Rodolfo Martin Villa

17.04.2023 ( Last modified: 30.03.2023 )
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Ongoing proceedings against former Spanish governor of the Franco dictatorship for alleged international crimes committed in Spain

Type of jurisdiction

Universal jurisdiction


Rodolfo Martín Villa, civil governor and provincial chief of Barcelona from 1974 to 1975, former minister from 1975 to 1979

Country of residence of suspect



Indictment for crimes against humanity dismissed

Current status

Under investigation; indictment dismissed


After the 1930 civil war in Spain, Francisco Franco established a bloody dictatorship and proclaimed himself head of state. Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and inhuman and degrading treatments of perceived political opponents were committed on a large scale. Franco maintained a tight grip on power untilhisdeathin1975,afterwhich Spain transitioned to democracy. In 1977, an amnesty law was passed to cover crimes committed duringthedictatorship,preventing the prosecution in Spain of human rights violations perpetrated under Franco’s regime. Martín Villa was appointed civil governor and provincial chief of Barcelona from 1974 to 1975 and then minister from 1975 to 1979.

Procedure in Spain

In December 2006, the investigative judge Baltasar Garzón opened an investigation in Spain into allegations of crimes against humanity committed during the Franco dictatorship.

In October 2008, he ruled that the 1977 Spanish law granting amnesty for crimes committed during the Franco dictatorship did not apply, owing to the nature of the crimes. However, the Supreme Court overturned this decision, while Judge Garzón was put on trial for prevarication for his alleged unfair interpretation of the amnesty law. He was eventually acquitted but the amnesty law remains applicable, and the crimes committed by the Franco dictatorship still cannot be investigated or prosecuted in Spain.

Procedure in Argentina

On 14 April 2010, Spanish and Argentinian human rights organizations filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Spanish victims. On 18 September 2013, Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría issued arrest warrants against four former officials of the Franco dictatorship, including Antonio González Pacheco, Jesús Muñecas Aguilar and Martín Villa, and requested their extradition in order to stand trial for crimes against humanity, including acts of torture, allegedly committed in Spain between July 1936 and June 1977. On 24 April 2014, the Spanish National Court rejected the extradition request, and the case was closed.

In August 2016, another investigation was opened into the death of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, pursuant to a complaint filed by the Spanish Association for the Recuperation of Historical Memory (Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica).

In July 2017, an international arrest warrant was issued for crimes against humanity and murder against Martín Villa for the death of five workers in Vitoria in 1976.

On 21 June 2018, two victims joined the proceedings: the grandson of José Salmerón Céspedes who was forcibly disappeared, tortured and executed in 1936 and a relative of Gustavo Adolfo Muñoz de Bustillo, a 16-year-old executed on 11 September 1978 during violent riots in the transitional period in Barcelona. On 26 October 2018, the investigative judge admitted a complaint filed two years earlier by the NGO Women’s Link Worldwide on behalf of six women victims of sexualassault, murder, forced abortion and the theft of children under Franco’s regime.

Martín Villa was interrogated on 3 September 2020 in the Argentinian embassy in Madrid, Spain in a five-hour video conference.

On 15 October 2021, Martín Villa was indicted for crimes against humanity. Martín Villa appealed this decision. On 23 December 2021, the Appeals Chamber dismissed the indictment considering that there was not enough evidence to prove that the killings for which he was indicted constituted crimes against humanity, which is the legal basis allowing for universal jurisdiction. The prosecutor challenged the Appeals Chamber’s decision before the Federal Chamber.


On 20 September 2022, the Federal Chamber declared the appeal inadmissible because the indictment is not a final judgment. The investigation is ongoing.

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