Jul 17, 2020

Online Event Discusses Spain's Declining Democracy ahead of UPR Follow-up Session

On 15 July 2020, UNPO alongside the Society for Threatened Peoples and the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) organized the International Digital Roundtable: Civil and Political Liberties at Risk in Spain?. The event was streamed a day before the follow-up Session of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which Spain announced its reactions to the recommendations it received in January 2020. The online roundtable discussed how human rights violations in Spain are undermining both Europe and Spain’s values as well as deeply influencing the EU’s foreign diplomacy. Moderated by Adrià Alsina (Fellow Professor in Global Communication at  the Central University of Catalonia), the event brought together the Irish MEP Clary Daly, Ralph Bunche (UNPO General-Secretary) and Neus Torbisco (Professor of Human Rights in the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies of Geneva).

Professor Torbisco commented on Spain’s human rights records over the last six years, noting that the issues around civil and political rights are systemic rather than transitory. According to her, consistent violations agains these rights show the severity of the situation and pose a responsibility on the international community to condemn it. Professor Torbisco reminded that democracy is in decline in Spain, expressed by the lack of independence of the Spanish judiciary, alongside threats to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of speech and arbitrary detentions. Another challenge that the Spanish stat faces is its misconception around the right to self determination. Traditionally understood only in light of postcolonial contexts, the right has also an internal component, such as the case in Spain.

MEP Clary Daly criticized the EU’s silence toward Spain’s infringements of the rule of law. She recalled that the EU has taken a firm stand against the Polish and the Hungarian goverments recently, while it has turned a blind eye to Madrid's crackdown on the Catalan issue. According to the MEP, the lack of consistency contributes to the perception of  impunity. She reminded the statements made by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell, prior to his appointment, when he expressed doubts on the independence and impartiality of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in relation to its deliberations regarding human rights violations in Spain. Paradoxically, the EU has always reinforced the importance of the mandate of the UNWGAD when assessing other non-European states.  

Ralph Bunche, UNPO General Secretary, emphasised how the United State’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has made the EU the sole bastion of the respect and promotion of the rule of law at international level. At the same time, the breaching of European laws by the hand of Spanish authorities is undermining both Spain's and Europe’s credibility to uphold the respect of human rights when admonishing other countries. Even more concerning, Mr Bunche observed the growing tendency for Spain to emulate China’s and Russia’s policies aimed at silencing minorities and delegitimizing the role of experts.

The event concluded with suggestions made by the speakers on how to advocate for the respect of the rights of the Catalan people. Mr Bunche, in particular, reminded the importance of encouraging politicians to go beyond their political party’s interests and start paying attention to diplomats, to the UPR and the recommendations made by the countries sitting at the UN Council.  He also emphasised the need to remain committed to nonviolence while promoting the cause - a principle that the Catalans have never negotiated and are proud of. "Reality rarely changes overnight and condemnations of violations toward Poland and Hungary are the result of a long advocacy non-violent path, the only one which can bring to the respect of human rights", he concluded.

What the video of the debate here.