[JURIST] The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Friday expressed its concern over the trial of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile], which involve his investigations of acts that occurred during the Spanish Civil War. Spokesperson for the OHCHR, Rupert Colville, indicated that judges should not be criminally charged for investigations [UN report] performed within the scope of their judicial duties. Colville stated, “judges should not be subject to criminal prosecution for doing their job…Spain is obliged under international law to investigate past serious human rights violations, including those committed during the Franco regime, and to prosecute and punish those responsible.” Garzon is on trial on charges of exceeding his jurisdiction by investigating complaints he received that, if true, would constitute crimes against humanity occurring under the rule of Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] between 1936 and 1951. The investigations and rulings by Garzon are argued to be illegal because of amnesty laws limiting the statute of limitations for bringing claims of human rights violations during the Franco regime. Colville also reminded Spain of a OHCHR recommendation given in 2009 to reform its amnesty law, arguing that its law was not in accordance with international human rights law.
Last month, Garzon took the stand to defend his actions [JURIST report] in ordering the probe into crimes committed under Franco. Garzon refused to answer questions [CNN report] posed to him by the prosecution but did answer questions from his defense lawyer. He denied that his investigation was politically motivated, and stated that he was seeking justice for the victims of the alleged crimes. Garzon also rejected the idea that a 1977 amnesty law covers widespread human rights abuses. Garzon’s testimony was consistent with his previous statements defending [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. 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]. 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. Garzon was convicted [JURIST report] on Thursday by the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on charges of approving illegal wire taps, and was given an eleven year suspension from the judiciary. He is still awaiting a third trial on bribery charges over money he received for seminars conducted in the US.