Spain 'breached' political rights of formerly jailed independence leaders, says UN

Human Rights Committee believes Junqueras, Romeva, Rull and Turull should not have been stripped of MP status before convictions

Former ministers Raül Romeva and Jordi Turull, and former vice president Oriol Junqueras (from left to right) while still in office October 10, 2017
Former ministers Raül Romeva and Jordi Turull, and former vice president Oriol Junqueras (from left to right) while still in office October 10, 2017 / Jordi Play

ACN | Barcelona

August 31, 2022 06:29 PM

The United Nations' Human Rights Committee has stated that Spain "violated" the political rights of four formerly jailed leaders, convicted for their roles in organizing the 2017 referendum on independence despite Spain's ban.

The opinion was released on Wednesday morning and refers to the fact that former vice president Oriol Junqueras, together with former ministers Raül Romeva, Josep Rull, and Jordi Turull were stripped of their status as MPs before having been convicted in October 2019.

After winning seats in the election held in December 2017 in the wake of the independence push that resulted in Spain temporarily suspending Catalonia's self-rule, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered the suspension of six MPs in July 2018, including Junqueras, Romeva, Rull, and Turull, who were in pre-trial jail.

This also affected Jordi Sànchez, who was also waiting trial, and former president Carles Puigdemont, who had gone into exile a few days after Catalonia's self-rule was suspended – yet, the UN's stance only refers to the complaint made by the other four leaders in December 2018.

In the document, the Committee said that their suspension as MPs did not comply with "the requirements of reasonability and objectivity" expected.

Their suspension, the text reads, was "arbitrary because an analysis over the individual circumstances of the authors was not carried out."

'Reparation' to independence leaders requested

The opinion reads that Spain should provide an "effective remedy" to the leaders: "a complete reparation to the individuals whose rights have been breached."

Yet, it also considers that its own opinion released on their case "is enough reparation to the breach observed."

Spain "also has the obligation to adopt all necessary measures in order to avoid similar breaches in the future." The UN's body has set a 180-day deadline (expiring in late February 2023) in order to receive information from Madrid about the actions taken to "implement this report."

Two of the Committee members in charge of assessing the case dissented in the final published opinion. José Santos Pais and Wafaa Bassim said that Junqueras, Rull, Turull, and Romeva took the case to the UN before completing the path of appeals within the Spanish legal framework.

According to them, the politicians appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court between September and October 2018 and then addressed the UN in December that year, before the top Spanish court dismissed their appeals in early 2020.

Catalan government welcomes opinion

The Catalan government welcomed the Committee's opinion. "Repression and the violation of fundamental rights are lines that should never have been crossed," the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, said.

His vice-president, Jordi Puigneró, was on the same page and said that Madrid has now a "golden opportunity" to launch an amnesty for all individuals involved in independence-related judicial cases, as those in favor of splitting from Spain demand.

Presidency minister Laura Vilagrà also urged for an amnesty and "the end of repression," qualifying the stance of the UN's committee as "political and moral victory."

Spain's cabinet 'open to improving legislation'

As for the Spanish government, transport minister Raquel Sánchez said that the Spanish judiciary's rulings are always "lawful" but that her cabinet is "open to improving legislation."

She said that they "respect" the comments made from Geneva, and also point out that Madrid now prioritizes dialogue. Now led by the left-leaning Socialists, the Spanish executive was led by the conservative People's Party in 2017.

Yolanda Díaz, Spain's vice prime minister and member of the junior coalition partner Unidas Podemos, said that they took the "correct path" when pardoning the leaders in June 2021. Yet, this decision can still be overruled by the Supreme Court.