The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (OHCHR), after meeting with “a hundred” victims of the Franco regime and dozens of state and judicial representatives over the past week, has handed the government a preliminary note on whether enough is being done for the families of people who disappeared during the Civil War (1936-39) and ensuing dictatorship. The swift answer is: no.
UN envoys Jasminka Dzumhur and Ariel Dulitzky informed Spain’s government that it should “take on its responsibility” and draw up “a national plan to search for the missing,” revoke the 1977 Amnesty Law and pave the way for cases of forced disappearance to be judged in the courts.
The UN group reminded Spain that such crimes have no statute of limitations and called for the state to meet its “international obligations,” and to carry through to court the 114,000 counts of forced disappearance listed in suspended High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón’s 2008 universal justice suit.
The envoys expressed disappointment that no such investigation is currently underway and that judges habitually decline to visit mass graves when informed of their discovery. They also insisted that Spain provide “every legal assistance” to investigations which are opened in other countries, such as has recently been the case in Argentina, and to embrace the concept of universal justice; Spain restricted its own judicial remit solely to cases involving Spanish nationals in 2009.
The envoys urged Spain to carry through to court the 114,000 counts of forced disappearance listed in Judge Garzón’s suit
The search for those who were arrested and executed by the Franco regime should not be seen as “a task to be carried out by families but an obligation of the Spanish state,” the envoys concluded. As a starting point, the UN recommended adopting Gárzon’s proposal that “the greatest institutional and financial aid” be afforded to the families of victims.
Dzumhur and Dulitzky also noted that the level of official support depends entirely on which party is governing a region. The experts visited Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia and the Basque Country and found that in some “the authorities assume responsibility for exhumations” while in others they are “completely oblivious” to the matter.
In the same vein, the envoys criticized the “resistance” at institutional level over declassifying certain documents and the obstacles thrown up when families attempt to access essential information. “It depends entirely on the will of the individual public employee; we propose a law governing access to information that guarantees the right to know the truth.”
Concerning the Historical Memory Law introduced by the previous Socialist administration, the UN experts said it has “limited reach” and the current Popular Party (PP) government has stopped funding it in any case because, it says, of the crisis. But the envoys said it should be given “adequate finances.”
In a final note, Dzumhur and Dulitzky concurred with a group of experts commissioned by the Zapatero government in 2011 that the Valley of Fallen outside Madrid should be converted from a mausoleum to a national memorial, and the remains of General Franco removed from the site. “It is a debate that Spanish Society needs to have,” said Dulitzky.