A judge in Argentina has ordered the arrest of four men in Spain for alleged human rights abuses committed during the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The order, which ultimately seeks the men's extradition to Argentina, reopens a politically sensitive case which Spain itself has chosen not to pursue.
Judge María Servini de Cubría’s decision, announced on Wednesday, makes Argentina the only country in the world to investigate the crimes of the Franco era.
It follows a campaign started in 2010 by 170 individuals and organisations representing victims of Franco to persuade Argentina’s justice system to pursue the case in light of the Spanish judiciary’s reluctance to.
Judge Servini de Cubría’s willingness to take up the investigation adheres to the principle of “universal justice”, which ignores national boundaries and means a magistrate from any country can take up a judicial probe into crimes against humanity.
Historians estimate that Franco’s forces killed over 100,000 civilians during the 1936-39 civil war and its aftermath.
In her arrest order, the magistrate named former civil guard Jesús Muñecas Aguilar, a former bodyguard of General Franco, Celso Galván Abascal, and former senior police officers, José Ignacio Giralte González and Antonio González Pacheco. All four, who are in their sixties or seventies, are accused of torture of political prisoners.
"I filed a suit in Argentina because all the doors were closed to us all in Spain and because I believe in universal justice," Hilda Farfante told El País newspaper. Both Mrs Farfante's parents were executed by Franco's troops at the start of the civil war, when she was five.
A group of Spanish witnesses is to meet with Judge Servini de Cubría in Argentina in November to help with the case.