Apparently, the judge in charge of handling the charges against Garzon has ordered his trial to begin. This has triggered an emergency meeting by the General Council of the Judiciary who decided unanimously to suspend him. It seems that he therefore will not be able to go to the ICC. I’m not sure how a national suspension affects the ICC’s capacity to hire or not someone, but that appears to be the situation right now.
Once again this decision has triggered some hyperbolic responses. According to a prosecutor at the Audienca National, his suspension would “put an end to the principle of universal justice”. Not universal jurisdiction, universal justice! For another commentator, his suspension would be catastrophic because he “symbolises international justice for citizens around the world”.
I’d like to stress that my position is not to defend the 1977 Amnesty law, or impunity for war crimes around the world, but just to bring some measure to the debate and define more clearly its parameters.
This being said, I remain astonished at how this situation is being considered. Like I said in a previous post, everybody seems to forget that Garzon was “just” a Spanish judge, not some super world prosecutor. He has a choice to quit and become an activist or go work for the ICC. But right now he is still a agent of the Spanish Judiciary and is bound by Spanish laws and accountable to his hierarchy. Once again, it is surprising to me at how little consideration and benefit of the doubt is given to the Spanish legal system.
Also, from a point of view of perceptions of Garzon as the symbol of “universal justice”, one has to question the foundations of the created belief in the first place. The human rights community created this symbol forgetting the national function of Garzon. He is an important element in the development of a general framework to fight impunity, but in no way does the future of “universal justice” depend on him.
On a related point, the human rights narrative functions on this idea of a threatened and fragile human rights minority under the threat of the rest of the world. That is just not true anymore. The unanimity of the support for Garzon shows that. Of course there is still enormous progress to be made in the protection of human rights in the world, but the importance of the human rights movement and its impact, both in influencing countries and in international negotiations, such as the ICC, makes the “besieged discourse” far less convincing. The need to create outrage is understandable to obtain results, but this systematic hyberbolic discourse of repression seems to me to be slightly counter-productive on the long run, when you see the enormous advance of human rights in the last 20 years.
Discourse creates expectations, and if you create too high expectations, they will obviously be disappointed. This could be the starting point of a general discussion of international justice in general, but let’s keep this for another time…