Tech & Rights

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances: Finally Something to Celebrate in Spain?

Spanish authorities have been ignoring the demands of victims for years, so there hasn't been any reason at all to celebrate the 30th of August. However, the new government has announced some changes.

by Javier Chinchón Álvarez

For last year's International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, on 30 August, Rights International Spain prepared a quiz on how the Spanish authorities had dealt with this matter. The final version of the quiz focused only on five issues, but when we started to work on it, we wrote quite a few more. Here are ten more, almost as a way of assessing what the authorities of our country have done in order to:

Investigate all enforced disappearances that occurred during the Spanish Civil War and Franco's regime in accordance with Spain's international obligations.

  1. Stop applying the 1977 Amnesty Law to those responsible of enforced disappearances, as it constitutes a grave violation of human rights.
  2. Consider, in accordance with international law, that an enforced disappearance only ends when the person is found alive, his/her remains are found or his/her identity is restored.
  3. Incorporate enforced disappearance into the Criminal Code as an international crime: indefeasible and punished as a crime of extreme gravity.
  4. Create a commission of independent experts to determine the truth about past human rights violations, including enforced disappearances.
  5. Provide reparation to all victims of enforced disappearance in accordance with international standards.
  6. Modify the system provided by the Historical Memory Law in order to stop delegating the responsibility of exhumations to the victims.
  7. Ensure the collaboration of the Spanish justice system with the judicial procedures in other countries, such as Argentina.
  8. Modify the meaning and significance of the Valle de los Caídos and focus on attending the people who demand to recuperate the remains of their relatives buried there without their consent.
  9. Improve education in Historical Memory and human rights.


I don't think I will generate much opposition if I consider that the Spanish authorities, in light of these ten issues, have undeniably failed. Surely, many will have noticed by now that we didn't come up with these questions on our own. They were drawn from the concrete demands made to Spain by various international bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee or the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, or the UN Special Rapporteur on Transitional Justice.

The Spanish authorities have been ignoring these demands for years, so there hasn't been any reason at all to celebrate August 30. However, the new government, led by the Socialist Party, has recently announced a change that could mean a radical turn in this state of affairs. In the words of the current minister of justice, in her public appearance on 11 July, this is the "fifth axis" of the measures they will promote, the ultimate aim of which will be that Spain ceases to be "a country identified in international forums as one of the main violators of the Resolutions (...) that refer to the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition."

In this sense, she also made an explicit reference to the unbearable situation victims of enforced disappearances, which began in the Civil War and continued during Franco's dictatorship. A series of specific measures that should be approved in the coming months have already been announced, and to a certain extent, were further specified in other speeches, such as in that of the recent new head of the Directorate General for Historical Memory.

We must remain vigilant

What they have announced so far refers to six or seven out of the ten items referred to at the beginning of this article. However, aspects related to the right to justice and to the legal and judicial treatment that a crime such as a forced disappearance deserves, have only been mentioned partially and in very general terms.

Thus, we must be especially vigilant on this point, in particular taking into account that the Socialist Party hasn't done much in the past on this matter. We shouldn't forget that last March, its representative strongly opposed the proposal to amend the Spanish Amnesty Law so that it ceases to include the most grave violations of human rights contained in international law, such as forced disappearance.

So, without lowering the guard, I believe it is possible that this International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances in 2018 will be the first one in many years in which we may celebrate something. However, we must continue working hard so that all these announcements truly become a reality. Perhaps this way, the day will come in which the thousands of victims of enforced disappearances will receive what they are entitled to in Spain, and not only in judicial terms.

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