The UN Presents a Report on Human Rights Violations by Spain, to the Human Rights Council

Last Friday, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) presented its report on Spain’s human rights violations in its treatment of the jailed Catalan leaders to the Human Rights Council. 

In May, the group demanded the immediate release of jailed Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. Their investigation found that both freedom of expression and the right to demonstration and participation had been clearly violated. Likewise, the statement places the Catalan pro-independence leaders within a “peaceful political movement,” and they are in jail “for their political ideas.”

The working group also considered they should have “the right to obtain compensation and other forms of reparation in accordance with international law.”

The UNWGAD investigates arbitrary detentions which are alleged to be in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although Spain had initially asked to participate in last Friday’s hearing, at the last minute it withdrew without further comment.

Spain’s withdrawal comes after a representative accused UNWGAD of launching a “misinformation campaign.” After last Friday’s hearing, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will assess the report and make recommendations to all the States which have committed human rights violations, including Spain, though these are not binding.

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Trials Against the Catalan Pro-Independence Movement and the Majority of Catalans

Independence TrialSpain’s Supreme Court 

12 Catalan leaders, including former members of the government who led the 2017 independence referendum, were tried: Oriol Junqueras, Joaquim Forn, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Meritxell Borràs, Carles Mundó, and Santi Vila; the former speaker of the Parliament Carme Forcadell and the civil society leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. Nine of the accused have been held in preventive detention for almost two years, despite calls for their release from human rights groups and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (WGAD).

Spain’s public prosecutor has charged the nine defendants in custody with misuse of public funds, sedition, and violent rebellion and has requested prison sentences of up to 25 years in jail.

The prosecutors have charged the three defendants who aren’t in preventive jail with offenses such as disobedience and misuse of public funds. They have also requested that they to be temporarily barred from holding public office.

The trial ended last June after 52 sessions. The judges are expected to issue a ruling either in September or October.

Former parliament bureau members – Spain’s High Court in Catalonia (TSJC)

Five former members of the parliament bureau and former MP from the CUP party, Mireia Boya, will be tried in the Spain’s High Court in Catalonia.

The members of the Bureau are charged with the offense of disobedience, allowing laws enabling independence to be voted on and approved by the Catalan Parliament. Former MP Boya is being charged for registering the initial proposal.

The preparations for the trials are expected to begin this autumn.

The Catalan police leadership on trial – Spain’s National Court

Former Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, and four former police heads are accused of lack of action in preventing the 2017 independence referendum and mishandling the protests during the Spanish police raids on September 20 of the same year.

The prosecutor has charged Trapero, another Mosso and a former interior minister with aiding the rebellion and has requested 11 years in jail for each of them. Another Mosso is accused of sedition and risks a four-year jail term if found guilty.

The trial is expected to begin on January 20, 2020.

30 people are on trial over referendum logistics – Local Barcelona court

30 people, including government officials, civil servants and media workers are being prosecuted by a Barcelona court for collaborating with the organization of the 2017 independence referendum.

The prosecutor has charged them with crimes such as misuse of public funds, disobedience, deceit, revealing secrets and perversion of justice. Until the trial takes place, those accused have been granted liberty on bail of 5.8 million euro.

The court is still carrying out its investigation in preparation for the trial.

13 International Observers Denounce Violation of Human Rights During the Independence Trial

The International Trial Watch (ITW) platform has published thirteen reports of human rights activists and jurists around the world who attended the Independence Trial.

Each report written by these observers is autonomous. The ITW has not intervened in the drafting and has limited itself to coordinating and grouping them in this publication.

The authors of the reports include John Philpot – Canadian lawyer, Paul Newman – Indian philosopher and former spokesperson for the People’s Tribunal/Court of Sri Lanka, Bill Bowring – European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights, Jelle Klaas – Nederlands Juristen Comité Voor De Mensenrechten, Patrizio Gonella and Susanna Marietti – Antigone, Matthieu Cretenand – University of Geneva, Cécile Brandely and Claire Dujardin – French Lawyers’ Union (AED), Ernesto Moreau – Argentinian lawyer, Sahar Francis – Defense and Human Rights Association Addameer, Cristina Servan Melero – Pro-Human Rights Association of Andalusia, Ramón Campos García and Ana Sebastián Gascón – Free Association of Lawyers of Zaragoza, and Joseba Belaustegi Cuesta – member of the Basque platform Jurists for the Right to Decide.

