Spain violated rights of Catalan ex-ministers: UN committee

Spain violated the political rights of former members of the Catalan government and parliament, the UN's Human Rights Committee found Wednesday.

Spain violated rights of Catalan ex-ministers: UN committee
Demonstrators waving Catalan pro-independence "Estelada" flags gather in Barcelona in 2021. Photo: Josep LAGO/AFP

The committee reviewed a complaint from four senior politicians who were convicted of sedition for their role in a controversial Catalonian independence bid in 2017.

The committee found that Spain violated their rights when they were suspended from office having been charged with a particular offence — in a decision not based on reasonable and objective grounds.

Catalonia in northeast Spain has for several years been at the centre of a political crisis between separatists, who control the executive and the regional parliament, and the central government in Madrid.

The Human Rights Committee comprises 18 independent experts who monitor how countries are implementing their civil and political rights obligations under an international covenant.

The committee reviewed a complaint filed by the former deputy head of the Catalan government Oriol Junqueras, and three former ministers: Josep Rull, Raul Romeva and Jordi Turull.

They were prosecuted and sentenced for their participation in the independence referendum and later events that led to the Catalan parliament declaring independence in October 2017.

Junqueras and the three ministers were prosecuted for the crime of rebellion, which entails a call for a violent uprising against the constitutional order, said the committee.

In July 2018, they were suspended from their functions as members of parliament in accordance with an act which only allows the suspension of officials when they are charged with rebellion.

They claimed that their suspension from public duties, prior to any conviction, violated their political rights under the international covenant monitored by the committee.

In 2019 they were eventually convicted of sedition, which, as opposed to rebellion, does not include the element of violence, and their suspensions were lifted.

They were pardoned in June 2021 by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government in a bid to draw a line under past clashes with Catalonia’s separatist-led regional government and open the way for talks.

‘Slap in the face’ 

“The safeguards against the restrictions of political rights must be applied more rigorously if these restrictions occur prior to, rather than after, a conviction for an offence,” said committee member Helene Tigroudja.

Noting that the complainants had urged the public to remain strictly peaceful, they considered that charging them with rebellion, leading to their automatic suspension, “was not foreseeable and therefore not based on
reasonable and objective grounds provided for by law”.

Tigroudja added: “The decision to suspend elected officials should rely on clear and foreseeable laws which establish reasonable and objective grounds for the restriction of the political rights.

“Such an approach and safeguards are the best way to ensure respect for institutions and to promote the rule of law in a democratic society.”

In a tweet, Junqueras said the committee’s ruling “proves us right”.

“Spain can’t continue it’s repressive practices against the independence movement,” he added.

Carles Puigdemont, who headed Catalonia’s regional government at the time of the 2017 independence push, said the ruling was a “slap in the face of the Spanish state from the United Nations”.

“An EU member state is a violator of political rights, and this is a real threat to European democracy,” he added in a tweet.

Puigdemont fled to Belgium after Catalonia’s failed independence bid.

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Spanish PM seeks international image with China visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez begins Thursday a visit to China he hopes will show Spain has gained global influence under his watch ahead of a tight year-end general election.

Spanish PM seeks international image with China visit

The two-day visit comes as Spain is gearing up to take over the European Union’s rotating presidency in July which will also serve to project the country on the world stage.

Sánchez will attend the high-profile Boao Forum for Asia on the Chinese island of Hainan on Thursday before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

He will be only the second leader of a European country to visit China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago, after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit in 2022.

Sánchez said last week that Xi’s invitation proves “the international recognition given to Spain during a time of such complex geopolitical difficulties.”

Sánchez’s talks will focus on the Ukraine conflict, with Xi trying to present himself as a mediator.

The world should listen to China’s “voice” in order to find a way out of the war in Ukraine, Sánchez said on Friday ahead of his visit to Beijing.


Spain is not “in the first division of global actors” and is not “decisive regarding strategic issues relating to China or Russia,” said José Ignacio Torreblanca, a senior fellow with the European Council for Foreign Relations.

But the country has “easy” ties with Beijing and it “could act as a facilitator,” he told AFP.

Sánchez, a socialist, has made international affairs a priority since he came to power in June 2018, in contrast to his conservative predecessor.

Spain lost influence in the EU, especially during the country’s deep economic downturn sparked by the 2008 global financial crisis, said Raquel García, an analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank.

But in recent years Madrid has had “a much more pro-active attitude when it comes to defending its positions, presenting its ideas” in Brussels, she added.

Sánchez managed in 2019 to get his then-foreign minister, Josep Borrell, named as the EU’s foreign policy chief.

The Spanish premier has also taken advantage of “the loss in leadership of the Franco-German axis” to present Spain as a country that can “make the difference when it is time to form alliances,” said García.

Sánchez has been a staunch ally of Ukraine and has visited the country twice since Russia’s invasion.

‘Reinforce his leadership’

Despite being on the other end of Europe, Spain has welcomed 165,000 Ukrainian refugees, according to Eurostat. Within the EU, only Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic have received more.

“Spain is not part of the G7 and is only invited as a guest to G20 meetings. It is in Europe where it can best exercise a certain form of leadership,” said García.

Having a clear position on Ukraine is “a way to reinforce his leadership” on “the issue which is central in the EU”, she added.

Spain’s upcoming presidency of the EU will also be the focus of Sánchez’s talks with Xi.

“China wants to obtain precise things from the European Union and wants to get closer to Pedro Sánchez” for this reason, said Torreblanca.

Sánchez’s taste for diplomacy could also be an asset in the run-up to a general election expected in December, even if the campaign will not focus on international relations.

“The temptation exists to take advantage of foreign policy for electoral purposes for a very simple reason: it’s a subject where the opposition does not act,” said Torreblanca.

Most polls put the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) several percentage points ahead of Sánchez’s Socialists.