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Independent expert proposes UN hold Catalan referendum

International law professor calls on intergovernmental body to mediate and monitor a vote on self-determination in Catalonia


28 September 2017 04:23 PM



The United Nations should mediate and help Catalonia to organize a referendum on self-determination. That is the advice of an independent UN expert for the promotion of democracy, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, to the Secretary General of the United Nations. De Zayas is an expert in history and international law and has largely worked in the field of human rights.

De Zayas says in an interview that recent events in Catalonia make his proposal "much more urgent". The United Nations has a responsibility to maintain regional and international peace, says De Zayas. “The United Nations can provide its advisory services to organize a well monitored referendum,” he added.

The UN expert stressed that Catalans "absolutely" have the right to express themselves in processes such as those in Scotland or Quebec, and he was critical that freedom of expression might be repressed in Europe. He also pointed out that “the right to self-determination belongs to peoples" and added that the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes this “fundamental” right.

  • "The United Nations can provide its advisory services to organize a well monitored referendum" 

    Alfred-Maurice de Zayas ·  Independent UN expert for the promotion of democracy

The expert also pointed to the role of the United Nations in preventing conflicts, "by facilitating dialogue and organizing and monitoring referendums.” “The process, in order to be legitimate, must be observed by the OSCE, the United Nations and the Carter Center,” he said. His proposals remain to be studied, although the internal bureaucracy of organizations such as the UN are notoriously slow.

EU must restore dialogue in Spain, says expert

At the same time, De Zayas asked the European Commission to “restore dialogue” in Spain. He stated that the EU cannot afford “the lack of order” in a member state that is now the case in Catalonia. The expert added that the right to self-determination is “profoundly” related to democracy. However, De Zayas pointed out that he speaks “as an international law professor” and not on behalf of the United Nations, for which he is an independent consultant.

But De Zayas is not the only expert that has spoken up on the Catalan referendum. A group of international experts on the right to self-determination recently published a report in which they stated that “there is no international regulation that prevents Catalonia from becoming a state." The professor of international law and international constitutional studies at the University of Cambridge and director of the report, Marc Weller, said that many states include territorial integrity in their constitutions. Nevertheless, in independence processes, the international framework must be consulted, rather than national constitutions.”


  • Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

  • Alfred-Maurice de Zayas