Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spanish prosecutor Baltasar Garzón suspended

Prosecutor Baltasar Garzón hits the headlines once again. Famous for prosecuting Mr. Pinochet in the late 1990s, Garzón investigated a series of complaints relating to more than 100,000 cases of enforced disappearances that are alleged to have occurred during the Spanish civil war and the regime of General Francisco Franco. The case is now ripe for trial.

Yet, this trial is not welcomed by some Spaniards. Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary suspended Garzón earlier this month based on the charge that Garzón acted “knowingly exceeding his jurisdiction.” The claim of lack of jurisdiction is based on the argument that these crimes are not longer subject to prosecution after Spain enacted an amnesty law right after General Franco’s death. Furthermore, the statute of limitations has allegedly passed as well.

This law is certainly problematic. First, criminal trial have often being used to establish an historical record of horrendous events (Nazi prosecutions and various international courts are examples of such efforts). Second, the disappearances clearly led to death of the disappeared. As a matter of justice, the statute of limitations for murder should not have expired yet. Investigating and prosecuting murders committed against kidnapped individuals require time, often a generation, perhaps more. It is thus essential that the statue of limitations is generous enough to accommodate the reality of these cases

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