John Philipot, for example, considers that “The essence of this trial is to criminalize the exercise of civil and political rights. The Spanish state is treating these twelve politicians and social leaders fundamentally as a single criminal organization as if they were drug traffickers or an organized crime syndicate.”

Paul Newman concludes that “the only violence that occurred during the 2017 October 1st independence referendum was committed by the Spanish police and the Civil Guard, not the Catalan government.” He also points out that “everyone has the inherent right to self-determination.”

Jelle Klaas, who focuses his argument in the case of Jordi Cuixart, says “Arresting, detaining, and prosecuting Cuixart and asking for a 17 years prison sentence, in essence, is the fact that he made use of his human rights to protest.”

Claire Dujardin defines the trial as a “judicial farce.”

Sahar Francis of the Defense and Human Rights Association Addameer, an expert in the defense of Palestinian political prisoners in the military courts, comes to assure that “some of these practices [witnessed at the Supreme Court] are very similar to those of the military prosecution of the occupation.”

All experts agree that in Spain fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, are being violated, and that it is affecting the entire Spanish population. They also affirm that the essence of the trial “is to criminalize the exercise of civil and political rights.”

The International Trial Watch (ITW) Observers Platform Presents its Own Report on the Independence Trial to the UN

The International Trial Watch (ITW) observers platform has presented its own report on the Independence Trial to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that will be held on Spain at the session of the Human Rights Council in January 2020.

This is a Shadow Report, which is sent by NGOs to different UN bodies for reviewing the status of human rights amongst the various UN State Members.

In thirteen pages, the report brings together the human rights violations committed by Spain and the police and judicial repression against the independence movement since 2017. The first part shows the violent response of the State against the 2017 independence referendum. The second part shows the criminalization of the right to protest of the Catalans and also condemns the accusations of rebellion and sedition against jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, both in preemptive prison for over two years, for participating in peaceful demonstrations in September 2017 as leaders of the two pro-independence civil society organizations Òmnium and ANC respectively. A third part shows the allegations of violations of defense rights during the Independence Trial, demonstrating that the defendants have not had a fair trial with an impartial tribunal or even with the competence to judge them.

This document will be part of the test that Spain will send in January. It is a procedure that all UN Member States submit every four years. The situation of human rights of the state in question is reviewed, regardless of the ratification of international treaties.

The exam consists of a dialogue between the members of the Human Rights Council and the state examined, in this case Spain. The test ends with recommendations from the members of the council to the State, which must indicate whether to accept them totally or partially, or if they do not accept them.

International Trial Watch (ITW) will be able to participate in a session that will be organized in Geneva later this year. On this day, the permanent delegations of the states in Geneva and the NGOs and entities that have sent written contributions will meet.

If, at the end of all this procedure, there are some recommendations to Spain for having violated human rights against the independence movement, this can be important in political and image terms, but not judicially since this is not binding.

International Observers Find Violation of Numerous Human Rights and Legal Procedures During the Catalan Independence Trial

The organization of international observers Trial Watch – Catalan Referendum Case (ITW) has concluded in its preliminary report that the trial of the 12 independentist leaders held at the Supreme Court over the past few months is a “political cause” in which “fundamental rights such as free assembly, political participation and freedom of expression have been violated.” The group also considers that there is no basis for condemning political prisoners for rebellion and seditious crimes, and that they have been “reworked” to adapt them to the Criminal Code.

The ITW concludes that organising citizen demonstrations was not capable of “transforming the constitutional order or preventing the legitimate public authority from carrying out its functions,” since in this case a state of siege had been applied. The conclusions of the report also make a special mention of the cases of the former president of the ANC, Jordi Sànchez, the president of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart and the former president of the Parliament, Carme Forcadell: “Your behavior cannot be criminal because it was protected in the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the right of assembly or freedom of expression.”

The ITW also considers that the investigation carried out by prosecutor Javier Zaragoza in the National Court on November 5, 2015, has shown that it is a general cause: “The object was to investigate the entire Catalan political movement,” which is forbidden in the Spanish legal system.

More than 30 human rights organizations support the 20 points with which observers summarize the most important violations in the trial. Although not part of the process after the Supreme Court questioned the quality of observers, the group of experts hopes that the judges will accept the criticisms in the report. They also expect their analysis to help the defendants continue their path to European courts after the ruling, which will be known in the coming months.

