International Legal and Human Rights Groups Petition UN to Support Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón and Independence of Judiciary

Invoking the fundamental principle of the right to an independent and impartial judiciary, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón has received strong support from ten international organizations of jurists and human rights advocates. Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Lawyers Without Borders Canada, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the World Organisation Against Torture, the National Lawyers Guild, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and Asociación Española por el Derecho Humano a la Paz (AEDIDH) have joined in submitting a formal request for action by the United Nations on his behalf. Their request is addressed to U. N. Special Rapporteurs concerned with judicial independence, torture, extra-judicial executions, and the protection of human rights, as well as to Human Rights Council Working Groups on enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.

The Spanish judicial system has provoked outrage in Spain and internationally by approving criminal charges against Judge Garzón brought by parties opposing the investigation of mass state-sponsored enforced disappearances and killing during the Spanish civil war and under the Franco regime. Judge Garzón has subsequently been temporarily suspended from the bench for attempting to investigate human rights violations recognized as among the most serious violations of international law.

The actions taken in the Garzón case demonstrate improper interference with the judiciary, in violation of Spain’s obligations to protect an independent judiciary, including in cases of investigating serious international law violations at home. As Judge Garzón is internationally recognized as a leader in the fight to end impunity for mass human rights violations and efforts to strengthen universal jurisdiction, the case against him will likely have a chilling effect on those lawyers and judges willing to pursue accountability at home and abroad.

The human rights organizations call for Judge Garzón to be allowed to pursue his duty to investigate the deaths of over 100,000 people, without interference by the state and private groups opposing the investigation, and that any disagreements with his decision to investigate be subject to judicial review rather than criminal prosecution. They also call on the Special Rapporteurs and the Working Groups to urge Spain to subject its Amnesty Law of 1977 to judicial review under binding international law. Amnesty laws are generally incompatible with the customary and codified laws and treaties protecting human rights. Amnesty laws allow those responsible for mass human rights violations to hide behind a protective shield, while denying victims’ families the right to know what happened to their loved ones.

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