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Italian bombings of Barcelona during Spanish Civil War to be investigated by provincial High Court

During the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, Franco’s rebels received military help from Italy among other countries. The Italian Legionary Air Force, based in Mallorca, was responsible for the aerial bombardment of the city of Barcelona from 16th March to 18th 1938, exactly 75 years ago. For three days, Italian aviation forces bombed civil targets and neighbourhoods and caused the death of approximately a thousand civilians. The bombing of the Catalan capital was one of the most lethal bombing missions of the Spanish Civil War. Barcelona High Court has ordered a full investigation on crimes against humanity.

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18 March 2013 09:11 PM

by

ACN / Carlota Guerra

Barcelona (ACN).\u2013 The High Court of Barcelona has ordered an investigation into the bombings by Italian Fascist air forces of the Catalan capital during the Spanish Civil War, from 16th March to 18th 1938, exactly 75 years ago. An association of Italian residents in Barcelona and two victims from the bombings filed a complaint for crimes against humanity by the Italian army and the Spanish military that ordered the continued bombardment of the civil population, causing a thousand casualties. International jurisprudence shows that crimes against humanity do not prescribe and are able to be investigated as long as their authors are still alive. The complaint was firstly rejected by a court of first instance, but Barcelona High Court has now ordered that the facts be investigated and has summoned both the Italian military and survivors.


Barcelona High Court referred to international jurisprudence that shows that crimes against humanity do not prescribe and are able to be investigated as long as their authors are still alive. When the Court accepted the complaint also pointed out that during the Civil War, the 1907 Agreement of the Hague International Court of Justice was in force in Spain. Indeed, the Republican Constitution of 1932 included the ratified Agreement, which specifically forbid massive bombings against the civil population and non military targets, such as towns, villages or cities.

The Court rejected arguments that the economic costs of the process would be too high, bearing in mind that it is more than possible that the authors of the crimes are dead. For the Court, it is \u201Cinadmissible\u201D that a democratic State should stop pursuing such serious crimes just \u201Cfor economic reasons\u201D.

Barcelona High Court pointed out the severe gravity of the bombings, which \u201Care one of the darkest pages in our history, not only for the number of casualties, but also for experimenting on the civil population mechanisms of annihilation. The Court also considered that the cause cannot be shelved by basing its arguments on the simple assumption that the authors of the crime might be dead.

The complaint was mainly directed at 21 officials of the \u201CBalear Legion Squad\u201D, directed by general Velardi, who bombed several highly populated neighbourhoods in Barcelona, from the 16th to 18th of March 1938. It is also directed at the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister from 1936 to 1943.  Both of them are long dead.

General Francisco Franco and his brother-in-law and Interior Minister Ramón Serrano Suñer were also added to the cause, charged with having agreed to the bombings with the Italian authorities.

The Spanish Amnesty Law of 1977 \u2013 and the statement from the Supreme Court absolving the judge Baltasar Garzón \u2013 prevents the Spanish people from being investigated for political crimes and crimes against humanity during the Civil War and Franco\u2019s dictatorship. They do not, however, include the crimes committed by foreigners \u2013 in this case, Italians \u2013 on Spanish territory.

Based on these grounds, the Court considered that the complaint should be admitted and to that end imposed a symbolic bail of \u20AC1 to the appellants and ordered the judge to find out the exact identity of the Italian military and civilians that participated in the bombing. The Court sent a commission to the Italian Defence Ministry and asked the Justice Ministry for a \u201CFe de Vida\u201D and the whereabouts of each one of the authors.

The Court offered the survivors and the heirs of the bombing victims the possibility to undertake civil and penal actions. For that purpose, it asked for the collaboration of the Historical Archives of the Catalan Government and the Barcelona City Council.

The association Altraitalia, made up of Italian residents in Barcelona, which presented itself as the popular accusation, considered the Court\u2019s decision to be \u201Chistoric\u201D, given that it is the first time that a court admits that international legislation can be applied to the crimes against humanity committed during the Spanish Civil War. The association also pointed out that in Italy, the Town Halls have usually been in charge of processing the penal and civil complaints against the crimes of the Nazi occupation forces from 1943 to 1945.

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  • Barcelona High Court (by O. Campuzano)

  • Barcelona High Court (by O. Campuzano)