Human Rights court dismisses cases against Spain’s crackdown of Catalan referendum

Strasbourg court sees no evidence of human rights violations in police operation to stop independence vote in 2017

Protesters in front of Spanish police officers on referendum day (by Carles Palacio)
Protesters in front of Spanish police officers on referendum day (by Carles Palacio) / ACN

ACN | Brussels

September 6, 2021 02:27 PM

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has dismissed reviewing two cases brought against Spain’s violent crackdown of the Catalan independence referendum in 2017, which left hundreds of people injured by police officers.

The international court sees no evidence of human rights violations in the police operation to stop the unauthorized vote and has therefore rejected the appeals filed by two Catalan citizens.

The decision represents a blow to Catalan independence supporters, who have often seen unfavourable rulings by Spanish courts as "persecution" of their movement, and claimed that only European courts like the ECHR could be trusted.

Other cases taken to the Strasbourg court by pro-independence supporters include the lengthy pre-trial imprisonment of nine Catalan politicians and activists who led the 2017 referendum push, as well as their subsequent convictions for the crime of sedition.

The ECHR is responsible for interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights and hears cases brought against the 47 countries that signed it when it is no longer possible to appeal a decision at the national level.

The court is part of the Council of Europe, an international organization set to uphold human rights and democracy. It has no ties to the European Union, which is an economic and political union with 27 member states.

Referendum voters take on police charges

On the 1st of October of 2017, over two million Catalans cast their ballots in a referendum on independence. The vote was deemed unconstitutional by Spanish courts, and thousands of police officers were deployed to close polling stations and seize ballot boxes, often cracking down on voters themselves.

More than one thousand voters were injured, according to Catalan authorities, including the two people who took Spain to the Strasbourg court, two residents from the Bages county in central Catalonia.

They had initially asked a court in Barcelona to investigate the police operation but were left unsatisfied. In their appeals to the ECHR, they accused Spain of undermining their right to a fair trial and violating other fundamental rights like the freedom of assembly, expression, and freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment.