Spain is resisting probing the forced disappearance of thousands of people during its 1936 to 1939 Civil War and the dictatorship of former Spanish general Francisco Franco that followed despite a UN call for it to act.
During the past 13 years about 6,300 bodies have been exhumed from mass graves of which 2,500 have been identified, according to Emilio Silva, who heads the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which spearheads efforts to help people find the remains of relatives who went missing during the Spanish Civil War.
“But the criminal justice system did not take action in any of these cases,” he said.
Five years ago, 36 civic associations filed hundreds of complaints regarding the murder and disappearance of 114,000 people during Spain’s civil war, and the early years of the dictatorship that followed, with crusading human rights judge Baltasar Garzon.
Garzon opened an investigation, but under pressure from public prosecutors in 2010 passed jurisdiction down to regional courts before being tried for abuse of power for violating an amnesty agreed in 1977 as Spain moved toward democracy two years after Franco’s death by opening the probe.
“Since then courts have shelved the complaints without carrying out any type of investigation,” said Esteban Beltran, the director of Amnesty International’s branch in Spain.
The amnesty law, which was approved by parliament, covers all crimes of a political nature committed before 1977 “whatever their outcome.”
That stance was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying the country still smarting from the wounds of the civil war and dictatorship and to protect officials from score-settling.
Unable to seek justice in Spain, about 50 Spaniards have brought charges in Argentina for crimes against humanity against four policemen they say tortured them during the Franco era.
Argentine federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria has agreed to hear the case under the doctrine of “universal jurisdiction” which allows courts to try cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries.
Last month she issued arrest and extradition orders for the four policemen, two of whom are alive and living in Spain.
“When the doors were closed here, we thought of the principle of universal jurisdiction and we turned to Argentina,” said Silva, whose grandfather was shot by Franco’s forces in 1936 near Leon in northwestern Spain.
However, the Spanish government has not cooperated with the Argentine investigation.
Three weeks after she issued her arrest and extradition orders, the two policeman remain at large.
Daily newspaper El Mundo published a photograph on Sunday last week of one of the two, 67-year-old Juan Antonio Gonzalez, who it described as “the most feared inspector of Franco’s political police,” as he took part in a recent marathon in Madrid.
Nearly four decades after Spain’s amnesty law was passed, both the ruling conservative Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party, reject repealing the amnesty.
“We do not back changing that commitment which established a political agreement to not make mutual recriminations about the past,” said former Socialist Cabinet minister Ramon Juaregui, who warned of the “danger or returning the country to a fratricidal controversy.”
The UN, which sent a working group to Spain to see how the country was investigating Franco-era disappearances, last month urged Madrid to overturn the amnesty.