Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory Wins Human Rights Award

March 13, 2015
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Exhumation, by part of the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory (ARMH), of a pit of Spanish Civil War victims, 2008. Photo Foro Cultural Provincia de El Bierzo. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Exhumation, by part of the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory (ARMH), of a pit of Spanish Civil War victims, 2008. Photo Foro Cultural Provincia de El Bierzo. CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Association has carried out over 150 exhumations and recovered the remains of more than 1,300 victims of Franco’s regime.

ALBA is proud to announce the winner of the 2015 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism–the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain (Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, ARMH). Founded by journalist Emilio Silva in 2000, the Association has conducted over 150 exhumations and recovered the remains of more than 1,300 victims of Franco’s regime—roughly 8% of Spain’s disappeared. Almost without state support, the Association has worked with forensic experts to set up a DNA database and worked to put victims’ rights and transitional justice on Spain’s political agenda. Through its advocacy work at the national and international level, in 2003 the United Nations Working Group on Forced Disappearances began including Spain in its reports.

Emilio Silva

Emilio Silva

The award ceremony will take place during ALBA’s annual celebration in New York, on May 9 at 2:30 pm, at the Japan Society (333 East 47th St. in New York City). Tickets  Press Release  | Comunicado de prensa  

“Thanks to work of the ARMH, Spain has been able to break the wall of oblivion that enveloped  the victims of that dreadful period,” said Judge Baltasar Garzón, human rights advocate and recipient of the first ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism in 2011.

More than 100,000 bodies lie buried in unmarked mass graves all across Spain, victims of right-wing repression during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the ensuing Franco dictatorship (1939-75).  Since the return of democracy in 1978, tens of thousands of Spaniards have longed to locate and exhume the remains of their loved ones, to honor their memory, and to give them a proper burial. Yet, for almost four decades now, the Spanish state has largely ignored the rights of those who were disappeared or killed by Spanish fascism, victimizing them for a second time by portraying them, in effect, as unavoidable “collateral damage” of Spain’s brokered transition to democracy.   


Emilio Silva has dedicated 15 years of his life to settling Spain’s moral debt to the past.


“Emilio Silva has dedicated 15 years of his life to settling Spain’s moral debt to the past,” says ALBA Chair Sebastiaan Faber. “When Spain became a democracy in the late 1970s after Franco’s nearly 40-year dictatorship had ended with his death, two contradictory things happened. On one hand, the leaders of the Franco regime and the opposition agreed that the country could only move forward in peace if the past were left alone. Everyone would start with a clean slate. This was the reasoning behind the 1977 Amnesty Laws. Yet in the absence of investigations, trials, or purges, those who held power under Franco continued to hold power after his death. Judges, educators, bankers, journalists, and CEOs all continued where they were—but so did tens of thousands of bodies in unmarked graves across the country. Peace came at a high moral price.”

“The award to Mr. Silva and ARHM is particularly appropriate,” said ALBA vice chair Prof. Anthony Geist, “as it has a direct link to the struggle that the Lincoln volunteers put their lives on the line for. In fact, to this day a number of American volunteers lie shrouded in Spanish earth in unmarked graves.”

Part of an initiative designed to sustain the legacy of the experiences, aspirations and idealism of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism supports current international activists and human rights causes. The Award was created by philanthropist and visionary Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, which in 2010 established an endowed fund for the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism.

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