Toni Strubell, Núria Bassa – Catalonia: UN upholds Puigdemont’s rights

While the EU approves of the undemocratic, law-breaking Spanish justice system, the United Nations does not – not in the least.

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Llegeix en català aqui


UN upholds Puigdemont’s rights

This week has witnessed a new upset for Spain’s 6-year international juridical crusade against the Catalan independence movement, particularly as regards its leader President Puigdemont (in exile in Belgium since 2017). The United Nations’ Committee of Human Rights has condemned Spain for having violated the political rights of the former Catalan president. It accuses Spain of having denied him membership of the Catalan Parliament in 2018 without any “reasonable and objective” motive. The UN decree implies that the accusations Spain repeatedly brings to bear against Puigdemont in no way justify the persecution he has been exposed to in the sense that the exceptional suspension of elected officials must comply to “stricter demands”.

The United Nations decree lays down in no uncertain terms that the State has the obligation to adopt all the necessary measures to prevent similar violations occurring in the future and gives the Spanish government 180 days to take steps to correct things and give full publicity to the operation, a position that would under normal circumstances cause embarrassament for a Spanish government traditionally impervious to UN and other international judicial orders. The decree is doubly poignant in the sense that it can be seen as a further step taken by the UN to question Spain’s overall behaviour in the Catalan independence issue. Indeed, the UN’s Arbitrary Detention Group had in the past repeatedly called for the excarceration of the Catalan political prisoners while the Human Rights Committee had already condemned Spain for having vulnerated the political rights of four of Puigdemont’s ministers. Water off a Spanish duck’s back we may fear…

According to the decree, Spain has violated Article 25 of the International Agreement of Civil and Political Rights which defends people’s right to be elected and take office as public representatives. The Committee refers in its decree to “the essence of democratic government” and insists that all citizens have the right to participate in political affairs and be represented by candidates they have voted for. The bottom line is that president Puigdemont’s democratic rights were vulnerated and that the will of the citizens who had voted for him on December 21st 2017 had been denied. The decree also rejects the technicality that his election had not been valid due to his physical absence from the Parliament on that day.

This decree comes as a fresh blow to Madrid’s onslaught against the Catalan independence movement in the same week that Madrid has suffered other embarrassing setbacks. Indeed, it has been revealed this week that several international governments -amongst which Switzerland- have refused to give Spain banking data associated with the Tsunami Democràtic movement that organized protests against the conviction of the Catalan government in late 2019. Spain had unsuccessfully made every possible effort to have this non-violent group qualified as a “terrorist” group to justify the call for this information. No country seems to have taken the bait.

These new upsets rub salt into the wound Madrid suffered some months ago when an EUCJ sentence refused Madrid’s call to get the exiled former Catalan ministers extradited from Belgium some months ago. It decreed that the call for extradition could not be accepted if prosecution was intended against individuals belonging to what is termed an “objectively identifiable group of people” because this involved a considerable degree of risk to their rights. Indeed the intriguing concept “Objectively Identifiable Group” has now become an iconic expression in much of the documentation and speech used by the independentist movement as a formula for ensuring the protection for the Catalan national minority that the Spanish Constitution never even hinted at.

Predictably enough, though, the interpretation that the Madrid government has made of the UN decree is quite different to that made in Barcelona. In a statement made by minister Calviño, she went so far as to claim that the decree was a call to have Puigdemont tried in Spain of all things! In contrast one must speak of lawyer Ben Emmerson’s message of support for his client Puigdemont in which he speaks of the “resounding vindication of his political rights and the political rights of those who voted for him”. The truth is that the Spanish government is now obliged to comply with the instructions the UN has issued in the decree. Incidentally, Spain’s Constitutional Court will also have to do something similar if a further suit vindicating Puigdemont’s rights is also successful. It would appear that there is only one thing as persistent and prolonged as Puigdemont’s international legal struggle and that is the persistence of international courts and organizations to vindicate almost all of his demands. Whether this will ever have any real political effect in neo-Francoist Spain is another kettle of fish. So far, the EU is fully comprehensive of impervious ducks’ backs. Fearing water on their own, maybe.

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