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Spain rejects Franco-era extradition

Jesús Muñecas Aguilar, an alleged Franco-era torturer, appears in court on April 3.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

National Court denies request for Muñecas Aguilar to face human rights trial in BA

Victims of Spain’s Francisco Franco dictatorship received another bad piece of news yesterday when a top Spanish court rejected the request by an Argentine judge to extradite an alleged torturer to be tried here.

The National Court, Spain’s top criminal court, said yesterday that former policeman Jesús Muñecas Aguilar cannot be sent to Argentina, as was requested in November by Federal Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría.

Muñecas Aguilar is accused of having tortured political prisoners in 1968 but the Spanish judges yesterday considered that the crime was subject to the statute of limitations.

“The judges did not take into account the context of those torture cases,” Argentine lawyer Máximo Castex told the Herald yesterday after the news of the decision. Castex is one of the lawyers who represent Argentine and Spanish plaintiffs who are demanding justice for the crimes committed during Franco’s regime.

“We said that those crimes were committed as part of a genocidal process,” Castex said. “But the judges did not agree. They do not consider the crimes committed during Franco’s dictatorship as ones that are not subject to the statute of limitations” because they involve human rights violations, Castex added.

“We feared this decision but we’ll keep on struggling,” Adriana Fernández told the Herald yesterday. Fernández’s grandfather was executed in Spain in 1936 and she is one of the activists who promote the judicial investigation in the country.

Within the next few days, the National Court also has to issue a decision over the request to extradite Antonio González Pacheco, a Franco-era officer commonly known as “Billy the Kid.”

The court considered that the crime allegedly committed had expired. However, in agreement with the Spanish prosecutor Pedro Martínez Torrijos, the National Court also said that as Muñecas Aguilar is Spanish he should be tried in a Spanish court.

But Spanish courts do not seem willing to push these cases forward.The victims of the Franco-era dictatorship have been tripping over the Amnesty Law, which prevents revising the crimes committed between 1936 and 1975 in court, but Spanish courts have also never acknowledged that those were crimes against humanity, which are not subject to a statute of limitations.

Muñecas Aguilar, who was sentenced for leading an unsuccessful coup in 1981, is accused of having tortured Andoni Arrizabalaga in 1968. After the February 23 attempted coup, Muñecas Aguilar was sentenced to five years in prison and dismissed from the force.

Grounds

In a seven-page writ, judges Alfonso Guevara, Guillermo Ruiz Polanco and María Ángeles Barreiro said that there was not enough evidence linking Muñecas Aguilar with the alleged crimes. They also considered that the defendant had no ties with Argentines, which would justify his extradition.

In Buenos Aires, Judge Servini de Cubría invoked the universal jurisdiction principle, which allows any judge to investigate crimes against humanity that cannot be judged in the place where they were committed. In the 1990s, then-judge Baltasar Garzón promoted an investigation in Madrid against Argentine repressors and Chilean late dictator Augusto Pinochet. In Argentina, the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws prevented those who committed crimes during the country’s dictatorship from being taken to court.

On April 3, Prosecutor Martínez Torrijos said that the case should be presented before a judge in the Basque Country, where the alleged offences were committed. According to him, that measure would allow victims to pursue justice in their own territory.

Muñecas Aguilar yesterday celebrated the National Court’s decision as judges lifted the injunction against him. The former police officer was not allowed to leave the country and was summoned weekly to the court.

Another case

Last year, Servini de Cubría requested the extradition of four Franco-era alleged repressors but two of them are reportedly dead. On April 10, Antonio González Pacheco — known as “Billy the Kid” — appeared before the National Court in Madrid. He was linked to the so-called anti-terrorist paramilitary squads during the last years of the Spanish dictatorship and Judge Servini de Cubría has accused him of thirteen cases of torture.

Judge Clara Bayardi is taking part of the court that has to decide whether to extradite González Pacheco and was one of the three judges who backed Garzón’s investigations on the Franco-era crimes. Her presence is a glimmer of hope for plaintiffs.

Other extradition requests?

Servini de Cubría is analyzing around 20 requests filed by Franco-era victims and human rights organizations involving police officers but also Franco’s ministers and judges.

The magistrate was also planning to travel to Spain to meet the victims who want to issue their testimonies.

“We’ll insist with these requests,” Castex told the Herald. Next week, plaintiffs will be meeting to discuss the actions they are going to take.

For her part, Adriana Fernández said: “We’ll find a strategy. These crimes are not going to remain unpunished.”

In Spain, an estimated 114,000 people disappeared during the Franco era, buried in mass graves. Garzón has claimed that between 1936 — when the Civil war started — and 1950, around 30,000 children were snatched from their mothers.

@lucianabertoia

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