WORLDPOST

Spain Banishes Human Rights Judge Baltasar Garzón

05/20/2010 12:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This past week, the internationally acclaimed human rights judge Baltasar Garzón has been suspended in Spain from his judgeship, and indeed faces trial as having exceeded his powers in his attempt to open up crimes against humanity committed during the Franco era. Unfortunately, Spain's Supreme Court has backed up Garzón's attackers from the far right who claim that this examination of crimes committed during the Franco regime constitutes a miscarriage of justice and ignores Spain's amnesty laws.

This bizarre action suddenly places the country, which has been exemplary in its emergence from its forty-year dictatorship, on the wrong side of history. And certainly on the wrong side of contemporary European history. I was in my teens when briefly in Germany in 1948, I searched for Dachau. But in the town of Dachau no one then seemed to have heard of Dachau the death camp. In that same period I wrote a letter home to my parents about my time at the Sorbonne: "They say there is this German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was a Nazi, but they say it doesn't matter." Yet half a century later it does matter. Now Dachau is no longer an obscure place guarded by American military, the Katyn massacres ordered by Stalin are no longer shrouded in mystery, and the nervous amnesties granted to leading French Vichy criminals in the immediate post war have been superseded by subsequent open trials and historic reflections. At this very moment in Munich, the German Government in the trial of John Demjanjuk, the death camp murderer, is seeking justice and clarity: an honoring of the victims of the country's past barbarism, which will help bring closure on that dark past. Without this honoring its victims risk remaining historically in the limbo of non persons.

Yet Spain, unlike these other European countries, has had no such official clarity and closure regarding its own past atrocities. But laws aren't meant to be an immutable collection of rigid rules; they should reflect the interests of the general social good. In order to bring Klaus Barbie to trial the French Government needed to bypass the fact that Barbie had already been tried in absentia, and to invoke for the first time Crimes Against Humanity, which has no expiration date. What made the trial happen (I covered it), in addition to the tremendous efforts of human rights activists, lawyers and judges, plus the cooperation of other governments involved in facilitating the extradition of Barbie, was finally the French Government's will to examine its murky Vichy past. What mattered wasn't the personalities of the individuals involved in the process. What mattered was that attention must always be paid to crimes against humanity. Therefore, one urges that those in charge of Judge Garzon's suspension, in the interest of the general good, reinstate his position as judge in order that he may continue his most valuable endeavor.

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