UN experts blast rightwing ‘harmony’ laws in Spain for ‘whitewashing’ the Franco era

EXPERTS from the United Nations have warned that so-called ‘harmony’ laws proposed by right-wing regional governments in Spain amount to the ‘whitewashing’ of the Franco dictatorship and could breach international human rights standards. 

Local governments led by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) and far-right Vox in Aragon, Castilla y Leon, and Valencia, have been accused by the Spanish government of attempting to ‘whitewash Francoism and rewrite history’ by downplaying or justifying the horrors of General Franco’s dictatorship which commanded Spain from 1936 to 1975.

Critics of the ‘harmony’ laws claim that the proposed legislation would thwart public historical memory projects, gloss over serious human rights violations, and ‘suppress many historical memory associations and activities’.

The legacy of the dictatorship of General Franco, who seized power in the Spanish Civil War by leading a coup d’etat against the legitimately elected Republican government, has long proved to be a deeply polarising and toxic battleground within Spanish politics.

Just two years ago, Pedro Sanchez’s socialist government approved the Democratic Memory law which intended to bring ‘justice, reparation and dignity’ to the victims of Franco’s fascist forces by introducing a national DNA database to identify thousands of remains in unmarked, communal graves, banning groups that glorify Franco’s regime, and re-defining the highly controversial Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a basilica built by Franco to celebrate the war, as Valle de Cuelgamuros.

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Spain starts exhuming remains from Franco era mausoleum near Madrid
The Valle de los Caídos, a basilica buily by General Franco to celebrate the Spanish Civil War, has been re-purposed under Spanish law. Credit: Cordon Press

Previous legislation introduced by the PSOE government also led to Franco’s remains being exhumed from the site in 2019 and reinterred at Mingorrubio Cemetery in El Pardo following a lengthy legal process.

Now, a letter signed by three key UN officials has sounded the alarm over the potentially damaging effects of the ‘harmony’ laws proposed by right-wing coalitions across Spain.

Signed by Fabian Salvioli, the special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice and reparation, Aua Balde, the chair of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, and Morris Tidball-Binz, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the letter said the proposed laws could ‘affect the Spanish state’s obligations when it comes to human rights, especially its obligation to guarantee the preservation of historical memory on serious human rights violations’. 

They added: “We would urge the Spanish government to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the strict respect for international standards governing the preservation of historical memory on serious human rights violations”.

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will fight the introduction of the laws before the constitutional court, the UN, the EU parliament and the Council of Europe.

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Far-right Vox are in coalition with the Partido Popular in regional governments across Spain. Credit: Cordon Press

The UN trio said the law would also ‘render the serious human rights violations committed during the Franco dictatorship invisible’ and reminded Spain that it had a duty to victims of forced disappearances.

They added that the law in Castilla y Leon did not use the word ‘dictatorship’ and did not explicitly condemn human rights violations carried out by the Francoist state, whilst legislation put forward by Franco-friendly Vox in Valencia disregarded the victims of the violence of the civil war and dictatorship by blanketly referring to ‘all victims of social, political and terrorist violence and of ideological and religious persecution’.

“Not investigating and trying these violations is in itself a failure to fulfill the rules set out in human rights treaties. Impunity over such violations can be an important factor in the repetition of those violations”, they added.

A government spokesman said: “The fact that the rapporteurs and working groups have signed a joint letter shows how serious these violations are”.

Emilio Silva, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, said: “The harmony laws are an attempt to whitewash Francoism and praise the dictatorship, which represents an act of aggression against its victims”.

However, the UN letter was criticised by Aragon’s PP regional president, Jorge Azcon, who called the report a ‘lie’ and that it ‘leaves the UN in a poor place’.

Likewise, Juan Garcia-Gallardo, the Vox vice-president for Castilla y Leon, said: “From the outset, you need to ask who these rapporteurs are, what they know about Spanish legislation and what they know about the real content of these laws, because what we’ve seen in the press displays a lot of misunderstanding”. 

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