecutor Zaragoza yesterday said that he was analyzing whether to start a case against Jesús Muñecas Aguilar (74) and Juan Antonio González (67), known as “Billy the Kid” and also one of the most notorious torturers of Franco’s dictatorship. Those are the men accused of having tortured political prisoners during Franco’s dictatorship whose arrest and extradition Servini de Cubría ordered in September.

As Slepoy explained, Zaragoza’s opinion has a good and a bad side. Victims have demanded for years an investigation from the Spanish courts. The only judge who declared unconstitutional the amnesty law and promoted an investigation was Baltasar Garzón, who was suspended. After his suspension, human rights organizations decided to start a case in Argentina, invoking the so-called universal jurisdiction principle, which means that perpetrators can be judged abroad if in the country where they committed the offences there are laws to prevent them from being taken to court, as is the case in Spain and was in Argentina at the time of the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws.

In conversations with the Spanish news agency Efe, Zaragoza said that Spanish judges should have to analyze the possibility to start a case in Spain “because those were crimes committed by and against Spanish people.”

But to add to the confusion, Zaragoza also added: “If the case were opened, we should take into account the amnesty and the statute of limitations on legal claims.”

Slepoy commented ironically on the prosecutor’s idea: “He would be proposing to file a lawsuit in order not to open a criminal case.”

The Argentine lawyer also highlighted that the final decision on whether to extradite the two perpetrators is in the hands of Judge Pablo Ruz. Afterwards, the centre-right People’s Party (PP) government will have to decide on the fate of the two men.

“All this discussion was opened after the extradition request issued by Judge Servini de Cubría and that’s good,” Slepoy concluded. On November 30, Rajoy’s administration acknowledged that they had received the request and ordered the National Audience to analyze the case. That was also an “unprecedented decision,” as some plaintiffs told the Herald then.


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