Judge Baltasar Garzon, who became famous when he brought a crimes-against-humanity case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, has declared himself competent to lead a criminal investigation into the fate of tens of thousands of people who vanished during the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. He has also ordered 19 mass graves to be opened, including the one believed to contain the remains of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was executed by Franco forces in August 1936. In his 68-page ruling, Judge Garzon says that Franco regime carried out “illegal permanent detentions” which he said fell within the definition of crimes against humanity. He was referring to some 114,000 people who disappeared during a 15-year period after the outbreak of war in 1936. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is appealing against the judge’s decision because it considers that the crimes committed during the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship were covered by the 1977 Amnesty Law. The law emerged from the “pacto del olvido” (pact of forgetting) accepted by all the political parties during the so-called Transition (1975-77) to avoid re-opening old wounds and hatreds. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a Socialist Party rally in Santiago de Compostela last Friday that he respected the judge’s decision but stressed that history had already judged the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. The leader of Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) party, Gaspar Llamazares, accused the PM of being a hypocrite: “He supports the judge in public, after telling the Public Prosecutor behind the scenes to find a away of stopping him.” Judge Garzon has named Franco and 34 of his senior aides as the instigators of the alleged crimes, and has asked for their death certificates to be produced, to prove that they can no longer face prosecution. Madrid Community president Esperanza Aquirre mocked the request, telling reporters: “Napoleon’s troops killed thousands of Spaniards 200 years ago but nobody’s ever asked for a copy of his death certificate.” The judge has also asked the Interior Ministry to provide names of senior surviving members of the fascist Falange Party, which supported Franco, with a view to possible prosecutions. Meanwhile, the Platform for the Victims of Franco have called on the Public Prosecutor not to appeal the judge’s decision because “Justice has begun to function for those victims”. After winning the war in April 1939, Franco set in motion a systematic elimination of all his left-wing opponents inside Spain, known as “la limpieza” (the cleansing), while an estimated 400,000 fled into exile.