The Universal Language of Humanity

Baltasar Garzón

One of the dark­est and sad­dest chap­ters of his­to­ry began 75 years ago in Spain. It last­ed more than 41 years and even now, 34 years of democ­ra­cy lat­er, it has not tru­ly ended. 

As a judge, I am one of the many who struggle against the theory that history can only be changed by military force.

In 1936, those who scorned the free­dom and democ­ra­cy of the Span­ish Repub­lic began an unjust and ille­gal war – though per­haps all wars are unjust and ille­gal. Tens of thou­sands were tor­tured, dis­ap­peared and exe­cut­ed with­out tri­al. About 30,000 chil­dren – the Lost Chil­dren of Fran­co­ism” – were kid­napped sim­ply because their par­ents sup­port­ed the Republic.

But it was not just a domes­tic war. The fas­cist regimes in Ger­many and Italy aid­ed the rebels led by Gen­er­al Fran­cis­co Fran­co, while the West­ern democ­ra­cies stood by silent­ly. Inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty soon stepped up, how­ev­er. From more than 50 coun­tries, more than 40,000 men and women – includ­ing 2,800 from the Unit­ed States – formed the Inter­na­tion­al Brigades to fight against fas­cism in Spain. They offered their lives for an ideal.

The Amer­i­can vol­un­teers were called the Abra­ham Lin­coln Brigade, which was near­ly 30 per­cent Jew­ish and includ­ed 75 women and 90 African Amer­i­cans. For the first time in U.S. his­to­ry, white sol­diers served under a black com­man­der, Oliv­er Law. When those who sur­vived returned to the Unit­ed States, some were per­se­cut­ed dur­ing the McCarthy era as pre­ma­ture anti-fascists.”

For me, as for so many oth­ers, the men and women of the Abra­ham Lin­coln Brigade are a shin­ing exam­ple of courage and sol­i­dar­i­ty: They are the heroes who choose to fight for the promise of free­dom and democ­ra­cy, whose con­vic­tions lead them to offer the ulti­mate sacrifice.

We all have a moral – a legal – oblig­a­tion to fight against amne­sia and indif­fer­ence, just as much as we must fight against those who insti­gat­ed or con­sent­ed to bar­bar­ic acts. To do so means to hold high the ban­ner of dig­ni­ty and human rights and turn away from ille­gal­i­ty and those spaces where the rule of law does not exist, even in the name of the so-called war on terror.”

It is through the rule of law, not through vio­lence, that we must pro­tect and defend the vic­tims of war, of ter­ror­ism and of the mass crim­i­nals who sow the earth with death and desolation.

As a judge, my duty is to try, with every case, to com­ply with the law – that uni­ver­sal vision found­ed on respect for human dig­ni­ty and the doc­trine of human rights. As such, I am one of the many who strug­gle against the the­o­ry that his­to­ry can only be changed by mil­i­tary force. 

In 1948, the Unit­ed Nations Gen­er­al Assem­bly adopt­ed the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights, a clear affir­ma­tion of inter­na­tion­al coex­is­tence based on respect for the guar­an­tee of all rights for all cit­i­zens, every­where. Today this dec­la­ra­tion still lingers, wait­ing for action. But in the face of the fail­ure of ide­olo­gies that have pre­ten­sions to uni­ver­sal­i­ty, the only lan­guage com­mon to all human­i­ty remains the lan­guage of human rights, a lan­guage to guide us in an era of glob­al­iza­tion in which the val­ue of ethics and respon­si­bil­i­ty has been suspended.

For these rea­sons we must defend those rights and respond to the illic­it activ­i­ties of inter­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments in sen­si­tive areas such as pover­ty, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, the devel­op­ment and admin­is­tra­tion of nat­ur­al resources and the pro­tec­tion of the envi­ron­ment. For civ­il soci­ety to not con­front these new chal­lenges is tan­ta­mount to approv­ing the sta­tus quo. 

In 16th cen­tu­ry Switzer­land, an epic con­fronta­tion took place between rea­son and pow­er, between con­science and vio­lence, between Sebas­t­ian Castel­lio, a believ­er in reli­gious tol­er­ance, and John Calvin, the intol­er­ant Protes­tant reformer. The Aus­tri­an writer Ste­fan Zweig described it apt­ly: From the point of view of the spir­it, the words vic­to­ry’ and defeat’ acquire a dif­fer­ent mean­ing. And for this rea­son, we must again and again remind the world – a world that sees only the vic­tors – that those who would raise their domin­ion over the tombs … of mil­lions of beings are not the true heroes; rather it is those oth­ers who, with­out tak­ing recourse to force, suc­cumbed before pow­er, as Castel­lio did before Calvin, in his fight for the free­dom of con­science and for the final com­ing of human­i­ty on earth.”

It is up to us to con­tin­ue the fight for human rights, for human dig­ni­ty and against impunity.

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