Former foreign minister Romeva: 'No international treaty prohibits self-determination'

Insisting he is a "political prisoner," he only answers his lawyer's questions

Raül Romeva testifying in Supreme Court on February 19, 2019
Raül Romeva testifying in Supreme Court on February 19, 2019 / ACN

ACN | Madrid

February 19, 2019 04:50 PM

Raül Romeva started his testimony on Tuesday afternoon in Spain's Supreme Court, in Madrid, as a defendant in the Catalan independence trial, asserting: "There is no international treaty prohibiting the right to self-determination. Not even the Spanish Constitution."

Romeva was the foreign minister in Carles Puigdemont's cabinet during the October 2017 referendum and declaration of independence, he has been in pre-trial prison for almost exactly a year. Romeva is the fourth former Catalan minister to testify so far in the trial, after Oriol Junqueras and Joaquim Forn (both last Thursday), and Jordi Turull (on Tuesday morning).

Romeva described himself as a "political prisoner" in his first remarks, and he refused to answer questions put forth by the public prosecutor, the solicitor general and the private prosecutor, the far-right Vox party, on the grounds that the trial is "political."

Romeva defends "peaceful means"

"In the 20th and 21st centuries there have been 106 self-determination referendums, 54 since 1991, and 26 without state consent," said Romeva in his testimony, also saying that throughout history "more has been achieved" by peaceful means that through violence, which is "not an intelligent" way to go, he added.

"Defending the non-violent way is not only a matter of ideology, but a matter of pragmatism," said the jailed official, adding "I’m sure it’s more likely that I’ll achieve my political goals if I pursue them through peaceful means."

Foreign minister recalls attempts with dialogue with Spain

Romeva also said that "there were as many as 20 attempts to ask for dialogue with Spain." "Everything we used to do was public – and we used to explain why we were doing it this way," he recalled. "There was no other solution, as on the other side," he said, referring to the Spanish government, "we were only met with empty chairs and closed doors"

The former foreign action minister further stated that while in office he used to defend self-determination in his meetings with foreign officials "because it was in the agenda" but denies that this was a crime. "Democracies must protect the right to protest, even when it goes against their interests. A democracy that persecutes the right to protest is a fragile one," insisted Romeva.

"We did call on people to take part in a referendum. But we also said we would respect any outcome of the vote," said Romeva in his testimony. He concluded: "We're here today because those who should have been doing politics in their time, didn't. They've passed the problem on to you."

Romeva's lawyer: judges need to "take this matter out of the criminal court"

Meanwhile, Romeva's lawyer Andreu Van den Eynde highlighted the importance of his client's statement of needing to "take this matter out of the criminal court," and to instead "take it again to the politicians." He urged that "the principal of democracy" be followed and that the crisis be instead "solved in the political arena. Van den Eynde further used Quebec as an example.

Romeva's wife: "He said everything he had on his mind"

On Wednesday morning, Romeva's wife, Diana Riba, said her husband had shown in court that "his ideas are clear, and he said everything he had on his mind."

Riba, who will run for the ERC party in the European election, also stated that Romeva was "calm and firm," in spite of the "majestic and formal" courtroom provoking "nerves."

She added that it had been a particularly emotional day, as it marked exactly 365 days since Romeva began his preventive detention.

Canadian international observer: trial "criminalizes political action"

After Romeva's testimony, John Philpot, a Canadian lawyer acting as international observer, expressed concern for a trial that he sees as “criminalizing political action,” one in which he said, “instead of negotiating, they’re accusing people.”

“They’re accusing all sectors of the society,” he elaborated, including “social organizations, politicians, members of parliament.” This, he further added is “cutting the head off Catalan society, and intimidating for the future, and creating – maybe, if we don’t get justice – political prisoners.”

Philpot further said that the prosecuted leaders “exercised their right of association, their democratic rights, their right to vote, and the right to self-determination.” The lawyer warned that “these are things which Spain must respect.”

The international observer further said that the fact that the Spanish Supreme Court is the “final court” in Spain is an “issue.” “This is extremely dangerous, because judges can make mistakes,” he said, adding that Spain is “required to have a higher court” as per “the international pact of civil and political rights, ratified by Spain in 1977.” Philpot described this as a “fatal, unacceptable characteristic of the trial.”