Democracy Now did a segment earlier this month with Judge Garzón of Spain, who has been suspended from work by the Spanish government. He is accused of overstepping the boundaries of the law by investigating cases regarding the disappeared during the Franco regime and the Spanish Civil War. This is ironic because the government has been very tolerant of Garzón’s use of universal jurisdiction for other countries. Universal jurisdiction is the international legal principle allowing any country to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity from other countries. In the interview on Democracy Now, Garzón admitted that no government in the world is comfortable with the application of universal jurisdiction, but that this is a mistake since it provides a way to fight against impunity.
The conversation in the media and from Garzón and his supporters regarding the double standard of the Spanish government in supporting universal jurisdiction everywhere but Spain has focused on the legality of the issue, with very little discussion about the human dimension and the effect this decision has on victims. Yes, what the Spanish government is doing to Garzón is wrong and illegal. But it also reveals where the country, its justice system, and its other institutions are in regards to the peace process. Trauma healing, an end to impunity, and a functional transitional justice system are necessary for society to be fully healed. The attitude of many Spaniards, including those in government, has been to talk about the Civil War and the disappeared in a limited way. There is recognition that it happened, it was wrong, it should never happen again, and the stories should not be forgotten. But the discussion stops there. This is not enough for the victims’ families, who want to know where their loved ones are and who want those responsible for the disappearances to be brought to justice. This conversation about the legality of the situation must be expanded to include the effect the government’s actions against Garzón have on trauma healing and the culture of impunity.