Spain Passes Law to Bring Justice to Victims of the Franco Era

This law strengthens the transition and the defence of democratic values and condemns for the first time the military coup of July 1936 and Franco’s dictatorship.

Five decades after the death of General Franco, and three years after the Spanish dictator’s remains were finally removed from his huge mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid, the country’s Senate approved a law which is meant to bring “justice, reparation and dignity” to victims of the civil war and subsequent dictatorship.

On Wednesday evening, Spain’s upper house of parliament approved the Socialist government’s Democratic Memory law, with 128 votes in favour, 113 against and 18 abstentions. The legislation, which was passed by Spain’s Congress in July, contains dozens of measures intended to help settle the debt of Spanish democracy with its past.

Among them are the creation of a census and a national DNA bank to help locate and identify the remains of the tens of thousands of people still lying in mass graves, the banning of groups that glorify Francoism and a “redefinition” of the Valley of the Fallen, the giant basilica and memorial where Franco lay for 44 years until its exhumation in 2019.

According to the government of President Pedro Sánchez, the legislation will help foster a shared debate based on the defence of peace, pluralism and the expansion of human rights and constitutional freedoms. 

The new law builds on 2007 historical memory legislation introduced under another socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which was resisted by Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP). Many on Spain’s right have opposed legislative efforts to revisit the past, saying they risk undermining the 1977 amnesty law and the so-called Pact of Oblivion that helped Spain return to democracy after Franco’s death.


Main Developments

Regarding the truth, it declares the right of relatives and society to know what happened. The state assumes leadership in the search for and identification of the disappeared and the promotion of exhumations.

It guarantees the preservation of documents and access to archives, also promoting the creation of a national DNA bank of victims of the war and dictatorship.It includes an explicit recognition of the role of the memorial movement and creates a stable structure for participation through the Council for Democratic Memory.

Regarding justice, tt declares the illegality of Franco’s exceptional courts and the nullity of their sentences and places the victims at the centre of public action. This will give rise to the right to obtain a declaration of recognition and personal reparation. It also declares the right to the investigation of human rights violations of the war and dictatorship up to the promulgation of the 1978 Constitution.

It promotes the creation of a Public Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights and Democratic Memory in the State Attorney General’s Office as an instrument of investigation.

In terms of reparations, it advances the need to carry out an audit and an inventory of assets seized and economic sanctions during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

Two new cases of acquisition of Spanish nationality are included for those who suffered exile: the sons and daughters, born abroad, of Spaniards who lost their nationality because they married foreigners before 1978, and the adult sons and daughters of Spaniards who were recognised as having the nationality of origin by virtue of the right of option.

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