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Franco crimes and Catalan President’s murder are investigated by Argentina

The Argentinean Judiciary is investigating crimes perpetrated under Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, notably the execution of Catalan President Lluís Companys in 1940. Companys was the only incumbent president to have been executed during World War II. A few weeks ago, his political party (ERC) filed a complaint in Argentina in order for his speedy military trial to be declared null and void, as the Spanish institutions have refused to do so on numerous occasions. Spain’s Amnesty Law of 1977, which is still in force to this day, has always prevented Franco crimes from being investigated and from going to trial. In 2010, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who became internationally famous for investigating Argentinean and Chilean dictatorships, was disbarred from office after trying to open a case against Franco crimes. Therefore, the plaintiffs have appealed to universal Justice, seeking restitution in other jurisdictions.

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14 November 2013 05:48 PM

by

Emma Garzi

Barcelona (CNA).- The Argentinean Judiciary is investigating crimes perpetrated under Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, notably the execution of Catalan President Lluís Companys in 1940. Companys was the only incumbent president to have been executed during World War II. The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) filed a complaint to Argentina for the murders of Catalan President Lluís Companys and 47 ERC mayors and MPs in 1940, over a year after the Spanish Civil War had ended. They are hoping for Companys’ speedy military trial to be declared null and void, as the Spanish institutions have refused to do so on numerous occasions. The Spanish MP and ERC Member Joan Tardà, who personally filed the complaint in Buenos Aires on the 15th of October, said these executions should be regarded as Crimes against Humanity. The Argentinean judge investigating Franco crimes, Maria Servini, announced on the 22nd October she would indeed investigate Companys’ execution. Tardà justified the appeal to Argentina’s Judiciary by referring to the 1977 Spanish Amnesty Law, which is still in force to this day and is used by Spain’s judicial power to prohibit any crime related to Franco’s Fascist military dictatorship from being investigated and going to trial. This Law was approved during the Spanish Transition period from dictatorship to democracy. Its validity has been questioned many times, notably by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2012, who explained it violated international human rights law. In 2010, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who became internationally famous for investigating Argentinean and Chilean dictatorships, was also disbarred from office after trying to open a case against such crimes. And therefore, the plaintiffs have appealed to universal Justice, seeking restitution in other jurisdictions. The very first complaint against Franco crimes was filed in 2010 in Buenos Aires by Argentinean families of missing people and victims of crimes perpetrated during the Franco Regime (1939-1977). It was supported by several renowned organisations such as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo or the Argentinean Human Rights League.


The execution of President of Catalonia Lluís Companys as a Crime against Humanity  

The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) filed on the 15th of October 2013 a complaint for the execution of President Lluís Companys at the hands of Franco's regime. Lluís Companys, leader of the ERC,was the 123rd President of the Catalan Government, in office from 1934 to 1940, that is to say, mostly during the Spanish Civil War. Companysleft on exile on the last days of the war, after the fall of Barcelona, and  he sought refuge in France in 1939. However, under the Nazi occupation, he was captured by the German Gestapo and temporarily detained in the Prison de la Santé. Once the Nazi Authorities handed him over to Franco, he was held in solitary, beaten and tortured for 5 weeks at the headquarters of the Dirección General de Seguridad (Franco’s Gestapo) in Puerta del Sol. After a speedy military trial, he was found guilty of ‘rebellion’ and sentenced to death. He was executed at Montjuic Castle in Barcelona on the 15th of October 1940. Companys was the only incumbent president in Europe to have been executed during World War II.

On the 73rd anniversary of Companys’ death, ERC Member of the Spanish Parliament Joan Tardà travelled to Buenos Aires to meet Maria Servini, the Argentinean judge in charge of investigating crimes perpetrated under the Franco-dictatorship. The Argentine Judiciary confirmed on the 22nd October they would specifically look into the executions of Catalan President Lluís Companys and of 47 elected representatives of the ERC Party (45 Mayors and 2 MPs) who were also killed during that period.

There is no prescription for Crimes against Humanity

Members of the ERC demanded the murders of Lluís Companys and other elected officials to be considered as crimes against humanity perpetrated by a Fascist regime. In this respect, Tardà mentioned the Nuremberg Trial and explained that this trial “had not closed any doors”. On the contrary, according to him, the Nuremberg Trial had defined all the categories of penal imprescriptibility: Crime against Peace, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. “Subsequently, the United Nations made these notions into International Law and Universal Justice”, he added. Tardà then reasserted his belief in the whole process, stating that: “The Catalan complaint to Argentina would help the victims of Fascism in Spain believe in the ideas of universal justice, truth, and reparation”.

The Spanish “model of impunity” has forced the appeal to “universal justice”

Tardà said the aim of the complaint was to put an end to the Spanish “model of impunity”, clearly referring to the Spanish Amnesty Law. This law, which was approved in Spain in 1977 during the Transition from dictatorship to democracy is still in force nowadays. It was initially voted to release political prisoners who had opposed the dictatorship, but it also prohibited any crimes perpetrated by the Fascist military regime from being investigated and from going to trial. The validity of the law was questioned many times, notably by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2012, who explained it violated International Human Rights Law. Indeed, there is no statute of limitations for Crimes against Humanity. In 2010, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who became internationally famous for his attempts to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1998 and 2000, was barred from office by the Spanish Supreme Court after trying to open a case against Franco Crimes. And so Tardà justified the appeal to the Argentinean Judiciary by stating that “once all doors for justice were closed in Spain, we had to resort to Universal Justice”.

