Aug 31, 2022

Catalonia : UN Human Rights Committee Says That Spain Violated Catalan Leaders' Political Rights

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found that the Spanish government and judiciary violated the political rights of the leaders of the Catalan self-determination movement following the referendum held in 2017. The Committee was charged with reviewing complaints filed by prominent organizers of the Catalan referendum, including Oriol Junqueras, Raul Romeva Josep Rull I Andreu and Jordi Turull. All four were part of a group of politicians sentenced to prison time for sedition and rebellion following the organisation of the referendum and the Declaration of Independence of Catalonia.

Catalonia is located in the north-east of the Spanish territory and has a status of autonomy within the Spanish constitutional set up. Following a rejection by the Spanish High Courts of a new Statute of Autonomy voted by referendum in 2006, the Catalan electorate gave majority to pro-independence parties seeking a referendum on Catalonia’s status as a country. Said referendum, held on October 1 2017, was disrupted by Spanish security forces and in the aftermath many of its organizers, including Catalan Minister-President Carles Puigdemont, were arrested or went into exile. Charges of rebellion then sedition as well as misuse of funds were brought before the Spanish Supreme Court against Junqueras and other Catalan political leaders. The democratically elected Catalan government itself was effectively suspended unilaterally as per Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

For many years, and in particular since the developments mentioned above, actions taken by the government of Spain to silence self-determination movements seem more appropriate of an authoritarian state than a democratic one. Furthermore, justifications and actions taken by the Spanish government against self-determination movements have been used by authoritarian states such as China or Russia to justify similar actions within their country.

UNPO has been investigating the rights abuses and treatment of Catalan exiles and prisoners following Catalonia’s accession to our organization. The last one is the recent Pegasus scandal that has exposed the various ways governments around the world violate the core political and civic rights of self-determination activists.

The UN Human Rights Committee statement follows campaigning by Catalan civil society and political parties for an international response to the Spanish government’s violations of political rights and overall blocking of self-determination mechanisms through coercive means. Hélène Tigroudja, a member of the UN Human Rights Committee said that “the decision to suspend elected officials should rely on clear and foreseeable laws which establish reasonable and objective grounds for the restriction of the political rights, and must be applied based on an individualized assessment. Such an approach and safeguards are the best way to ensure respect for institutions and to promote the rule of law in a democratic society.

UNPO is calling on the Spanish governments to change their bellicose stance towards Catalan self-determination activists and to the EU to break the silence around the Spanish practices. The Spanish authorities must react to this judgment and both reform and depoliticise its judiciary, working on a more credible rule-of-law system. In addition, it should not be afraid of providing a political space for a discussion over Catalonia’s status and an eventual referendum on said status.