Argentina calls for extradition of Francoists over human rights abuses
Paul Hamilos in Madrid. theguardian.com, Thursday 19 September 2013
Argentina has called for the extradition of four Spanish former officials accused of torturing victims of the Franco regime in a decision described as historic by the lawyers and human rights activists who brought the case.
As in the case of Augusto Pinochet – the former Chilean dictator whose arrest was ordered by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón in 1998 – an Argentinian judge issued warrants for the four men under an international law allowing human rights abuses to be investigated and tried elsewhere if the country in which they occurred does not do so.
“It is an historic moment for thousands of victims of the Franco regime. The impunity which has covered up these crimes for so many years has finally been breached. We have a long way to go, but we are now on track,” said Maria Arcenegui Siemens, spokeswoman for Ceaqua, a support group for the victims.
The alleged abuses took place between 1936 and 1977, and include crimes allegedly committed by José Antonio González Pacheco, known as “Billy the Kid”, said to have been one of the most sadistic of the dictator’s henchmen. He and his fellow accused, Jesús Aguilar, Celso Galván Abascal and José Ignacio Giralte, are in their 60s and 70s and live in Spain.
Garzón previously employed the same legal principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the Argentinian navy captain Adolfo Scilingo in Madrid in 2005. Scilingo, who threw prisoners to their death from planes, was convicted of crimes against humanity and jailed for a total of 640 years. Garzón has led the push to have Franco’s crimes investigated in Spain, but so far without success.
Spanish amnesty laws, brought in in 1977 as the country made the transition from dictatorship to democracy, prevent its courts from investigating crimes committed by the authorities before 1976. General Franco died in 1975. After the victims of Franco failed to get redress in the Spanish courts, they took their cases to Argentina in 2010. Argentinian judge María Servini de Cubría Servini petitioned Spain to look into the alleged torture, but has now taken matters into her own hands, declaring her court competent to try the cases.
Emilio Silva, president of the Commission for the Recovery of the Historic Memory, described himself as “very happy” about her decision, but said that it was “a shame that it hadn’t already happened in Spain. But whatever way we can find to investigate the crimes of Franco is a good thing”.
But, he added, “Nothing is going to change, because the [Spanish] government is not going to collaborate with the Argentinian justice system. I will be very interested to know know what explanations they will give for protecting these four criminals. Spain is a country with a culture of impunity, as much in cases of corruption as these examples of torture under Franco.”
The cases involve several people killed or “disappeared” by death squads in the early days of the Spanish civil war in 1936, when Franco helped lead a rightwing uprising against the democratically elected government. But some cases extend deep into the fourth decade of his dictatorship, including that of Silvia Carretero, arrested and allegedly tortured in 1975, and her husband, José Luis Sánchez Bravo, who was shot by firing squad after he was found guilty of killing a police officer.