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Judge Garzón: Introduction to a Life
© B. Garzón, used with permission.
Photo of Garzon and UN Secretary Kofe Annan
Baltasar Garzón has been a judge in Spain since 1980 when he was only 24. In his 12 years on the bench he has prosecuted cases ranging from organized crime to terrorism and government corruption as well as "crimes committed outside Spain but where the Spanish are competent to try them- such as genocide and torture, as in the cases of Argentina and Chile…" (1) Of middle class farming origins, Garzon spent several years in the seminary studying for the priesthood in his native Andalucia. After leaving his religious studies, he attended law school at the University of Seville where he completed his degree in 1978 just as Spain began its transition to democracy.

His judicial career was interrupted briefly during 1993-1994 when he served in the Spanish Cortes (the legislature's lower house), having won a seat for the Socialist Party (PSOE). Disillusioned by the lax policies of Felipe Gonzalez (Spain's Socialist Premier from 1982-1996), Garzon quit his congressional post and returned to his judicial origins. He then brought corruption charges against several of Gonzalez's associates, in many ways precipitating the Socialist's fall from power.

Perhaps it was expected that with the Conservative Party (Alianza Popular) coming to power in 1996, Garzon might fade into the distance. But he had already turned his attention to another front, this time against Argentina's military leaders of the 1970's guerra sucia, or dirty war, which saw between 13,000-15,000 citizens killed. Ridiculed by Argentine authorities, Garzon continued his investigations into human rights violations of Spanish citizens at the hands of Argentina's military junta.

He was not deterred by either ridicule or disbelief from the press. After all, it was not the first time he had encountered this type of attitude. Back in 1990 he had led Operation Necora, "a sting that involved 54 men and women suspected of working for the country's biggest drug lords. With the help of a dealer who turned state's evidence, Garzon expected long prison sentences for members of the network." (2). The courts, feeling there was a lack of evidence, handed out short prison terms or, in some cases, acquittals.

In late 1998 the international community was startled to find out that Judge Garzon had issued an order of detention against Augusto Pinochet while the former Chilean dictator (1973-1990) was in London undergoing medical treatment. The famous "Caso Pinochet" continues, now in the Chilean courts after British authorities allowed Pinochet to return to Chile. Garzon's bold steps in trying gross human rights violations has established precedent against heads of state who may now be tried for crimes like torture and genocide, which are no longer considered to be covered by sovereign immunity.


(1) Cuomo, Kerry Kennedy. Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2000, p. 128 (make it a hot link to text)

(2) Offman, Craig. "A Crusader with a Fondness for the Limelight." Time International, November 2, 1998. p. 16.


Text by Adán Griego,
Stanford University Libraries

(c)2001, Stanford University


Site designed by Ever and edited by Adán Griego
Special thanks to Glen Worthey for his assistance and time.

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