Spanish 1977 Amnesty Law

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The Spanish 1977 Amnesty Law is a law promulgated by the Parliament of Spain in 1977, two years after caudillo Francisco Franco's death.[1] The law freed political prisoners and permitted those exiled to return to Spain, but guaranteed impunity for those who participated in crimes[2] under the Civil War and Francoist Spain.[1] The law is still in force, and has been used as a reason for not investigating and prosecuting Francoist human rights violations.[3]

The act institutionalized Spain's "pact of forgetting"—a decision among Spanish parties and political actors, during and after the Spanish transition to democracy, not to address atrocities committed by the Spanish State.[4][5] The 1977 amnesty has been criticized by scholars for equating "victims and victimizers" and for shielding human rights violators from prosecution and punishment.[1] Spain has argued that perpetrators of crimes against humanity cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed before 1939, but the UN takes the view that Francoist crimes should be investigated.[6] In February 2012 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded the 1977 Amnesty Law to be repealed on the basis that it violates international human rights law. The Commissioner referred to Spain's obligation to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under international human rights law, there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.[7] In 2013, a UN working group of experts called upon Spain to repeal the 1977 law.[8]

In 2008, Judge Baltasar Garzón briefly began an official inquiry, symbolically indicting Franco for the disappearance of more than 100,000 people. In 2009, Manos Limpias, a far-right syndicate, brought criminal charges against the judge for defying the amnesty law.[8][9] Garzón was acquitted of the charges of "knowingly acting without jurisdiction" relating to his investigation of Francoist crimes, but was disbarred for 11 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2012 on an unrelated charge.[10]

Argentinian judge María Cubrini de Servía has been investigating civil rights abuses under the Franco regime since 2010. In 2018 she agreed to extend her investigation to include crimes specifically against women.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Ackar, Kadribasic (2010) Transitional Justice in Democratization Processes: The Case of Spain from an International Point of View, International Journal of Rule of Law, Transitional Justice and Human Rights, pp. 132-33.
  2. ^ Miriam M. Basilio, Visual Propaganda, Exhibitions, and the Spanish Civil War (Ashgate, 2013), p. 220.
  3. ^ Paloma Aguilar, "The Timing and the Scope of Reparation, Truth and Justice Measures: A Comparison of the Spanish, Argentinian and Chilean Cases" in Building a Future on Peace and Justice: Studies on Transitional Justice (eds. Kai Ambos, Judith Large, and Marieke Wierda: Springer, 2009), pp. 505, 521-2.
  4. ^ Omar G. Encarnación, Spanish Politics: Democracy After Dictatorship (Polity, 2008), p. 133.
  5. ^ Ofelia Ferrán & Lisa Hilbink, "Introduction: Legalities of Violence in Contemporary Spain" in Legacies of Violence in Contemporary Spain: Exhuming the Past, Understanding the Present (Routledge, 2016), p. 2.
  6. ^ La ONU da la razón a Garzón y pide investigar el franquismo, Público (, 10/02/2012
  7. ^ Spain must lift amnesty for Franco era crimes-U.N., Reuters (February 10, 2012).
  8. ^ a b U.N. tells Spain to revoke Franco-era amnesty law, Reuters (September 30, 2013).
  9. ^ Editorial, Truth on Trial in Spain, New York Times (February 5, 2012).
  10. ^ Sarah Leggott, Memory, War, and Dictatorship in Recent Spanish Fiction by Women (Bucknell University Press, 2015), p. 20.
  11. ^ Guardian Oct 26th 2018, Judge investigates Franco era crimes