Consuelo Ordóñez from Spain addressed the European Innocent Victims Seminar at the Lough Erne hotel in Co Fermanagh last weekend. She writes:
In 1995, ETA shot my brother in the head while he was at a restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain.
He was a politician and his only crime was to criticise ETA fanatics.
Four years later I helped to create the Terrorism Victims Collective, COVITE, an institution that fights against impunity and against a narrative that present terrorists as freedom fighters.
When ETA announced that it would no longer kill in 2011, this was the conclusion of the first analysis of the Spanish public prosecutor’s office: nobody had paid a single minute of prison for over 400 ETA terrorist assassinations. Nearly 50% of the crimes, unpunished.
Terrorist assassination investigations have been closed in less than 24 hours.
There are ballistic reports that have taken 20 years to reach the Spanish High Court.
There are regional courts that, without the power to do so, have managed terrorist assassination files, which is forbidden by law.
As a victim of the tremendous mistakes that have been made, it is my obligation to explain how we can avoid making those same mistakes again.
In Spain and also in Europe.
We have created a draft of good practices based on five main pillars, aimed at avoiding the prevalence of impunity after continued terrorist attacks over time.
Without justice, the injuries created by terrorism will never heal. Turning the page of terrorism without even reading it is like placing a bad bandage where there should be a double bandage.
Therefore, the first pillar is based on making it easier for victims’ associations to access judicial orders.
The second pillar is related to the need of not linking the access to judicial files to the approval of the victim’s family (as is required in Spain for crimes against a specific person). Terrorism is a public crime against the whole rule of law, and not against a specific person.
This pillar answers to the interest of other victims: maybe in the judicial file there are declarations or evidence that links the investigated terrorists with other attacks. But, they cannot be accessed because of the family’s negative.
In third place, judicial files need to be protected in order to preserve the right to the truth, not only of terrorism victims, but of the whole society.
Another of the key pillars for COVITE is that judicial persecution is not limited to the person who carried out the terrorist attack or the collaborator or the informer.
The justice system should focus on the person who organised or oversaw or ordered the terrorist attacks.
Otherwise, it favours the terrorist dynamic, it foments impunity among those who are most dangerous for society.
And to finish, the fifth pillar is the most important of all.
Justice investigation cannot and should not be limited to those cases where criminal liability has not lapsed through the passage of time.
The right to truth is an internationally recognised right.
Although an assassination may be expired, the justice system should ensure the victim’s right to know the truth.
Not only in terms of good intentions and promises, but in real and effective terms.
In short, Justice is not a key pillar for the victims of terrorist violence.
Justice is the vehicle that will be used to create a memory, to protect the new generations and avoid impunity.
• Consuelo Ordóñez is President of COVITE