A famous Spanish judge facing charges for investigating thousands of alleged disappearances during and after the Spanish Civil War won the support of United Nations human rights experts Wednesday as his controversial trial came to a close.
It is “regrettable that Judge [Baltasar] Garzón could be punished for opening an investigation which is in line with Spain’s obligations to investigate human rights violations in accordance with international law principles,” the U.N. experts on disappearances and judicial independence said in a joint statement.
Garzon is a something of a legal superstar, known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, ordering the arrest of Osama bin Laden and investigating allegations of torture at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
But Garzon has made enemies at home, including right-wing groups critical of his civil-war probe. He is being tried for allegedly violating a 1977 amnesty covering deaths and disappearances during the 1936-39 conflict.
Many Spaniards feel that their country's past has never undergone a full and necessary reckoning, whitewashed instead by the amnesty law.
"The question that Garzon was always asked is: 'Why are you prosecuting Pinochet, why are you going after the Argentinean dictators, why are you after the Nazis, but you're not investigating the war crimes committed in Spain?'" [Garzon attorney Gonzalo] Martinez-Fresneda said.
If convicted, Garzon could be suspended from the bench for up to 20 years, effectively ending his career as a judge at home. “My conscience is clear,” he said in court Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A woman places a flower on a giant banner displaying pictures of people gone missing during Spain's 1936-39 civil war during a demonstration of support for Judge Baltasar Garzon. Credit: Dominique Faget / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images