Human Rights Heroes

Baltasar Garzón

Baltasar Garzón Real served on Spain’s central criminal court, where he investigated some of the most important criminal cases in Spain, including terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering. Needless to say, he made enemies.

He came to international attention on 10 October 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chilean President, General Augusto Pinochet, for the alleged deaths and torture of Spanish citizens. Although the British government refused to extradite Pinochet on health grounds, it marked the first use of universal jurisdiction to attempt to try a former head of government for an international crime. The arrest set a precedent that heads of state may now be tried for crimes such as torture and genocide, that no person is above the law when it comes to crimes against humanity. Other countries have followed his lead.

Garzón also sought permission for cross-examination of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in connection with a plot known as Operation Condor, a campaign of political repression and state terror in South America. The campaign, which lasted from 1975 to 1978, and again after 1981, was supported by the US and resulted in more than 60,000 civilian deaths. 

He filed charges of genocide against Argentine military officers on the disappearance of Spanish citizens during Argentina’s 1976–1983 dictatorship, resulting in the conviction and sentencing of Adolfo Scilingo to over 1,000 years incarceration.

Garzón has been prevented from working as a judge in Spain since May 2010. He currently works as a legal adviser at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for 7 months from May 2010.