Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain – a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.
The so-called “Law on Democratic Memory” which Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet approved Tuesday will make unearthing the mass graves a “state responsibility”.
The bill, which still has to be approved by parliament, will also create a DNA database to help identify remains found in the mass graves and prevent publicly-funded institutions from glorifying the dictatorship.
The government will set aside €750,000 ($890,000) to finance the bill in 2020, with 60 percent earmarked for the search for the missing.
“Memory, justice and reparation must be state matters. Today we take another step in recognising the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship with the Law on Democratic Memory. Today we close the wounds a little bit more and can look at the past with greater dignity,” Sanchez tweeted.
La memoria, la justicia y la reparación deben ser cuestiones de Estado. Hoy damos un paso más en el reconocimiento a las víctimas de la Guerra Civil y la dictadura con la #LeyMemoriaDemocrática. Hoy cerramos un poco más las heridas; podemos mirar al pasado con mayor dignidad. pic.twitter.com/JkmyLOca1H
— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) September 15, 2020
Under an earlier historical memory law passed by a previous socialist government in 2007, the state simply offered support to help families trace and exhume relatives buried in unmarked graves.
But that support was withdrawn after the conservative Popular Party came to power in 2011, claiming it needlessly opened old wounds.
Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the era of dictator Francisco Franco one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.
Last year he had Franco's remains removed from a vast basilica in the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid where he was buried when he died in 1975, and transferred to a discreet family plot in El Pardo cemetery on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.
The bill approved Tuesday calls for Franco's former mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen to be turned into an educational site about the war and the dictatorship. It will also annul the criminal convictions of opponents of the dictatorship.
Franco assumed power after the civil war in which his Nationalists defeated Republicans, leaving the country in ruins and mourning hundreds of thousands of dead.
While Franco's regime honoured its own dead, it left its opponents buried in unmarked graves scattered across the country.