Probe into Spanish Civil War’s greatest mystery lands judge in hot water

Spain’s Judge Baltazar Garzon is facing criminal charges for attempting to initiate an investigation into the disappearance of over 100,000 people during the Spanish Civil War.

Garzon, a member of Spain’s highest criminal court, is internationally known for his fearless investigations into human rights violations, including efforts to put on trial Augusto Pinochet, the investigation of possible American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

Spanish Civil War

July 17,1936 – April 1,1939

A political standoff between the Second Spanish Republic and leftist republican parties on one side and right-wing nationalist parties on another. The latter forces were commanded by pro-fascist General Francisco Franco and supported by fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Portugal. The hostilities resulted in the overthrow of the Republican government, which had been supported by the Soviet Union, Mexico and France.

Historians say that 500,000 total people – or 3.3 per cent of the Spanish population – were killed on both sides of the conflict. According to several sources, after the war was over 100,000 more people were killed on Franco’s personal order, while another 35,000 died in concentration camps.

In 2008, Garzon made the decision to investigate the fate of 114,000 people who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but quickly ran up against a wall. His efforts to open an investigation of the historical mystery caused much discomfort among Spain’s authorities, who have ordered a halt to Garzon’s activities.

Spain’s public prosecutor’s office stated Garzon had no right to conduct the investigation because of an amnesty law introduced in Spain in 1977 which granted amnesty for all crimes with a political connection commited up to 1977. But Garzon considers the disappearances crimes against humanity and believes as such they must not be covered by any amnesty.

“Garzon opened a Pandora box that is very important for European sovereignty. He also broke an internal compromise in Spain [the amnesty signed in 1977 – ed.], opening an inquiry on the mass killings during the civil war,” says Giulietto Chiesa, a former member of the European Parliament.

Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon (AFP Photo / Ivan Garcia)
“Now he is opening history that will be a serious problem for an important part of the Spanish leadership. This means that Garzon is now attacked on both fronts: international and internal.”