A truth commission will be formed by Spain’s new government to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the regime of the former military dictator Francisco Franco, more than 40 years after his death.

Under a new law of historical memory, the criminal records of those convicted for opposing the regime will be wiped and organisations that venerate the memory of the dictator, such as the Fundación Francisco Franco, will also be outlawed.

As reported by The Guardian, the Spanish government says it will take responsibility for making a census of the victims of the civil war and the ensuing dictatorship. It will also open an estimated 1,200 mass graves.

“It’s not acceptable that people in their 90s who are desperately trying to recover their parents’ remains should be blocked by a judge or the arbitrary ruling of a local authority,” Justice Minister Dolores Delgado told parliament. “Nor is it acceptable that Spain is, after Cambodia, the country with the highest number of disappeared in the world.”

Speaking to the Guardian, José María “Chato” Galante, who was convicted almost 50 years ago of “illicit association” and “illegal propaganda”, said: “If our sentences are annulled we will no longer be branded as criminals and some sort of normality will be restored after a 40-year delay”.

Galante spent seven years in prison where he was tortured by the sadistic policeman known as Billy the Kid.

“This is a positive step but none of it makes sense unless the torturers and those who committed crimes against humanity are brought to justice,” added Galante.

In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, noted that a key element of the reform will provide state funding to exhume the remains of Franco’s unidentified victims from mass graves.

According to the justice ministry, around 1,200 mass graves have yet to be opened. The graves contain victims of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when Franco’s nationalist-Catholic military forces defeated a left-wing republican coalition.