Summary Penultimate Week of Independence Trial: June 4

On Tuesday, the concluding statements from the prosecuting lawyers (at the Supreme Court trial of 12 Catalan political leaders) were heard:

– Spain’s Public Prosecutor affirmed that the 2017 Catalan independence referendum was “a coup d’état.”

– Attorney Javier Zaragoza affirmed that the roadmap to independence, including a referendum and a declaration of independence in 2017, was a violent insurrection, uprising, involving coercion.

It was a serious attack on the foundations of the constitution with illegal, coercive methods, using violence when needed,” he said.

Zaragoza also said that the 9 jailed Catalan leaders were not political prisoners.

There are no political prisoners, they are not political prisoners,” he insisted. He also rejected the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s report urging the “immediate” release of the leaders, accusing the institution of ignoring Spain’s arguments.

– Spanish prosecutor Moreno: “There was violence, it was necessary for their cause, they knew the vote would provoke confrontations, and yet they still called people to vote knowing what would happen.”

– Public Prosecutor Fidel Cadena said that the jailed Catalan leaders should be charged with rebellion because “they violated the constitution and the foundations of the Spanish state.”

– Rosa María Seoane, the Solicitor General, affirmed that the “trial against the Catalan leaders is completely transparent” and denied that their right to defense was undermined during the process.

– The popular prosecutor of the far-right Vox party, accused the political prisoners of perpetrating “the most sophisticated and original coup d’état against a democracy ever seen in a modern society.”

– Javier Ortega Smith, one of the lawyers for far-right Vox, affirmed that the accused were part of a “criminal organization.”

Vox lawyers concluded by saying that they wanted tough sentences “so that no one dares to attack the constitutional order again.”

Additional Information

The trial will resume on Tuesday, June 11, at 9.30am with the closing arguments from the defense lawyers. The lawyers will only have one hour to defend each of the accused.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls for the immediate release of the jailed Catalan leaders Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, and Oriol Junqueras.

– “Prosecutors are trying to define a new concept of violence” says defense lawyer.

Catalan Independence Trial: Summary May 27, 28, and 29

May 27, Day 47 of Trial

– The documentary evidence phase started on Monday, showing documents and presenting hundreds of videos from both the defense and the accusation related to what happened during Autumn of 2017.

– Videos were not shown during the witness stage of the trial, and in this documentary phase no commentary on the footage was allowed.

– The evidence shown on Monday included police reports on activities allegedly related to the misuse of public funds and the seizure of material for the referendum.

– The accusation presented videos showing “violence” perpetrated by the voters against the Spanish police.

– The defense presented videos showing the “violence” perpetrated by the Spanish police during the October 1 referendum.

May 28, Day 48 of Trial

– On Tuesday, videos presented by the prosecution team aimed to establish that violence was used in the 2017 independence bid were shown.

– Footage shown in court featured protesters and voters peacefully trying to prevent the Spanish police from entering polling stations during the 2017 independence referendum.

– In many cases the state prosecutor was unable to say where or when the footage had been recorded.

– The prosecutor was often unable to tell the defense lawyers where exactly the video had been recorded, saying that the intention had been to show the “general climate everywhere.”

May 29, Day 49 of Trial

– The defense teams presented their video evidence in court.

– The videos shown in court featured some of the jailed leaders calling for the people to keep a peaceful attitude during the referendum.

– One of the videos featured the jailed Catalan leader Jordi Cuixart openly rejecting “violence and non-democratic behavior.”

– Videos with images of police violence against peaceful voters and protesters at numerous locations across Catalonia were shown.

– The lawyers for the defense were able to identify when and where each of the videos had been filmed.

Additional Information

– The defense will present their summaries on June 10 before the defendants also share their closing remarks.

– The public prosecutor confirmed the charges of rebellion against most of the defendants on trial and requests prison sentences of up to 25 years for organizing a referendum and declaring independence in late 2017.

– The prosecutor requested 17 years in jail for the former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell and for the Catalan leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez.

– The prosecutor requested 16 years in jail for the former Catalan ministers Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, and Joaquim Forn.

– The solicitor general’s office requested 7 and 12 years in prison for sedition.

– The private prosecutor representing the far-right party Vox requested 74 years in prison for the former ministers and 62 years for Sànchez and Cuixart.

– Vox reduced its demands regarding Santi Vila, reducing the charges to disobedience, which carries no prison sentence.