Over a dozen countries call on Spain to guarantee freedom of speech and protest

Universal Periodic Review to evaluate human rights record described as "most severe blow"

United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during Spain's human rights review on January 22, 2020 (by Natàlia Segura)
United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva during Spain's human rights review on January 22, 2020 (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Geneva

January 22, 2020 04:01 PM

Spain's human rights performance was reviewed by the United Nation's Human Rights Council on Wednesday, with some 15 countries calling on it to guarantee the right to freedom of speech and protest in what the Catalan foreign minister has called a "most severe blow" to the country.

A day after a group of civil society organizations condemned "the regression of the right of expression and assembly" in the country, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Iceland, and Germany expressed concern over the "restrictions" to these rights.

Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland urged Spain to reform its criminal code to safeguard the abovementioned rights, while Italy asked it to instate additional measures to guarantee them and to improve investigations into the police's "use of force."

Germany also questioned the digital decree law the Spanish government passed last October to prevent the decentralized digital identity project put forth by the Catalan government, IdentiCAT, from being carried out. A German government representative asked Spain to ensure that it will not violate the right to protest, noting the country's "ample interpretation" of the concept of national security in its legislation.  

Furthermore, the United States denounced the "crimes" against journalists and the "attacks" to freedom of expression that it says have taken place in Spain, and Canada, a constitutional monarchy itself, said it should review legislation establishing the defamation of the crown as a crime.

Catalonia sides with report

Catalan foreign minister Alfred Bosch, commenting on Wednesday's human rights review, said that he "obviously" sided with the report "asking to restore civil liberties and civil and political rights in Spain."

Stating that it "evidenced the most severe blow to the situation of human rights in the kingdom of Spain," Bosch urged the country to heed the recommendations it was handed in terms of civil and political liberties.

In the same vein, one of the lawyers of jailed pro-independence leader Jordi Cuixart, Olivier Peter, said the review "shows that there is a concern in the international community about the respect of human rights in Spain."

Spain defends its actions

According to the Spanish government's foreign affairs secretary, Fernando Valenzuela Marzo, "the amount of citizen freedom, freedom of demonstration and of expression in Spain is amongst the highest according to international standards," claiming that the country had passed its human rights review with flying colors.

While the Foreign Affairs Ministry representative did admit that "there was some concern expressed over possible interpretations" of the citizen security law, Valenzuela Marzo affirmed that no specific instances of this possibility were brought up.

Only Venezuela mentioned the issues that have taken place in Catalonia relating to the independence movement, for which the foreign affairs secretary said it represented a "détente," adding that it was "not a matter directly applicable" to the UN Human Rights Council.