Memory collectives trust in the change of criteria of the Prosecutor’s Office on the investigation of the Franco regime but ask the judges and the Government for more involvement

Spanish prosecutors will stop obstructing the only open case in the world about the executions, forced disappearances and torture that took place during the Franco regime and that Judge María Servini has been promoting for a decade in Argentina. The current State Attorney General, Dolores Delgado, has recently annulled the mandatory instruction that Consuelo Madrigal – who held that position between 2014 and 2016, with the Government of Mariano Rajoy – promoted during her mandate and that hindered the magistrate’s requests for collaboration.

Argentine Justice summons Martín Villa to testify for crimes against humanity

Argentine Justice summons Martín Villa to testify for crimes against humanity

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This change in criteria has been received with hope by the victims’ collectives, who hope that it will serve to promote an investigation that has among its next milestones the statement of former Francoist minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, the only defendant by virtue of that complaint willing to testify. Servini is expected to interrogate him electronically next September 3, when he is summoned to the Argentine embassy in Madrid.

“It is a great promise for the lawsuit, as if the fresh air that there was before in terms of universal jurisdiction in Spanish law entered,” says lawyer Ana Messuti, one of its promoters. It is, in any case, an instruction for prosecutors and the judges will continue to have the last word, sometimes not too sensitive in this matter, according to the lawyer, who learned about this order precisely on October 4, 2016, when He was in a court in Oviedo accompanying the historic communist militant and founder of Izquierda Unida, Gerardo Iglesias, who had come to testify by videoconference before Servini for the torture he suffered during the dictatorship.

The judge annulled the statement at the last minute at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, which wielded Madrigal’s letter, signed just a few days before, on September 30. That letter urged prosecutors to oppose the statements of Francoist charges and victims that Servini is investigating and of which the judge has been requesting their statement in different Spanish judicial headquarters. On an internal note advanced by El País and to which has had access, Delgado annuls that instruction on understanding that it represented a “general or automatic cut-off” in the face of collaboration requests.

The events date back to the aforementioned year 2016, when Judge Servini tried to interrogate 19 victims of Franco’s regime within the investigation that follows the complaint of various groups with historical memory. For this she sent several rogatory commissions to different Spanish courts that set off the alarms in Madrigal’s team. It was then that the attorney general appointed by Mariano Rajoy sent that “internal order” to the provincial prosecutors so that they would oppose the statements.

Among arguments such as that the crimes are prescribed or that they are committed by Spaniards against Spaniards, of which only the local courts would be competent to investigate, he also slipped a series of considerations that transcend the strictly legal sphere while warning Judge Servini, to which it presupposed an interest “alien” to Justice, that there was no one to question the political process that followed the Franco dictatorship.

“Essential role” of cooperation

The current attorney general emphasizes, however, the “essential role” of cooperation between countries in tackling this type of crime, something that is in tune with “international trends”, and urges to make one ” consideration and evaluation “on a case-by-case basis of requests for collaboration and not to deny them en bloc, as Madrigal suggested. According to tax sources, this argument provides ammunition to work internationally in the collaborations that are requested in these matters.

Delgado recalls, in this regard, that Spain has recently accepted the recommendations on the historical memory of human rights mechanisms –including those referring to guaranteeing the right to truth, justice and reparation for victims and the investigation of crimes– and that they are working on a reform of the memory law of 2007 to “expand rights” of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Civil War and the dictatorship.

Defender of universal justice, Delgado played a fundamental role in her time as a prosecutor in the National Court in the first conviction of Spain for crimes against humanity, the one imposed on the Argentine military officer Adolfo Scilingo. During the time she was in charge of the Ministry of Justice, she promoted the reform of universal justice, curtailed by the PP Government, although the project was later frozen and waiting to be taken up again by her successor, Juan Carlos Campo.

Messuti acknowledges that the argument that the attorney general makes in her brief on international collaboration – “very well supported and well founded”, in her words – can serve the victims to support their petitions and even hypothetical remedies. “It shows a political will, which is what is always behind the law. Hopefully it can help us because there are still few victims who have been able to testify,” she says.

Emilio Silva, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH), promoter of the lawsuit, says that the turn of the helm by the Prosecutor’s Office is “a good sign” but, he warns, “the movement is showing progress.” “Other powers of the State have not collaborated either,” he denounces. He assures that these obstacles have come from the judiciary, that has blocked exhumations despite the requests of the Argentine judge after the complaints of forced disappearance included in the complaint. The judges apply the Amnesty Law, allege that the crimes have prescribed or imply that the facts that are being investigated fall within the jurisdiction of the Spanish Justice.

The task of opening graves, in any case, falls on the relatives and the associations in which they are grouped and not on the State, as these groups have been claiming unsuccessfully for years. Silva explains that one of those exhumations blocked in Spain is that of the anti-Franco militant Cipriano Martos, who died in 1973 after being forced to drink acid during an interrogation at the Civil Guard barracks in Reus (Tarragona).

But the obstacles to that investigation have not arisen only in the field of the judiciary. The president of the ARMH also charges against the executive branch. “Since 2010, all the governments have tried to hinder the investigation of Judge Servini. This action, which tries to shield impunity, is also a disdain for the victims of the dictatorship, who in 40 years of democracy have not been able to exercise their rights to the truth, to justice, to reparation and to guarantees of non-repetition “. The group he presides over sent a letter on April 14 to both Delgado and Campo urging them to “work to guarantee the rights of the victims of the Franco regime.”


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