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Supreme Court closes door on probes into Civil War crimes

Responsibility for mass graves will be assumed by regional courts

The Supreme Court has ruled that responsibility for mass graves of those executed during the Civil War and subsequent Franco dictatorship should be assumed by regional courts. In the same stroke, the court has closed the door on offenses relating to the conflict, which was waged from 1936 to 1939, being investigated as “crimes against humanity.”

The Supreme Court ruling upholds the finding of the High Court that probes into Franco-era crimes were not within the remit of the Judge Baltasar Garzón, who was tried and cleared of exceeding his authority in February.

However, the decision does not affect “the legitimate right of victims of the Civil War and Franco regime to recover the remains of their loved ones and honor their memories.”

The ruling allows for families to request the opening of Civil War graves in regional courts and be afforded “all legal recourse” to identify the remains.

The court ruled that the crime of illegal detention of a permanent nature without revealing the whereabouts of the victim, written into the penal code in 1928, was removed in 1932 and later restored in 1944. It was therefore not in force during the period when the majority of actions it aimed to punish were committed.

While conceding that victims’ families could not pursue such crimes during the dictatorship, the ruling also states that the same crime can only be considered valid from the date of the signing of the Spanish Constitution in 1978, by which time the statute of limitations of 20 years had expired.

The court also ruled that the 1977 Amnesty Law forms part of the current legal framework and therefore precludes criminal responsibility for Civil War crimes.