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"El silencio de otros": 45 years of the Amnesty Law in Spain

Aidan Cross

Thursday, 26 May 2022

After 45 years, amendments to the Amnesty Law may finally allow victims of the Spanish Civil War and Francoist dictatorship to get justice. Aidan, a Hispanic Studies and History third year, delves into this complicated story.

Content warning: death, kidnapping


In 1977, two years after the death of Francisco Franco ended the dictatorship in Spain, a law was passed to officially codify the “Pact of Forgetting” (el Pacto del Olvido). This was a political decision made by both the left and right to avoid the legacy of the Spanish Civil War (la Guerra Civil Española, 1936-1939) and Francoist dictatorship (la dictadura franquista, 1939-1975) in order to ease the transition to democracy. However, people have not “forgotten”, and the wounds of this dark period in Spain’s history have not healed, as is highlighted in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2018 documentary “El silencio de otros”.


As a result of the Amnesty Law, those responsible for the horrors committed during the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist dictatorship have escaped justice. It is the fight for this justice that the documentary follows, giving a voice to victims of the dictatorship. The most heart-wrenching story is of an old woman who wants to know where her father, executed by the Franco regime when she was a child, is buried before she dies. Many of the 100,000-200,000 people estimated to be executed by the Franco regime were buried in mass graves, meaning that people do not know where their loved ones’ bodies are. Despite the Historical Memory Law in 2007 (la Ley de Memoria Histórica), only 19,000 bodies have been recovered, mostly by volunteer associations.


The documentary also follows the legal case brought against Spain in 2010 by Argentinian judge, Maria Romilda Servini de Cubría, under the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. Despite at least 2000 cases being filed relating to the kidnapping of more than 50,000 newborn babies sold for adoption to political supporters during the Francoist dictatorship, it wasn’t until 2018 that the first case went to trial. Dr. Eduardo Vela was found guilty of stealing Inés Madrigal from her birth mother in 1969 and falsifying official records. He was acquitted due to the expired statute of limitations. This is just one example of the damage that the Amnesty Law has done.


Fortunately, amendments to the Historical Memory Law and Amnesty Law have been proposed in recent years, aiming to make the central government responsible for the exhumation and identification of victims. Its purpose is also to remove the impunity of the Amnesty Law to allow crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and under the Francoist dictatorship to be tried by the Spanish justice system.


This year marks 45 years since the Amnesty Law was passed, and many who committed these crimes against humanity are now dead. Hopefully, as a result of the proposed amendments to the law, victims and their families will get justice and those wounds can start to heal.

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