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JUDGING THE DICTATORSHIP

Argentinean Franco crimes judge: “You see people’s fear of testifying”

María Servini is in Spain to gather testimonies of offenses committed under the dictatorship

“If I didn’t believe in universal justice, I wouldn’t be here,” she says

Judge María Servini walks out of a Seville courthouse after taking statements from Paco Marín (right). Ampliar foto
Judge María Servini walks out of a Seville courthouse after taking statements from Paco Marín (right).

The Argentinean judge in charge of the world’s only investigation into crimes committed under the Franco dictatorship on Friday continued her tour of Spain to take testimony from elderly witnesses who were unable to make the long trip to Buenos Aires, or visit their nearest Argentinean consulate for a video conference.

Judge María Servini de Cubría is using the concept of universal jurisdiction to justify her inquiry into crimes that do not directly involve Argentineans. Relatives of Franco’s victims turned to her court after an attempt to investigate offenses committed by the Franco regime by Spanish High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón landed the magistrate in the dock himself, accused of overstepping his powers.

While Garzón was ultimately acquitted of those charges, he was simultaneously hit with two other trials, one of which got him thrown off the bench for 11 years. Many observers see a political motivation behind these events in a country where the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) continues to be a sensitive subject.

After gathering testimonies in the Basque Country and Seville, Servini is scheduled to travel to Madrid next week to see more victims.

If I didn’t believe in universal justice, I wouldn’t be here,” said Servini after meeting with the deputy premier of the Andalusian government, Diego Valderas, of the United Left coalition (IU).

What you see is people’s fear and terror of giving testimony,” she said. “Sometimes they want to omit names, or they won’t provide details of the circumstances in which the events took place. They get emotional, they cry. Even grandchildren who never met their grandparents cry. It’s tough, it’s difficult.”

For now, the judge feels that she will not need to return to Spain to gather further testimony after this trip in a case that has already collected information from 100 victims.

Even grandchildren who never met their grandparents cry

Despite the complexity of the proceedings, Servini highlighted the assistance she was receiving from Spanish judges. “They have behaved excellently,” she said.

The prosecutor in charge of the case, Ramiro González, added that it was too early to set a final date for the inquiry. “There are as many suits as there are victims, and we are running into endless difficulties,” he said. “We are permanently incorporating evidence that will later have to be analyzed.”

The Spanish conservative Popular Party-run government recently curtailed the reach of universal justice in Spain after the High Court issued international arrest warrants against leaders of the Chinese Communist Party over allegations of genocide in Tibet. The move triggered a diplomatic spat between both countries.