Argentinean lawyers want former Franco ministers to face human rights charges

Buenos Aires judge will hear testimony from Civil War victims in Spain via videoconference

Argentinean lawyers, who are seeking to bring to justice Spanish officials alleged to be responsible for the deaths of citizens during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, announced on Tuesday in Madrid that they will seek criminal charges against three former ministers.

During a news conference, the lawyers Carlos Slepoy and Ana Messuti explained that the case filed in Argentina is based on the concept of “universal justice,” something that the Spanish High Court had frequently used in the past until Congress limited its powers in 2009.

The attorneys said they will ask that charges be brought against former Labor Relations Minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, 79, former Housing Minister José Utera Molina, 87, and former Labor Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Fernando Suárez, 80.

Slepoy said that he expected that a Buenos Aires court will issue international arrest warrants against these former Franco Cabinet officials and demand that Spain extradite them.

The case filed in Argentina is based on the concept of “universal justice”

Specifically, the human rights lawyers have accused Martín Villa, who served from 1975 to 1976, of ordering the executions of five workers during a labor strike in Vitoria in March 1976.

Utera Molina is said to have been one of the people responsible for the execution by garrote of anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, while charges are being pressed against Suárez for the executions by firing squad against two ETA and three GRAPO members, Slepoy said.

Utera Molina is the father-in-law of current Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón.

The original complaint of genocide and crimes against humanity was filed on April 2010 by Slepoy and Messuti, based on the doctrine that courts can investigate crimes against humanity occurring in third countries. Since then some 150 victims of the Spanish Civil War and survivors of victims have joined the case, which is being investigated in Buenos Aires by Judge María Servini de Cubría.

The complaint covers the period from July 1936, with Franco’s military uprising that started the Civil War, to June 15, 1977, when the first democratic elections were held during the Transition.

In Spain, the United Left (IU) coalition and Catalan Republican Left (ERC) are supporting the case.

“The Spanish government is acting like a fugitive from justice for not abiding by its international commitments or those of the past [Socialist] government,” said IU lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares, who was at the news conference.

In Spain, charges were filed against then-High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón for overstepping his judicial authority for trying to open his own inquiry into Franco-era crimes in 2008. He was suspended from the court last year after he was found to have illegally recorded the jailhouse conversations between lawyers and defendants in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contract inquiry. Garzón is currently a human rights law advisor to the Argentinean Congress.

Slepoy and Messuti are in Spain to take statements from 12 witnesses who are expected to begin testifying on Saturday via videoconference before Argentinean Judge María Servini de Cubría, who will be in Buenos Aires.

Last September, Judge Servini canceled her trip to Spain to take testimony after the Argentinean Supreme Court refused to allow her to physically conduct her investigation on Spanish soil.

Besides agreeing to hear the testimonies from Spain, the judge has also accepted the lawyers’ petition to allow victims in other countries to present complaints at their nearest Argentinean consulate.

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