Spanish National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday filed a petition [press release] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], challenging a case brought against him in Spain that alleges abuse of power in investigating crimes committed under the Franco dictatorship [BBC backgrounder]. Garzon faces charges of politically motivated corruption [JURIST report] and violation of the 1977 Amnesty Law, which affords amnesty for Franco-era crimes. The charges are based on Garzon's 2008 order [JURIST report] for certain government agencies, the Episcopal Conference [church website, in Spanish], the University of Granada [academic website, in Spanish] and the mayors of four cities to produce the names of people buried in mass graves, as well as the circumstances and dates of their burial. The International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) [advocacy website], a London-based NGO representing Garzon, claims he opened the investigation at the request of families and representatives of the regime's victims, and should be granted judicial immunity from such allegations. INTERIGHTS also argues that the Spanish courts lack sufficient grounds for trial:
Judge Garzon has been prosecuted under Spain's prevarication (or malfeasance) law, which allows judges to be prosecuted for unjust judgments. Normally the prosecution of judges under this law in Spain and the prosecution of judges generally in European States is highly exceptional. According to prior decisions of the Spanish courts, judges can only be prosecuted for unjust decisions that are irrational, perverse or objectively unsustainable. There is no basis in Spanish or international law for a judge to be prosecuted for reasoned interpretations of the law. The prosecution of judges for their decisions, specifically for their interpretations of the law, rather than the appeal or review of those decisions within the normal legal framework, violates the fundamental principle of the independence of judges.It may take weeks for the ECHR to decide whether to hear his case.
Garzon has faced turmoil since his 2008 decision to exhume the mass graves. In September, the Criminal Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] unanimously confirmed [JURIST report] a lower court order that Garzon abused his power and must face trial. The board of judges denied [El Pais report, in Spanish] Garzon's appeal of the order, although his trial is still pending. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years. In May, the Spanish General Counsel of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] voted unanimously to suspend [JURIST report] Garzon. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.