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Contentious legal expert Baltasar Garzón to speak at Costa Rica's University for Peace

Famed Spanish legal expert Baltasar Garzón will give a talk at the University For Peace campus Thursday morning.

The Spanish judge’s discussion is titled “Universal jurisdiction and the commitment to the cause of justice.” The conference takes place at 9 a.m. at the Carta de la Tierra Auditorium on the university’s campus, which is located in Ciudad Colón, southwest of the capital.

Garzón, a human right judge from Spain, has been involved in several high-profile cases including the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and a trial in Madrid against two dozen alleged al-Qaeda operatives (18 were found guilty). The controversial figure currently leads the legal team of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Garzón first received international attention when he used Spain’s principle of universal jurisdiction to arrest the military ruler Pinochet in London in the late 1990s. According to a BBC article on the case, “universal jurisdiction” is a concept that states “some crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere regardless of where the offences are committed.”

Tens of thousands died, disappeared or were tortured during Pinochet’s reign form 1973 to 1990. But the arrest in 1998 was ultimately fruitless. Pinochet spent a year and a half detained in the U.K. while the government considered Spain’s extradition request. In the end, Pinochet was ruled “too frail and he was allowed to go home,” the BBC wrote.

Garzón found greater success going after an al-Qaeda cell in Europe and also in a case against an Argentine ex-naval officer, who was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 640 years in prison.

WikiLeaks revealed in 2010 that the United States tried to pressure Spain over Garzón’s attempts to investigation activities at Guantánamo Bay.

From The Guardian:

US officials tried to influence Spanish prosecutors and government officials to head off court investigations into Guantánamo Bay torture allegations, secret CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights and the killing of a Spanish journalist by US troops in Iraq, according to secret US diplomatic cables.

Among their biggest worries were investigations pursued by the magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who US officials described as having ‘an anti-American streak.’

The combative legal expert already was facing his own troubles in 2008 after trying to investigate crimes that occurred during the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Francisco Franco dictatorship. He was accused of  abusing his powers, a charge that the Spanish Supreme Court eventually tossed out in 2012, according to the New York Times.

However, earlier that year the same court had suspended Garzón as magistrate for 11 years after finding him guilty of ordering an illegal wiretap in a separate case. Garzón’s new life now includes defending WikiLeaks mastermind Assange.

The suspension led to condemnation by international human rights groups and mass protests within the country. Supporters claimed the investigation was nothing more than a political witch hunt by right-wing enemies against “one of the world’s best-known human rights investigators.

 More information on the University for Peace event is available here.

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Wish I could have been there for that. Seems like an interesting man.

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