International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Exhumations, political ghosts and the role of time

The case of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) fought between Republicans and Nationalists, the dictatorship that followed under Francisco Franco (1939-1975), and its aftermath bring about an array of questions that are worth exploring. During the Civil War, atrocities were committed on both sides. Nonetheless, many have viewed the Republicans violent activities as natural responses during war time, while the Nationalists actions during the war were seen as systematic killings of Republican followers that were not actively participating in the war. The vast majority of the Nationalists that died during the Civil War were deemed war casualties and received proper burials.

Sixty plus years later, Spain finds itself having allegedly completed a Democratic Transition Period. Interestingly, the ghost of Franco still lurks. During the past ten years multiple common graves of Republican victims have been unearthed, these graves have re-opend the public discussion of the atrocities, and have brought up the question as to why something that took place in the past, should be dealt with as an issue of the present. Moreover, could these graves be seen as pseudo-trials in addition to ways for the individuals to honor their family members? This decision has proven as a controversial one given that after Franco’s reign, the vast majority of the Spaniards opted to enter a collective Pact of Silence which was strengthened by an Amnesty Law which basically allowed for the crimes to go un-punished. The opening of the graves have additionally taken a political angle given that the Socialist Party has backed a “Law of Historical Memory” which promotes the continuation of the opening of mass graves and a more active and open process of reconciliation with regard to the atrocities committed during the war.

The opening of these graves 60 plus years later brings up the critical role that time plays with regard to the tensions that may exist within the collective ideas of what should have been done after the war ended and after Franco’s death. We have seen in class that the ICTY was held while the conflict was still on-going while the ICTR was held shortly after the conflict. What impact could the exhumations and the Law of Historical Memory have had if they were to have taken place after the end of the war and after Franco’s death?  Moreover, taking the Spain, the ICTY and ICTR cases, is the role of how much time passes between when action is taken/the crimes are acknowledged something that should be given greater importance within the international community?

I have included a video which does a good job at summarizing what is going on (there have been multiple developments since this video was filmed, but it is still a good reference point). It is rather long, thus, I would encourage you all to just watch the beginning where you can see footage of the exhumations and how the process is carried out. You could alternatively read this article, it is a really interesting case to follow:



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