As previously announced by President Quim Torra, an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council of the Catalan government was held today to discuss the opinion issued by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The report of the expert group, published on 27 May, demands the immediate release of the political prisoners Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart.
The report finds that various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been violated in the case of the Catalan political prisoners.
“Consequently, the Catalan executive is demanding that the Spanish government adopt the measures necessary to ensure the immediate release of the political prisoners, and that it take measures against those responsible for violating their rights,” said Minister of the Presidency and government spokesperson Meritxell Budó during a press conference following the meeting.
The Catalan government believes it is incumbent on the Spanish executive to “act on the demand of the Working Group, which is crystal clear: release the political prisoners and anyone else who has been deprived of their liberty for the same reasons.” Budó said: “If the Spanish authorities do not comply, they will be failing in their duty as public authorities to uphold human rights.”
The position of the Catalan government is that all of the measures recommended by the Working Group must be carried out, and it will “pursue all legal and political actions necessary to ensure that this happens. If the Spanish state does not comply, the government will challenge and speak out against its failure to act at every opportunity,” said Budó.
Commenting on the Spanish government’s efforts to have two members of the expert group that produced the report disqualified, the Catalan government spokesperson called on the Spanish executive to “face the reality of what the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says and stop challenging its members”. Budó noted that Spain is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and that many of the Council’s resolutions have been incorporated into Spanish law. She said it was “surreal” that the Spanish government should question the judgement of “renowned experts”.
The resolution adopted today contains seven points, which the government has immediately begun to act on. Specifically, President Torra has already sent a letter to Prime Minister Sánchez setting out the Catalan government’s demands and will send the same letter to the Public Prosecutor’s Office by the end of the day. In the resolution, the Catalan government:
- takes note of and endorses the conclusions of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
- publicly decries the violation of the political prisoners’ human rights and demands their immediate release;
- requests, through the Public Prosecutor of Catalonia, that the Spanish Attorney General advocate the immediate release of the political prisoners in the Supreme Court, which is currently trying them for their role in organising the 1 October self-determination referendum; and that the Spanish Attorney General recognise the right of the individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty to receive compensation and other forms of reparation as provided in international law;
- calls on the Spanish prime minister to ensure that the institutions of the state, in particular the Attorney General and the State Legal Service, effectively comply with the demand to immediately release the political prisoners, and that their right to receive compensation and other forms of reparation for the time that they have been deprived of their liberty, as established in international law, is recognised;
- calls on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to commission an exhaustive and independent investigation into the circumstances that led to the political prisoners being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for violating their rights;
- calls on the Spanish prime minister to disseminate the report of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention by all possible means and as widely as possible;
- pursuant to the provisions of the Organic Statute of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, requests that this resolution be communicated to the Ministry of Justice.
United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
On 27 May, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which reports to the UN Human Rights Council, published a decision in which it demands the immediate release of the political prisoners facing charges for their role in organising the referendum held on 1 October 2017.
The opinion states that in the case of the Catalan political prisoners, various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been violated. Consequently, it demands that the Spanish government adopt measures to ensure the immediate release of the imprisoned Catalan politicians and take measures against those responsible for violating their rights.
The Catalan government warns the Spanish state and its institutions that they have a duty to comply with this demand by immediately releasing the political prisoners. If the state and its institutions fail to act on the WGAD report, they will be failing in their duty as public authorities to uphold human rights.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that the imprisonment of the Catalan politicians and activists has violated fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, opinion and assembly, and accuses the Spanish state of using deprivation of liberty as a means of compelling the prisoners to give up their opinions and political activity. The WGAD report also states that referendums are permitted in Spain and considers that calling for people to take part in public participation processes is a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The WGAD also considers that there is no evidence of violence in the conduct of the defendants, as required to seek a conviction on the charge of rebellion, and questions the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear cases related to the 1 October referendum, given that under Spanish law any trial related to the referendum should be held in Catalonia, where the events took place.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a body linked to the United Nations, is made up of independent human rights experts who investigate cases of arbitrary arrest and detention that may violate international human rights law. Established in 1991 by the former Commission on Human Rights, it is one of the “special procedures” set up to monitor human rights violations and is currently overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council.