Amnesty International report on Spain's need to investigate Franco-era crimes

In the tourist office in Madrid’s elegant Plaza Mayor last summer I asked what there was to see that had anything to do with the civil war. The woman behind the counter told me: “No hay casi nada. Es un tema cerrado” (“There’s hardly anything. It’s a taboo subject”).

Then she paused and produced a map: “There is one thing,” she said and drew a circle near the Royal Palace. “A monument to the war heroes.”

The “heroes”, it turned out, were Franco’s nationalists killed during the brutal 1936-1939 war that tore Spain apart after he led a military uprising against the elected Republican government.

Those nationalists may be heroes to some, but not to the thousands of Franco’s victims who either fled into exile or who were persecuted, arrested, tortured, killed and buried in mass graves during and after the civil war.

Leading Spanish Civil War historian Professor Paul Preston estimates up to 200,000 of Franco’s opponents were executed during the civil war, and as many again between 1939 and 1945 - more than all the disappeared in South America’s dirty wars of the 70s and 80s put together. Only Cambodia has more mass graves.

Despite this, and nearly 80 years since the coup d’etat that sparked the civil war, the victims and their relatives have still not seen justice. No-one has ever been brought to book for civil war and dictatorship-era crimes against humanity.

Now, our new report says that prosecutions are looking increasingly unlikely as judges throw out more and more cases on grounds that break international law.

The report, Time passes:impunity remains, says Spanish courts are refusing to investigate past human rights abuses and that judges have thrown out 38 of 47 cases in recent years.


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