NGOS speak out against Crimes under International Law perpetrated during the Civil War and under Franco’s regime

Press release
en es fr

(Madrid, Mexico City, Paris) Victims of Crimes under International Law committed during the Civil War and under the Franco regime (1936 - 1975) are forced to seek truth, justice and reparation in other countries. Therefore, Amnesty International, the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) support the filing of a complaint in Mexico which is intended to bring about an investigation into the cases the Spanish judiciary is closing.

Yesterday, the organisations filed a complaint with the Republic of Mexico’s Public Prosecutor’s Office on the forced disappearance of Felix Llorente Gutierrez, a 27 year old railway worker, which took place in Medina del Campo, Valladolid, during the Civil War. Mr Gutierrez was arrested on 28 July 1936 and disappeared on 15 August 1936 when being moved to another prison, which the authorities themselves admitted. The fate and whereabouts of Mr Gutierrez remain unknown. The complaint states that crimes, such as forced disappearances and crimes against humanity, were committed during the Civil War. Spanish authorities have failed to conduct any investigations to clarify the facts, nor will they do so, as Spain has closed the door to any further enquiries into these crimes.

"Spain is not investigating, nor is it allowing other countries to investigate, these horrific crimes, as we saw with the Argentinian complaint, which is why other avenues need be explored", Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain, declared. "We hope and believe that Mexico will support us in obtaining what the victims have been seeking for years: finding out the whereabouts of their family members and gaining access to justice and reparation", he added.

“For years we have been seeking the truth, and we hope that the Mexican justice system will helps us find it, since, like thousands of families of disappeared persons in Spain, we have had no support from Spanish institutions in obtaining information”, stated the complainant, Anais Huerta, who currently resides in Mexico. She and her father began the search for their family member five years ago.

Amnesty International, the CMDPDH and FIDH made an appeal to the Republic of Mexico’s Public Prosecutor’s Office to begin a comprehensive investigation into the 1936 forced disappearance of Mr Gutierrez without delay. Given the seriousness of the crimes, and the context in which they were perpetrated, they constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, and should be investigated in other countries, including in Mexico.

“It is crucial that the Mexican authorities guarantee that all the necessary evidence to solve this case will be collected, and that they meet Anais Huerta’s right to truth, justice and reparation”, Perseo Quiroz Rendon, Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico said.

The organisations emphasise that during the investigation they are hoping to open in Mexico, the Spanish government must fully cooperate with any requests made by Mexican authorities for mutual legal assistance, should the latter decide to investigate these crimes committed in Spain. “Spain should stop making excuses and accept its international obligations (ES). More than 40 years have elapsed and no progress has been made,’’ Esteban Beltran, Director of Amnesty International Spain asserted.

The organisations call upon the new Spanish government and parliament, which will be formed in a few months, to take a series of measures to guarantee the right to truth, justice and reparation for the victims of the civil war and Franco’s regime. Specifically:

1. That it guarantee that the Amnesty Law shall not impede investigations of crimes under international law committed during the Civil War and under Franco’s regime;
2. That it guarantee that measures be taken immediately to ensure that statutes of limitations shall not apply to crimes under international law; and,
3. That the Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity be ratified without delay and without reservations.

"The victims are dying, and we cannot let crimes against humanity go unpunished", Amnesty International investigator, Ignacio Jovtis, insisted.

Mexico is a relevant player when it comes to helping in the fight against impunity in cases of serious violations of human rights as it has legislation which allows it to investigate these cases. The 2011 constitutional reform stipulates that human rights recognised in international treaties enjoy the full force of the law in the country, and must be upheld by all the authorities. This, and the fact that Mexico recognises the binding nature of sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court, places it in an interesting situation whereby it has the faculty to investigate these serious violations of human rights.

“This is an opportunity for Mexico, where there are more than 27,000 missing persons, to work a change and investigate the serious violations of human rights, including forced disappearances, both at home and abroad”, stated Perseo Quiroz, Director of Amnesty International Mexico.

Additional information

During the Civil War and the Franco regime, many serious violations of human rights, such as torture, extra judicial killings, forced disappearances, and other acts which can be considered crimes against humanity under international law, were committed. The right to truth, justice and reparation for the victims is still being denied in Spain, and authorities have not carried out any thorough judicial hearings to undercover the facts about abuses perpetrated during this period.

Following thwarted attempts in the nineties to get homicides and forced disappearances investigated, and to exhume the remains of buried persons (to which the Spanish government has not properly responded), on 14 December 2006, victims, family members, and associations lodged a complaint with the National Court for crimes against humanity committed during the Civil War and under the Franco regime, to which were added reports of a further 114,266 forced disappearances and other crimes perpetrated from 17 July 1936 to December 1951.

Amnesty International has published various reports (ES) in which it documents the defencelessness of the victims due to the tendency of the Spanish judges to close cases, or to fail to investigate crimes under international law committed during this period. This tendency has intensified since, in 2012, the Supreme Court hid behind a number of arguments which prevent judges from investigating: the Amnesty Law, the possible lapse of the statute of limitations or that crimes were not qualified as such at the time they were committed, that the perpetrators are presumed deceased, or the Historical Memory Law.

In recent years, at least five United Nations mechanisms have found and stated that Spain neither investigates cases nor allows others to do so, and have recommended that it meet its international obligations to bring truth, justice and reparation to the victims of the Civil War and the Franco regime, and further, that it cooperate with other nations seeking to open investigations.

Read more