Trial of Spanish judge Garzón

Spain – Franco dictatorship – Baltasar Garzón

The Spanish judiciary brought charges against Baltasar Garzón, the examining magistrate who, in October 2008, declared his court competent to undertake preliminary investigations into the enforced disappearance, torture and execution of 114,266 people during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship in the period 1936 to 1951.

In his decision, Garzón relied upon international law, deemed the enforced disappearances to be crimes against humanity and, in accordance with international law, held that the national amnesty law did not apply.


Garzón is recognized internationally as a leading figure in the fight against impunity for grave human rights violations, in part for his action against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his efforts to strengthen universal jurisdiction. In February 2012, Garzón was acquitted of the charges of exceeding his powers as a judge. However, it remains doubtful whether Spain is willing to uphold the rights of the victims and to initiate independent investigations into and prosecutions for the mass crimes.

In May 2010, ECCHR submitted a petition to the UN together with nine other international lawyer and human rights groups. In the petition the organizations criticize how the Spanish judiciary is proceeding against Judge Baltasar Garzón, and called on the UN special rapporteurs for judicial independence, torture, extra-judicial executions and the protection of human rights to intervene in this important matter with the Spanish authorities, what they finally did.


ECCHR, as part of an international NGO coalition, has called on Spain to repeal its 1977 amnesty law as it violates the international law obligations. The coalition also urges the Spanish authorities to comply with their international obligations and take effective measures to ensure accountability for enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and other serious crimes under international law that threaten our collective peace and security. In accordance with international law, Spain must act to secure truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of crimes committed during the civil war and the Franco regime.

Documents (4)

Glossary (3)


Enforced disappearance

Enforced disappearance is a tool of state repression used predominantly in authoritarian states. It occurs when state forces bring a person within their control, and refuse to give any information about the person’s whereabouts.

In many cases a disappearance leads to torture and/or murder. Family members have no way of finding out the fate of their relative and the “disappeared” person is denied any possibility of legal protection. Enforced disappearance can constitute a crime against humanity.

Topics (4)


Double standards

Decision makers in Western democracies often apply double standards when it comes to human rights. While the Global North will condemn and in some cases prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Global South, there is little appetite to examine the role played by Western politicians, military leaders and corporations in crimes against international law. Serious human rights violations committed by Western actors – such as torture, forced disappearances or civilian deaths by drone – are rarely prosecuted. It seems as though different standards apply to human rights abuses, depending on who commits them.

ECCHR undertakes strategic legal interventions to challenge these double standards, to end the impunity of the powerful and to change power structures. ECCHR chooses cases that make political, economic and legal shortcomings visible, in order to force decision-makers in the Global North to question – and ideally, to dismantle – their double standards. 


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