The UN Human Rights Committee Loses Its Way

Baltasar GarzónBaltasar Garzón

“We don’t say the last word because we are right. We are right because we say the last word” (A US Supreme Court Justice). The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón did not have “access to a fair trial in the Franquismo case – where he was acquitted – and the Gürtel case,” the corruption case affecting the Partido Popular (PP), which, Garzón, then judge of the Audiencia Nacional, investigated and which ended up costing him his disqualification as a judge for 11 years because he ordered the police to listen in on conversations between some of the accused and their defence lawyers. This eavesdropping, which goes against the law because the conversations between lawyer and client are confidential and subject to attorney-client privilege, is absolutely forbidden in all legal systems in the world – just watch a few films about lawyers – and in Spain it is allowed in only one very specific circumstance: if the accused is accused of terrorism.

Anyway, the fact that a judge orders to listen in on conversations between lawyer and client is repellent to any law student. Not to Baltasar Garzón. Nor to the members of the UN Human Rights Committee, who explain, without blushing, that Garzón’s actions, “even if they were wrong” – is anyone in any doubt? – “did not constitute serious misconduct or incompetence that could justify his criminal conviction”. So, according to the UN Human Rights Committee, the fact that a sitting judge knowingly flouted the law is not reason enough to have him removed.

The Committee also says that not all of Garzón’s requests to challenge some of the judges – something that was done in the Franquismo case – were granted and criticises the fact that, in any case, Baltasar Garzón could not appeal to a superior court after his conviction, given that he had been tried by the highest Spanish court. This last argument is possibly the only strong legal argument used by the UN Human Rights Committee. However, it should be pointed out that this is a problem common to every privileged person with rights granted by charter – parliamentarians, ministers, judges… – who, because of their position, are not tried in an ordinary court. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a privileged person, and this is not only the case in Spain.

In short, after his conviction, Garzón appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court and to the European Court of Human Rights. Both flatly rejected his appeals against his conviction for prevarication imposed on him by the Spanish Supreme Court. He has also appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee, which today has pronounced itself in terms that are difficult to understand. Baltasar Garzón explained today to the newspaper El País that he will ask to be reinstated … In view of this, let us hope that, if he succeeds, he will not have to try any of you.

PS The Gürtel case, dealing with the irregular financing of the PP, which Garzón pursued so hard – so hard that it ended up costing him his job – is today near its conclusion. It has cost the PP the government and brought many leaders of the Spanish centre-right to the dock. And the fact that Baltasar Garzón was once a member of parliament for the PSOE and number two in the Interior Ministry in a Socialist government was not a reason for his recusal. It was something very simple, a clear, meridian crime of prevarication, which cost him his temporary expulsion from the judiciary.

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The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.