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Spain high court begins second trial of judge Garzon

The second trial of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] began on Tuesday before the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish]. Garzon has been charged with abusing power [JURIST report] by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War. In 2008, Garzon ordered the exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain in order to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law that provides amnesty for Franco-era crimes. Garzon has consistently defended [JURIST report] the validity of the investigation by insisting that he acted within the bounds of the law and appropriately applied the law at all times. Rights group Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has condemned the trial [news release], calling it "a blow to human rights and efforts to obtain justice." The case is expected to last for weeks [Guardian report], and civil war survivors or relatives of those killed will present evidence. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years.

Last March, Garzon filed a petition [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], challenging the 2010 abuse of power charges, for which he was suspended [JURIST report]. His petition follows the September 2010 decision of the Criminal Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court, which unanimously confirmed [JURIST report] a lower court order that Garzon abused his power and must face trial. 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. He is also facing two other trials, including one trial that began last week involving charges that he ordered the placement of wiretaps in jailhouses [JURIST report] to record conversations between inmates and their lawyers. The third trial, which has not started, involves bribery charges over money Garzon received for seminars conducted in the US.

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