The ERC MP said in an interview from Buenos Aires that once again, “the Spanish State was protected by the Amnesty Law which imposed a network of silence on the [dictatorial] regime and was constantly obstructing Justice”. Tardà deplored the fact that even though the world had now entered the twenty-first century, the Spanish authorities still refused to address the horrors made to victims of Fascism, to prosecute those responsible for Franco-Crimes, and to repeal the Amnesty Law.

In addition, Tardà stated: “We will use this opportunity to contribute to the dignity of democracy by prosecuting all those responsible for the crimes of the Franco Regime not only at the time of the dictatorship, but also those who have contributed to the lack of reparation, and have impeded the rendering of justice”. In short, the complaint is both aimed at those responsible “by their implication” in the Franco Regime, and those responsible by their “lack of implication” in the following stages: refusing for instance to investigate crimes or even preventing other people from doing so. With this statement, Tardà refers to the passivity of the Spanish institutions, which dates back to the Transition period and is still present to this day. He also underlines the constant failure of investigation attempts in Spain and the country’s refusal to move forward, a fact epitomised by the barring from office of Judge Baltasar Garzón.

In any case, the Companys complaint is only “the starting point for the Argentinean justice to determine responsibilities and decide whether these crimes can be imputed to someone in particular – a senior officer of the Regime still alive nowadays, or if they can even be imputed to the Spanish State as a whole and subsidiary responsible”, explained Tardà.

First stages of the complaint against Franco crimes in Argentina

The very first complaint against Franco crimes was filed on the 14th of April 2010 by Argentinean relatives of Spanish victims of Franco’s dictatorship. It was supported by organisations such as the Spanish Association for Historical Memory, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Argentinean Human Rights League, the Spanish Association of Former Prisoners and Missing People and the Federation of Galician-Argentinean Associations.

At first, the complaint was dismissed by Argentinean Judge Maria Servini at the request of Public Prosecutor Federico Delgado because he believed that there was an ongoing investigation on equivalent matters in Spain; a fact which was denied by the plaintiffs. In addition, the complaint was also rejected because the judge thought that the facts denounced could not be investigated without being given the green light by the Argentinean Public Prosecutor’s office.

Argentina is already investigating 240 complaints against Franco crimes

In spite of this initial rejection, the plaintiffs did not give up and were determined to fight things through, as explained by Argentinean Diego Arcos, Chairman of the Argentinean House in Barcelona (Association of Argentinean Expats in the Catalan capital). Arcos has always been deeply involved in the defence of Human Rights in Argentina and in Spain since his arrival in Barcelona 24 years ago. Back then he underlined his belief in the complaint by stating that the people in charge of the investigation had been “tracking down the thieves and torturers of the dictatorship” and had “collected large evidence against them”.

Given the situation, Argentina’s Parliament, with the approval of judges Martín Irurzun and Horacio Cattani, annulled the dismissal so that Judge Servini could have jurisdiction to investigate the cases. So far, in November 2013, the Argentinean Judiciary has already accepted 240 complaints against Franco crimes, while 500 more are currently under study.

Spain has put obstacles in the way of Argentina’s investigation

The acceptance of the Catalan complaints by Argentina led to unrest in Spain. In May 2013, when a videoconference on this matter was scheduled in the Argentinean Embassy in Madrid to allow witnesses living in Spain to give a statement before the judge without having to travel to South-America, the Spanish Government voiced its disapproval and objected to Spanish citizens participating in it. The Spanish authorities stated that such a videoconference required a diplomatic authorisation and a specific commission in the event of judicial statements exchanged between two countries. Their objections were met with angry reactions in Argentina especially from people deeply involved in the Defence of Human Rights and the fight against Crimes against Humanity. Furthermore, these organisations underlined the fact that under similar circumstances, Spain had allowed similar videoconferences when investigating Pinochet crimes in Argentina without the need for diplomatic authorisations.

The case has begun to arouse interest among Argentina’s political and cultural spheres, and in other Latin American countries where similar complaints might occur. A very wide media coverage is expected when several of the plaintiffs will probably testify in person in Argentina before the judge in the following months.

Felipe Moreno, Coordinator of the complaint and one of the plaintiffs himself, believes that Spain is “afraid” that the world will know what happened during the Franco Regime because “the protection from the Transition [to democracy period] will be removed”. However, Moreno stated that the plaintiffs did not want “revenge” but ultimately to know the truth and honour the dictatorship’s victims. In this sense he deplored the Spanish State having “threatened” Argentinean justice and recalled that according to International Law, Crimes against Humanity do not prescribe and have no territorial restrictions.

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  • Catalan President Lluís Companys was executed in 1940 by Franco's Fascist military dictatorship (by ACN)

  • Catalan President Lluís Companys was executed in 1940 by Franco's Fascist military dictatorship (by ACN)