Ending the Francoist Pact of Oblivion
Today, September 15, 2023, is a historic day for Spain. Julio Pacheco Yepes, victim of arbitrary detention and torture for belonging to an anti-fascist movement that opposed Franco’s regime, sits down to testify before a judge. This event will be part of the history of Spain, since it is the first time that a victim of the regime perpetrated by Francisco Franco has the opportunity to have his testimony brought to justice in Spain.
The struggle of the victims to know the truth began as early as the 2000s with the generation of grandchildrenThe first one, far from the traumas generated by the Civil War and Franco’s regime, began to demand the end of the social and institutional silence that had been perpetuated for more than 20 years in Spain. More specifically, it was Emilio Silva searching for his grandfather in a mass grave in Priaranza (León), who marked a milestone in the struggle for truth and justice with what is now known as the exhumation of the Priaranza 13.
It is important to know that there is a reason for this lack of access to justice: the 1977 Amnesty Law. Despite the fact that this Law, also known as the Pact of Forgetfulness, was drafted with the aim of achieving a transition to democracy, leaving behind the atrocities experienced in recent decades, it has meant and continues to mean impunity for those who committed massive human rights violations.
Thus, the victims of forced disappearances, sexual aggression, torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions, among others, are still helpless 50 years later. 50 years without effective access to justice, without having found the truth about the whereabouts of their relatives, without having received the relevant reparations and without having been guaranteed that such events will not happen again.
It should be noted that it should be the responsibility of the State to protect the right of victims such as Julio to access justice, know the truth, receive dignified reparations and guarantee that their rights will not be violated again in such a cruel way. In this way, an adequate (and rather late) transitional justice would be provided between the period of repression and the democratic period experienced in Spain during the 1980s.
It is indisputable that, in addition, memory plays a key role in this process. Without the existence of adequate mechanisms that allow for the remembrance of these historic events, there is no way that the victims can be heard and attended to, and therefore do not receive the justice and recognition they deserve.
For this reason, the Law of Democratic Memory passed in 2022 represents a breach in the wall of Franco’s impunity, by providing spaces for victims to tell their truth. This law aims to ensure the implementation of mechanisms and measures, such as the creation of a DNA bank or a Prosecutor’s Office for Memory, to provide victims with the opportunity to be heard and receive comprehensive reparations, and to ensure that their perpetrators do not continue to live in impunity.
In this way, Julio’s individual memory, together with that of the millions of other victims of Franco’s regime, forms part of a collective memory that it is essential to remember. Adding this collective narrative to the State’s responsibility to guarantee the rights of victims creates a solid democratic memory in which massive human rights violations should have no place.
Today, Spain is a little fairer, freer and more democratic. Today, Spain is complying with its international obligations, which have been ignored for decades. Today, Julio and his family, as well as the rest of the victims, are one step closer to finding the truth, justice and reparations they deserve. Today, and hopefully forever.
Nadia Gayoso de la Calle – responsible for projects in the area of democratic memory and transitional justice.