Justice chases a human-rights judge

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, facing charges of abusing judicial powers, has plenty of support - but plenty of enemies as well.


    Those who have claimed Judge Baltasar Garzon is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt by colleagues jealous of his fame, might have been surprised to see the top investigative judge arrive at Madrid's Supreme Court flanked by six of his fellow judges showing their support.

    The group walked towards the courthouse through a throng of demonstrators calling for justice in Garzon's name.

    One told me, "This is a democracy and this judge is being judged by corrupt people. The hunter has become the hunted."

    Inside, Garzon was met by applause from members of the legal fraternity. It's clear, Garzon has plenty of support, but plenty of enemies as well.

    The darling of human-rights groups - and victims - in Spain and around the world, Balthasar Garzon stepped on many toes in his long career.

    Arch-conservatives in Spain are angry at his attempts to dig up Spain's wartime past.

    Plenty of enemies

    Members of both the ruling Popular Party and the previous Socialist government resent indictments handed down implicating officials in corruption and state-sponsored death squads.

    He's no friend of extant elements of old regimes in Latin America, where amnesties for war crimes have successively been tested and repealed in Guatemala and Argentina after Garzon's indictment of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet in the late 1990s.

    He's even viewed with suspicion in the US after WikiLeaks revealed cables describing Garzon as having an anti-American streak following his investigation into alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

    But perhaps the most outspoken reaction has come from the New York-based Human Rights Watch who've called trials against Garzon an "outrage".

    The cases, they say, have already dissuaded judges elsewhere from applying the principle of universal justice - cherished by Garzon - to determine which governments are obliged to investigate the worst international crimes, regardless of relevant amnesties.

    It was that principle that Garzon used to indict Pinochet and which successively led to the overturning of amnesties in Latin America.

    And it is also the principle he relied upon to open an investigation into wartime abuses by the forces of General Francisco Franco during Spain's civil war in the 1930s, despite a government amnesty passed in 1977 for "political acts" committed at that time.

    For this act he faces trial next week. Garzon's actions appear to be supported by international law - both the principle of universal justice and the notion that disappearances remain open cases until the fate of victims is known.

    'Crime against humanity'

    Garzon himself described the alleged Franco abuses as "a systematic drive to crush opponents and thus a crime against humanity".

    His work on the investigation began and ended in 2008 after a dispute over jurisdiction. But the effect lingered until another case presented an opportunity.

    He had ordered the phone-tapping of conversations between the detained suspected ringleaders of a corruption ring involving officials from the now-ruling Popular Party and their lawyers.

    He'd suspected they were discussing money laundering, and indeed, one lawyer was subsequently indicted.

    The state prosecutor opposed criminal charges, saying no crime had been committed.

    Private prosecutions brought by the lawyers and detainees in the first case, and pro-Franco groups in the second. And they were accepted for trial by the supreme court - the only court empowered to try a sitting judge, which is almost unprecedented in Spain.

    Garzon doesn't face jail time but could be struck off for many years. Even if acquitted, the feeling is that the stain on Garzon's reputation could mean the end of the road in the long career of Spain's - and perhaps the world's - most famous investigative judge.



    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states have launched more than 19,278 air raids across Yemen.

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Many Pentecostal churches in the Niger Delta offer to deliver people from witchcraft and possession - albeit for a fee.

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    No, it wasn't because of WMDs, democracy or Iraqi oil. The real reason is much more sinister than that.