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Can Spain face the truth?

Once again, a UN body has had to remind us of our duties concerning the crimes committed during the Civil War and the Franco regime

The United Nations' Committee on Enforced Disappearances recently released its observations on Spain's compliance with the International Convention on such disappearances, which came into effect on December 23, 2010.

Once again, a UN body has had to remind Spain of its non-compliance concerning the crimes committed during the Civil War and the Franco regime. In 2009 Spain was admonished by the UN committees on Human Rights and Torture, noting that Spain's 1977 Amnesty Law is inapplicable as a statute of limitations against the investigation and trial of these crimes.

Likewise, the UN's Working Group on Forced and Involuntary Disappearances observed on September 30, 2013 that the High Court's interpretation of Sentence 101/2012, on the applicability of statutes of limitation to cases of disappearance, is contrary to the principles of treaties that Spain has signed.

The Spanish state recently failed another such examination. The Committee on Forced Disappearances noted that these "must be investigated regardless of the time gone by since they happened, even if they went unreported at the time," directly contradicting the Spanish Supreme Court's line on the applicability of the statute of limitations. It calls for the "adoption of the necessary legislative and judicial measures, with a view to overcoming legal obstacles of a domestic nature that may impede such investigations, particularly the interpretation given to the Amnesty Law."

In obvious reference to Argentina, it recommends that Spain comply with extradition demands, most notably the one filed by Judge María Servini on September 18 of this year. It must not take refuge in subterfuges characteristic of an undemocratic state.

If Spain disregards this initiative once more, it will have disastrous consequences for our image

As for the Historical Memory Law, which still has no budget to be implemented, the committee recommends the allocation of "human, technical and financial resources sufficient for the clarification of the fate of disappeared persons," including the possible establishment of an agency for that purpose. The prime minister's disdainful answer was that there was "no money" for the application of that law.

The committee also calls on the government to create a "commission of independent experts charged with determining the truth about past violations of human rights." This coincides with a parliamentary motion calling for the establishment of a Truth Commission on this matter.

If Spain disregards this initiative once more, it will have disastrous consequences for our image. A country that flouts international law and violates the human rights of its citizens inspires distrust in other areas, including the credibility of any and every measure it adopts.

The so-called "Spain brand" is more and more empty of content, and looks increasingly tarnished. All that remains is the area of economic measures, alien to ethical principles and to the real needs of the least-protected classes in our society. The shame we feel as we watch how our national soccer team, and the government itself, gives coverage to dictatorships where human rights do not exist, shows the lack of sensitivity of those who still think that "Spain is different."

For a while Spain was at the head of the list in the defense of human rights. Then, due to successive parliamentary and court decisions in 2009 and 2012, we fell to the bottom of that list, at the same time as we descended to lower rankings in the struggle against corruption. It will be interesting to see what degree of compliance the recommendations of the UN Committee on Forced Disappearances will now receive, which might lessen the pain and humiliation of thousands of relatives of victims, who expect truth, justice and reparation.

Baltasar Garzón is a jurist and former investigating magistrate in the High Court.

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