Judges are supposed to quietly do their work and keep a low profile, and those who tend to be more effective than others land in some kind of trouble, or so it seems.
The same seems to have happened to one of the most famous judges in the world, Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge who is well-known for ordering the arrest and extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity. The judge, who is regularly referred to in press as 'superjudge' has been charged with deliberately acting beyond his jurisdiction in initiating investigation into the crimes of another dictator, Spain's Francisco Franco. Garzon, on account of the charges leveled against him, has been placed under suspension, and is awaiting the beginning of his criminal trial.
It was in 2008 that Garzón accepted the request for a probe by the family members of some of those who had disappeared during the 1936-39 civil war. Garzon ordered an inquiry into the disappearance of around 114,000 people during the civil war. The probe was to include an investigation into the early years of the dictatorship that followed the civil war. Garzon considered the actions of Franco and his 34 officials as crimes against humanity and thus justified his order for the probe.
However, he ran into trouble because he will fully disregarded the amnesty law passed by Spanish Parliament in 1977, which provides amnesty to those who committed crimes during the dictatorship that followed the civil war in 1936-39. Therefore, in ordering the probe the 'superjudge' overlooked the law that is considered 'pact of silence', and which is also seen as instrumental in bringing about a transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Miguel Bernad, the Secretary General of Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), the Association that instituted the complaint against Garzón, said, "No judge can just jump over the laws of the country."
The action taken against Garzon amply demonstrates the unwillingness of the Spanish legal intelligentsia to open the wounds inflicted by the civil war. Garzon's lawyer is reported to have said the suspension and impending prosecution of Garzon has sent across a strong signal to the judges in Spain that "they should not investigate the Franco regime's crimes or question the law of amnesty." In case of conviction Garzón would not face a jail term but might be taken off the Bench for up to 20 years.
However, this doesn't mean Grazon has no support from anywhere. Carolyn Lamm, President of the American Bar Association, is reported to have written a public letter to Spain's Attorney General, who is himself an opponent of the prosecution, saying, "Numerous sources of international law suggest that amnesties for crimes against humanity are inconsistent with a State's obligations to protect human rights, including the right of access to justice."
It is relevant to note here that Grazon is regularly referred to as 'superjudge' in the media and is arguably one of the world's most prominent practitioners of universal jurisdiction. The legal principle of universal jurisdiction holds that crimes of unusual gravity are crimes against humanity and the authority to probe and then prosecute the guilty in connection with such crimes is not limited to the country where the crimes were committed.