September 19, 2014
UN: Spain must not block Franco-era trials
Special rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez talks to the Herald on recent report
The United Nations rapporteur on torture yesterday pressured the Spanish government to comply with its international obligations and collaborate with the Argentine judiciary on the investigations for violations committed during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.
In an interview with the Herald, special rapporteur Juan Méndez supported last week’s report by the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances that gives the Mariano Rajoy administration 90 days to explain how it is going to help the victims of Franco’s regime.
“This document will have an important effect, it may not be immediate or decisive by itself, but it proves the government is not complying with international law and has the full weight of the UN behind it,” Méndez said.
The UN report gives a long list of recommendations to Spain’s judiciary, requesting that a schedule be provided on how it will implement the measures to further the human rights violation cases. The UN Working Group, which responds to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, exhorts the Rajoy administration to comply with the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances that the country ratified in 2010.
“If the Spanish government ignores this, they will pay a high political cost, especially in the United Nations community,” Méndez explained.
Concretely, the working group has sent Spain 42 recommendations and offered its assistance to “help” the country improve its istuation. Some of these recommendations were to give greater financial and government support for victims’ organizations and families, as well as the formation of a state-run organization to coordinate these issues and the setting of a nationwide list of all the people who disappeared.
The UN document also requested judges to make themselves available for the exhumation of graves where the human remains of alleged disappeared people are purported to be. Many relatives have complained in the past that despite submitting cases of having recovered bodies that have signs of torture, the majority of the courts ignore them and never reply.
A timely report
The report comes in high time to support Argentine Judge María Servini de Cubría’s crimes against humanity case representing 300 victims from the Franco era. Yesterday 98-year-old Felix Padín, who was held prisoner in a Franco concentration camp for over six years, gave testimony that was later submitted to Servini de Cubría. But the Spanish government has refused to investigate crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and up to the end of the Franco government (1975) on the basis of an amnesty law passed by Spain’s first democratic government in 1977. This amnesty prohibits the investigation and prosecution of all those accused of crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship.
However, the universal jurisdiction of crimes against humanity, UN officials and rights advocates argue, overrides Spain’s amnesty law and should allow for the investigation of these crimes. The local office of Amnesty International joined the UN official calls for investigations yesterday, stating that it was of extreme importance.
“It is urgent that the state makes the search for truth, in particular the whereabouts of the disappeared people, its immediate priority,” said the Argentine director of Amnesty International Mariela Belski.
When asked by the Herald if a government more friendly to opening up crimes against humanity cases could have an influence in advancing Spain’s investigations, the UN rapporteur said that he didn’t believe it would have much of an effect as it did in Argentina with the coming to power of late president Néstor Kirchner.
“I don’t think there is a great difference between the current ruling party or another, because the Spanish judiciary is mainly independent of political influence like Argentina — and just as divided on the issue,” Méndez said.
The UN official explained that although the centre-right Popular Party (PP) was against investigating any of the Franco-era crimes, the Socialist Party (PSOE), when in power, created a Law of Historical Memory that was very weak as it gave in to many of the Popular Party’s demands.
Even if Rajoy’s administration does not have to abide by the recommendations, since they are not compulsory, it must reply within 90 days as to why it will — or won’t — take the UN’s advice.