By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) - Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon urged a United Nations panel on Monday to push his country into investigating the disappearances of 150,000 civilians believed killed by forces of the late dictator Francisco Franco between 1936 and 1951.
Garzon, whose own inquiries were halted in 2008 after state prosecutors ruled that a 1977 amnesty after Franco's death put any crimes of the period beyond his reach, told a news conference he was confident the panel would back the call.
"After 75 years, it is high time for we Spaniards to agree to say that something very evil happened," said Garzon, who won fame for unsuccessful efforts a decade ago to bring former Chilean military ruler Augusto Pinochet to trial in Spain after having him arrested on a visit to London.
"What I find so frightening is the indifference of Spanish governments and the entire political class to the fate of the victims of Franco and of the suffering of family members they left behind," he said.
The issue is on the agenda this week of the Geneva-based U.N. Committee on Forced Disappearances which monitors the performance of nations under a 2010 convention on the issue which Spain, with 39 other countries, has ratified.
In September, two investigators from the committee visited Spain and told government and legal officials that no amnesty could fence off crimes against humanity from investigation.
The committee, 11 independent legal experts from around the world, is also hearing a report from Argentina -- which Garzon said has made real progress in investigating disappearances under its military dictatorship of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Garzon became famous for pursuing corruption and drug gangs as well as violent Basque separatists. But he was barred from the Spanish bench last year for 11 years for illegally wiretapping defense attorneys in a major corruption case.
He said his own research into his country's 1936-39 Civil War and the aftermath up to 1951 was uncovering more and more information on the abduction and killing of civilians.
Garzon said he had recorded cases of some 30,000 Spanish children who, during Franco's 35-year rule were taken at birth from "unsuitable" mothers -- often communists or leftists -- and given to "good Catholic families."
Some 200,000 fighters died in the civil war, which began when Franco, an army general, launched an uprising against Spain's elected Republican government.
In the following years an estimated 20,000 people were executed on charges of treason. Many more died in atrocious conditions in Franco's labor camps and prisons, according to non-Spanish specialists on the period.
Garzon said the killings are all but taboo in Spain where right and left have preferred to forget the era.
Spanish government officials, who are appearing before the committee, argue that the amnesty was intended to encourage reconciliation after Franco's death in 1975, enabling the country to forge a democratic society.
(Reported by Robert Evans; editing by Barry Moody)