Doctor found guilty but not convicted in Spain ‘stolen baby’ case

Demonstrators hold baby dolls and placards reading ‘Human rights for stolen babies’ outside a provincial court in Madrid on June 26, on the first day of the first trial over thousands of suspected cases of babies stolen from their mothers during the Franco era. (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2018
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Doctor found guilty but not convicted in Spain ‘stolen baby’ case

  • The Madrid court ruled that the deed was committed too long ago for the defendant to be legally convicted
  • The baby-stealing practice began after Francisco Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war
MADRID: A Spanish court found an 85-year-old former doctor guilty Monday of taking a newborn away from her mother under the Franco dictatorship but refrained from convicting him, in the first trial of the so-called “stolen babies” scandal.
The Madrid court ruled that the deed was committed too long ago for the defendant to be legally convicted.
It found former gynecologist Eduardo Vela guilty of taking Ines Madrigal, now 49, away from her mother as a newborn in 1969.
During and after the 1939-1975 dictatorship, thousands of babies were taken away from their mothers, who were told they had died after birth.
The babies were adopted by infertile couples, preferably close to the far-right regime, often with the help of the Catholic Church.
Vela, who used to run a clinic, was the first to stand trial for alleged involvement in the baby trafficking.
Prosecutors wanted him jailed for 11 years.
He was accused of taking Madrigal from her biological mother and giving her to another woman, who was falsely certified as her birth mother.
Madrigal hopes her case will help open “thousands of cases that are closed” — even if she will never know who her real mother was.
“In this country, a person who played God ... cannot remain unpunished,” she said in September at the end of the hearings.
The baby-stealing practice began after Franco came to power following the 1936-39 civil war.
Initially, newborns were taken from leftwing opponents of the regime.
Later, the practice was expanded to supposedly illegitimate babies and those from poor families.
Perpetrators wanted the children to be raised by affluent, conservative and devout Roman Catholic families.
Even after Spain transitioned to democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, the illegal trafficking went on up to at least 1987.
Campaigners estimate tens of thousands of babies may have been stolen from their parents over the decades.
Vila was accused of falsifying documents, illegal adoption, unlawful detention and certifying a non-existent birth.
During the trial, he said he could not remember details about the operation of the clinic, which he ran for 20 years up to 1982.
A policeman who probed the case and testified in court said the clinic was a center for baby trafficking.
He said Vela had burnt the clinic’s archives.
The policeman said Vela was part of a “plot” to take babies from single mothers in shelters often run by religious orders.
Emilie Helmbacher, a French journalist, also testified by video conference.
In an investigation in Madrid in December 2013, she used a hidden camera to record Vela as he appeared to confess to having given Madrigal away as a “gift” in June 1969.
Vela’s lawyer Rafael Casas criticized the hidden camera recording. He said his client had “nothing to do” with the alleged deeds.


One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

Updated 16 January 2019
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One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

  • The online survey was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies
  • More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment

UNITED NATIONS: One third of UN staff and contractors experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a report released by the United Nations on Tuesday.
The online survey, carried out by Deloitte in November, was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies — just 17 percent of those eligible. In a letter to staff, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the response rate as “moderately low.”
“This tells me two things: first — that we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment; and second — that there may also be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction and lack of accountability,” he wrote.
The survey comes amid the wider “Me Too” movement around the world against sexual harassment and assault.
According to the report, 21.7 percent of respondents said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes, 14.2 percent received offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities and 13 percent were targeted by unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters.
Some 10.9 percent said they were subjected to gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended them, and 10.1 percent were touched in way that made them feel uncomfortable.
More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment, while 17.1 percent said it happened at a work-related social event. Two out of three harassers were male, according to the survey.
Only one in three people said they took action after experiencing sexual harassment.
Guterres said the report contained “some sobering statistics and evidence of what needs to change to make a harassment-free workplace real for all of us.”
“As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard,” he said.
The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against UN peacekeepers in Africa.
The head of the UN agency for HIV and AIDS is also stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent panel said that his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.”