IT is the ultimate irony.
The man who has come to symbolise justice is now being prosecuted by his own nation for pursuing his idealistic principles.
Nicknamed the ‘superjudge’, Baltasar Garzon has never shied away from confronting former dictators, military officers and even Middle Eastern terrorists.
And it was his no-holds-barred legal assaults on such figures that won the adulation and respect of the Spanish political left and international human rights campaigners.
So much so that the silver-haired judge was named the Olive Press’ ‘Man of the year in 2008.
General Pinochet, Osama Bin Laden, not to mention, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi have all been targeted by the righteous Garzon.
Yet Garzon’s crusading efforts to secure international justice caused cynics to suggest that he was turning a blind eye to far greater grievances much closer to home.
In short, the atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War and under the 36-year-long Franco dictatorship.
Estimates suggest that more than 100,000 unidentified bodies are still buried in mass graves across Spain.
Although, after the bloodshed, Franco made it a priority to dig up his right-wing supporters.
Meanwhile, those who fought for the Republicans are yet to receive the same treatment.
In fact, there are reportedly more missing people in Spain than in both Chile and Argentina put together.
A panel ruled ten to five that he did not have the jurisdiction to dig up the forgotten.
So, two years ago, Garzon, born in Jaen, took it upon himself to tackle this shameful truth by ordering the immediate exhumation of civil war mass graves.
Suddenly, the spotlight shifted from distant climes to Spain’s own back garden – one that had been deliberately left untended for 21 years.
For the death of Franco in 1975 sparked a very delicate transition to democracy which involved the notorious 1977 ‘Pact of Forgetting’.
The majority of politicians believed that the only way Spain could move forward would be to completely bury its torrid past.
It was a blatant and unashamed compromise, but secured the country’s pathway to democracy and modernity.
Yet, despite being brushed under the carpet, the growing clamour for the recognition of fallen Republicans simmered under the surface.
And Garzon’s intervention in 2008 fuelled this burning desire – much to the horror of many right-wing politicians and supporters.
His decision threatened to bring to the surface once more the highly-charged emotions that were buried along with the nameless Republicans.
Despite Garzon adamant that, under international law Spain’s amnesty for ‘political acts’ could not apply to crimes against humanity, many have not agreed.
An appeals panel ruled ten to five that Garzon did not have the jurisdiction to dig up the forgotten.
Far-right groups, including one linked to Franco’s dictatorship, accused Garzon of an abuse of power.
Supreme Court investigating magistrate Luciano Varela claimed that Garzon knowingly acted beyond his authority.
“Conscious of his lack of jurisdiction he constructed artificial arguments to justify his control of the penal proceedings,” said Varela.
However, many view the court action against Garzon as a shameless attack on truth, integrity and the fight for fairness.
“If this trial goes ahead, it will be the first time that we know of where a judge, who is trying to reach truth, justice and reparation for over 100,000 people who disappeared, is tried,” said Esteban Beltran, director of the Spanish branch of Amnesty International.
If found guilty Garzon would not face prison, but his judicial career would certainly be over.
It would be an ignominious end for Spain’s superjudge and, above all, the ultimate irony.
Since his step up to Madrid’s National Court at just 32 years of age, Garzon has fashioned his career and reputation treading on toes and ruffling seemingly untouchable feathers across the globe.
An advocate for international justice, no matter how high the stakes were, Garzon has come unstuck casting his moral eye over his own country.
The truth is, no matter how just or righteous the case may be, some things are still better forgotten in Spain – seemingly at any price.