Baltasar Garzón – Advocate for international law and human rights

Laudatio by Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas on Baltasar Garzón on the occasion of the Kant World Citizen Award 2011 (excerpts)*

It is a special honor for me to say some words about Juez Baltasar Garzón Real.
  Renowned world-wide as a pioneer in the realm of international law and human rights, today’s laureate has given important impulses both towards a development of the doctrine and the practical application of the norms of international law.
  Juez [Spanish for: judge] Garzón has made important contributions as a pioneer to the extension and implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction, a principle building on the developing “world law”.
  You, judge Garzón, have achieved a breakthrough in the battle against the impunity of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Rightly you are recognised as a pioneer for the rights of disappeared persons, the so-called desaparecidos, in Latin America, but also in Europe and all over the world.
  Now, many victims of injustice are also victims of silence – víctimas del silencio. You, Juez Garzón, have lent them a voice, allowing for some rehabilitation, since what the victims wish in the first place is their recognition as victims. This perspective of the victims, this recognition of individual suffering, is a precondition for the implementation of general human rights which is based on the dignity of every individual. […]
  In his latest book “La Fuerza de la Razon” (The Power of Reason), judge Garzón writes about the notion of the universal victim – “victima universal” –, because we are all victims when crimes are committed somewhere. Thus, Garzón starts the second chapter by citing Baron de Montesquieu, “An injustice committed against an individual is a threat for us all.” We can agree with Montesquieu and Garzón, because human rights oblige us not to fight violations selectively but also injustice against every individual. Indeed, victims are not abstract constructions. They are humans made of flesh and blood and we all have an obligation towards the victims. Or, as the first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr José Ayala Lasso (Ecuador), liked to say, there are no second-class victims. There is also no international law at will or human rights à la carte. Garzón also opposes the politics of double standards and condemns “la doble moral o vara de medir”.
  Garzón ends his book with a warning – he reminds us of the dignity of the victim and his entitlement to rehabilitation: “I would like to direct my closing words towards all those who take a stand with all their power towards justice, truth and the rehabilitation of the victims of so many cruelties, victims that are sometimes forgotten, reviled, turned into culprits or treated unjustly. No effort can be too large to achieve a true compensation. All public institutions and responsible persons and, moreover, the whole society have to fight for it to reach this goal because we all are responsible. The victims show us the path we have to follow if we want to win back our dignity, because they have never lost it.” [...]
  So, it is the noblest task of law to protect the victims – all victims, without discrimination – and to rehabilitate them. […]
  Baltasar Garzón Real was born on October 26, 1955 in Torres in the province of Jaen in Andalusia/Spain. He studied law at the University of Sevilla, qualifying as a judge. His career as a judge started in Valverde del Camino, in Villacarrillo and Almería before in 1983 he was appointed Inspector for Andalusia at the Consejo General del Poder Judicial. In 1988 he became one of the six investigative judges at the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid, the highest court of appeal for criminal affairs in Spain. In 1990 and 1991 he opened judicial inquiries against organized crime, particularly against drug trafficking in the Spanish province of Galicia.
  In 1993 he was candidate for Parliament and became an MP for the socialist party of Felipe Gonzalez. He soon became the representative for the national anti-drug plan ranking as an undersecretary, but after one year he returned to his true dedication – to jurisdiction. […]
  The name Garzón is probably best remembered for the investigation into violations of human rights in Latin America and in particular for the battle against the impunity of former members of the military juntas like the Argentine head of military in Rosario, Leopoldo Fortunato Galtiere, against whom he issued an arrest warrant on March 24, 1997. On October 16, 1998 he issued an international warrant against the former Chilean President General Augusto Pinochet, charging him with the responsibility for the murder and torture of Spanish citizens in Chile. Garzón relied on reports of the Chilean “Truth Commission” which in 1990 and 1991 investigated crimes committed during the dictatorship. This was a real pioneer achievement since heads of states and senior military persons had enjoyed an extensive immunity – not only while they were in power, but, according to the doctrine of “Act of State”, also when they had lost it. •

* First published in Current Concerns of 5 June 2011

UN Human Rights Committee condemns the professional ban on the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón

gl. In February 2012, the well-known investigating judge Baltasar Garzón was banned from his profession for twelve years by the Spanish Supreme Court for allegedly perversion of the course of justice. As an investigating judge in one of Spain’s biggest corruption cases, the so-called “Gürtel case”, he had had telephone conversations between politicians and their lawyers tapped. However, this was not inadmissible at the time.
  Garzón had already made himself unpopular with both left and right-wing parties through his investigations into drug trafficking rings, ETA terrorism, corruption cases and Franco-era crimes. In 2009, he also investigated the US government for torture crimes committed at the Guantánamo detention centre.
  The UN Human Rights Committee states in its opinion that the sentence “was arbitrary and unpredictable as it was not based on sufficiently explicit, clear and precise provisions that precisely define the prohibited conduct.”1 Furthermore, the Spanish Supreme Court violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Garzón had not been able to appeal against the professional ban, nor had judicial impartiality been given.
  This is the first time that the UN Human Rights Committee has condemned a state for taking criminal action against a judge. Spain is asked to erase his criminal record and provide an “adequate compensation for the damage suffered.” Furthermore, measures are to be taken on the part of the state to ensure that such a case is not repeated.
  As Baltasar Garzón announced in an interview with “El País” on 26 August he wanted to be reinstalled as a judge in Spain. Since his impeachment eleven years ago, he has worked as a lawyer in Latin America, coordinating the defence of Julian Assange, among others. He has received numerous awards for his commitment to human rights.

1 (accessed 14 September 2021)

Sources: “Spaniens Starrichter Garzón kämpft um seine Rehabilitierung” ( Spain’s star judge Garzón fights for his rehabilitation). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 30 August 2021;

Our website uses cookies so that we can continually improve the page and provide you with an optimized visitor experience. If you continue reading this website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information regarding cookies can be found in the data protection note.

If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.​​​​​​​