MOSCOW, November 2 (RIA Novosti) — An Argentinian judge has issued arrest and extradition warrants for near 20 Spanish nationals, including two ex-ministers of Francisco Franco’s reign, suspected of severe human right abuses, AFP reports Sunday.
"This is tremendous news for the victims," said Maximo Castex, an attorney for victims of crimes against humanity.
Buenos Aires Judge Maria Servini de Cubria issued the request as a part of an investigation into alleged atrocities committed during the dictatorship of Franco. Servini made the request to Interpol to demand Spanish authorities carry out the "pre-emptive detention with a view to extradition" of the suspects.
Groups advocating for justice for people tortured and killed under Franco praised the move.
"It is historic," said Maria Arcenegui Siemens, spokeswoman for the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a group supporting victims of the Spanish civil war. "It is a great day for us," she added.
The Spaniards included two former ministers Rodolfo Martin Villa, 79, who was Franco’s interior minister, and Jose Utrera Molina, 86, who was housing minister under Franco, Spain’s dictator from 1939-1975.
Villa is accused of ordering a police raid on protesting workers which left five people dead in 1976, according to Servini’s ruling.
Utrera is suspected of being one of the officials who signed the execution order for Salvador Puig Antich, a Catalan anarchist accused of killing a policeman.
Officials from the Franco era cannot be prosecuted in Spain due to an amnesty agreement signed by Spanish leaders two years after Franco’s death. Authorities at the time viewed the amnesty as essential to unite the country during a transition to democracy.
However, the treaty prompted relatives of alleged victims to turn for help to Argentina, which has an extradition treaty with Spain.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Carlos Slepoy, said it the first time that former Franco era ministers were targeted under universal jurisdiction.
The idea of universal jurisdiction presumes that judges can prosecute certain right abuses, including torture, committed in other countries. Using this doctrine, Spain briefly detained former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, according to Reuters.
"We are convinced, as are many judges and prosecutors in Spain, that these matters must be investigated," Slepoy was quoted by AFP as saying.
Spain has not yet responded officially to the extradition request. However, the process could be slow because Spanish authorities still invoke the amnesty by refusing to investigate alleged rights abuses during Franco’s reign.
Last year, Servini issued warrants for two former Spanish policemen accused of torturing prisoners, but Spanish courts declined the request.