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The Human Rights Committee finds Madrid guilty of violating the political rights of Catalan separatists

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, September 1st 2022 à 09:20 | Read 311 times

For a few days, Catalonia was an independent republic in late 2017 (photo: DR)
For a few days, Catalonia was an independent republic in late 2017 (photo: DR)
SPAIN. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Spanish state 'violated' the political rights of former Catalan leaders by suspending them from political office after Catalonia's attempted secession in October 2017. This monitoring body of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had been seized on December 18, 2018 by Oriol Junqueras, former vice president of the regional government and former regional minister of economy and finance, Raül Romeva, former regional minister of foreign affairs and institutional relations of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Josep Rull, former regional minister of territory and sustainability, and Jordi Turull, minister of the presidency and spokesman of the Generalitat.

All of them were incarcerated at the time.

In October 2019, Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders* to long prison terms for sedition (9 to 13 years, the maximum for Oriol Junqueras), two years after Catalonia held a self-determination referendum (October 1, 2017), banned by the Spanish Constitutional Court. The Catalans had then decided, by a very large majority (90% yes), to declare themselves independent. The Republic had even been proclaimed in this region. Before a strong reaction from Madrid, putting everyone in the fold.

Condemned finally for sedition

In a statement issued on Wednesday, August 31, 2022, the eighteen independent experts argue their statement by stating that their indictment "for rebellion, which automatically led to their suspension from public office before their conviction, was not based on reasonable and objective grounds provided by law." They believe that the four leaders had asked the population to "remain strictly peaceful" and therefore could not be held responsible for any "rebellion", this term "requiring a violent uprising against the constitutional order". The Spanish Criminal Procedure Code "allows for the suspension of public officials only when they are accused of rebellion," they insist.

"The Committee has taken an important step in affirming that the guarantees against restrictions on political rights must be applied more rigorously if these restrictions occur before, and not after, a conviction for a crime," said French committee member Hélène Tigroudja in the statement. She also added that "the decision to suspend elected officials must be based on clear and predictable laws that establish reasonable and objective grounds for restricting political rights.

The Spanish state later convicted the four leaders of "sedition" and not "rebellion", the original charge. This is a less serious offense, as it does not require the notion of violence. They have since been pardoned (but not amnestied), in June 2021, by the President of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez.

A response from the Spanish government expected within 180 days

This decision of the Human Rights Committee contradicts that of the Spanish Constitutional Court. In 2020, it had ruled that the Spanish Supreme Court's 2018 ruling to temporarily suspend the regional parliamentarians pending their conviction was well-founded. Two of its members, however, disassociated themselves from this decision considering that "there has been no arbitrariness or irreparable harm on the part of the national courts". They are the Portuguese José Santos and the Egyptian Wafaa Bassim.

The regional government is still run by the separatists. The ruling Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party, as its name suggests, has not given up on separating from Spain. The committee has asked the Spanish central government to take action and report back within 180 days.

The decisions, like the recommendations, of the UN Human Rights Committee (not to be confused with the UN Human Rights Council, composed of 47 member states) are not binding. Created in 1976, it meets three times a year, in New York in the spring at the United Nations building and in Geneva at the United Nations Office in the summer and fall. Half of its eighteen members, elected for a two-year term, are Mediterranean (Albania, Egypt, France, Greece, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Slovenia). The president Photini Pazartzis is Greek and one of the three vice presidents, Vasilka Sancin, is Slovenian.

* Oriol Junqueras (former vice-president of Catalonia and former regional minister of Economy and Finance), Raül Romeva (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Institutional Relations of the Generalitat of Catalonia), Jordi Turull (Minister of the Presidency and spokesperson of the Generalitat), Dolors Bassa (Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Catalonia), Carme Forcadell (former president of the Parliament of Catalonia), Joaquin Forn (former Minister of Interior of the Generalitat), Josep Rull (former Minister of Territory and Sustainability of the Generalitat), Jordi Sánchez (former president of the Catalan National Assembly), Jordi Cuixart (former head of the NGO Òmnium Cultural).

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