Baltasar Garzon (photo, from guardian.co.uk), a top Spanish judge, has pulled out of investigations into the fate of more than 100 000 people who vanished during the civil war and Franco dictatorship.
He complied with demands that inquiries should be handled by courts in the regions where crimes were committed, said justice officials.
Last month, judge Garzon announced that the opening of mass graves from Spain’s 1936-39 civil war could start.
But later, the exhumations were suspended by Spain’s top criminal court. This imposed the halt to allow it to rule on whether judge Garzon had the competence to launch the inquiry.
While the ruling was condemned as “brutally inhumane” by judge Garzon’s supporters, others said that his intervention violated the 1977 Amnesty Law, which pardoned politically-motivated crimes by General Franco’s friends and foes alike.
Gen Francisco Franco and more than 30 members of his regime were named as instigators of alleged crimes against humanity in October, by judge Garzon.
In a 68-page edict, the judge referred to 114,000 alleged victims who “disappeared” over a 15-year period, following Gen Franco’s military uprising against the elected Second Republic government in July 1936.
He also said that mass exhumations could start, including controversially, at the grave where poet Federico Garcia Lorca is thought to be buried.
However, Spain’s top criminal court, the National Audience, ruled earlier this month that “the activities related to the exhumation of bodies must be suspended while this court resolves questions raised by the public prosecutor regarding the competence of the judge to make this move”.
The National Audience’s ruling followed an appeal from the public prosecutor, who had said that because of the Amnesty Law, Franco-era crimes could not be examined.
The law underpinned Spain’s delicate transition from dictatorship to democracy by guaranteeing that the past would not be raked of, said the BBC’s Steve Kingston in Madrid.
But Spain has recently been asked by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to abolish the law, because it contradicted international treaties.