Catalonia's foreign minister, Alfred Bosch (Barcelona, 1961), considers that Spain is making the worst possible response to the Report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which has called for the immediate release of jailed pro-independence leaders Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. Bosch warns that the Spanish government's response to the report brings it into direct conflict with the very system of the United Nations and is seriously damaging the image of Spain. El Nacional's exclusive interview with the man who leads the Catalan government's representation abroad:
The report is very conclusive, but from the very start the Spanish government has tried to discredit it. They've even challenged two members of the Working Group ...
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is designated by the UN Human Rights Council, based on a very careful selection of independent people with the skills and the experience. And the Human Rights Council is directly responsible to the UN General Assembly. It publishes reports with official and binding rulings. Spain has signed international treaties that stipulate that human rights must be respected. This group is responsible for determining whether a detention is correct or arbitrary. If they determine that it is arbitrary, it means that Spain is breaching the international agreements it has subscribed to. It is in this sense that we value it as a very important report.
What the Spanish government is doing is the least intelligent action it could take
And what will happen now to the Working Group's report?
They will give Spain a period in which to respond. If Spain doesn't comply, this report will continue following its course within the UN. It doesn't end here. Therefore, what the Spanish government is doing is the least intelligent action it could take.
How have other countries responded to similar reports?
In 2017 alone, there were 31 countries that released prisoners after similar reports, among them France, the US, Turkey, Cuba, and Israel... Many different countries that understand that these pronouncements need to be respected and complied with. And, if they're not in agreement, they get in touch with the appropriate bodies of the UN and see if they can find a solution.
What the UN is saying is that Spain is not upholding human rights, and that is devastating.
But if Spain doesn't respond by immediately releasing the prisoners, nothing will happen...
That's not true. There will be no sanctions, because this group does not have coercive capacity, but if they fail to comply and give no response, this will continue its UN course. And as well, there is a prior consideration: that what the UN is saying is that Spain is not upholding human rights. This message, on its own, even if there are no sanctions imposed, is devastating.
And the fact that the Spanish response has been to challenge two members of the Group?
That they decide to disparage this group is very serious, because they are questioning the functioning of the UN, not just this Working Group, but also the Human Rights Council that has chosen it. If they don't agree with the profile of these people, they could have recused them at the time of the selection process.
Spain is making a mistake. It's questioning the very essence and functioning of the UN system
And so, don't you think that this is the reaction that the United Nations expects?
They're reacting late, and poorly. Spain is making a mistake. It's questioning the very essence and functioning of the United Nations system. What it's doing is undermining its international reputation. The world is starting to look aghast at what the Kingdom of Spain is doing.
What will the UN's next step be, if Spain doesn't make a move?
There is a deadline, after which the Working Group transfers its report to other United Nations bodies.
Ignoring this report could lead it into direct conflict with the United Nations system and the reputation of Spain as a democratic state will be seriously damaged
It could go to the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner, and could reach the General Assembly. If they reach this point, the reputation of Spain as a democratic state with judicial independence and respect for human rights will be seriously damaged.
The Catalan government has asked Spanish public prosecutors to act on this, but what else will it do?
We, as the government of Catalonia, what we are saying is that they must comply with this, as so many other countries have done. Not only because it is about justice and the UN demands it, but also because Spain must preserve its international reputation and show the world that it is a democratic state with judicial independence and respect for human rights.
Any of the powers of the Spanish state could respond to the report of the UN group
Is the UN group only addressing itself to the Spanish government or to the judiciary as well?
It is addressed to the Spanish government because the UN is composed of governments. But, take note, it appeals to the powers of the State in general. There could be a reaction on the part of the judiciary, the monarchy, the legislature or any other. These reactions would be possible and, undoubtedly, would be appreciated by the United Nations.
Indeed, the Spanish government has referred to the separation of powers as a reason for not acting ...
They can't tell us that the Spanish government can't do anything. They can obviously do things. There is a state solicitor at the Supreme Court taking part in the trial. And who appoints the state solicitors? There is a public prosecutor's office, which is organized hierarchically, and the chief prosecutor is also appointed by the government and, therefore, must have some connection with it. At the very least, what the Spanish government can do, is make a statement, saying that this needs to be resolved. And the pronouncements they are making go in the opposite direction.
Felipe VI should repair the terrible damage that is being done to Spain's institutions
Could it be considered that Spanish king Felipe VI is appealed to by this report?
The king of Spain is the head of state. Thus, since everything that is happening is eroding the Spanish state, the king, instead of going round saying "go get 'em", should go out and say "let's face this, let's be a democratic country, let's correct these shortcomings"... Of course he should. He is the highest representative of the Spanish state. It is very likely that he won't, but I don't see why he shouldn't. Moreover, from the point of view of Spanish nationalism, the best thing they could do is to repair the terrible damage being done to Spanish institutions.
The fact is that this complaint to the UN has been in process for months, the response seems to be to continue delaying it, and for the prisoners to stay in jail. Where does this end?
If this is exasperating to us, imagine what it's like for the prisoners and their families. What the prisoners say to us is: "We assume our situation, we must work as hard and as fast as we can to solve this injustice." We can't stop trusting in these organisms. We are obliged to follow all the steps and procedures.
While this debate is going on, there is discussion about suspending Oriol Junqueras as an MEP just as he has been suspended in the Spanish Congress...
Spain is trying to seek refuge in bureaucratization. The strategy that began with the Rajoy government is continuing. However, there is another issue: these people have been elected to the European Parliament, which has made great efforts to be a sovereign parliament. The government of an EU country shouldn't influence the composition of the European Parliament, the judges of a member state must not tamper with the results of the elections. Therefore, we have a problem in Europe. This is no longer an internal Spanish affair.
Well, MEPs-elect Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín went to the door of the European Parliament and they were blocked from entering...
Yes. This is not acceptable.
So then, Europe is turning into a transmission belt, it is being tied to the interests of its member states...
There are many aspects to Europe. Here, we may be talking about the Secretariat of the European Parliament. But what we have to say is: we believe in Europe. We are convinced that those elected MEPs, in accordance with their rights and the rights of voters, have to be allowed to represent those who voted for them. And that is very well understood in Europe and beyond. There are many European parties who understand that perfectly and, in fact, the protests have already begun.
But right now they are not allowed to enter...
Well, we have to work so that they will be allowed to.
How can the rights of Puigdemont and Comín be backed?
First, we have to see whether or not they can collect their formal certificates of election, if these MEPs can attend Parliament and be sworn in to office. We will go to all the international organizations that protect the rights we have in these areas.
Spain has a problem that's getting bigger all the time and the world is looking aghast at what it is doing
All of this is also happening at a time when, after the May 26th elections, the Spanish Socialists (PSOE) are very strong in Europe ...
The PSOE and Spanish politics in general will win by demonstrating that they believe in democracy, in Europe and in its values. And in the pronouncements of official organisms. And to prove that, through their actions. If they insist on demonstrating otherwise, the kingdom of Spain will have a problem in the eyes of the world, a very big problem, and it will not stop getting bigger. Up till now, they have been able to go out into the world saying that this was an internal affair, and some governments even echoed that. But when this is happening in the European Parliament, their argument falls. The world is looking more and more aghast at what Spain is doing.
Borrell will go down in history as a how-to guide for anti-diplomacy
However, the Spanish state has shown that it doesn't have too many problems with the image that it projects. This has been demonstrated by Josep Borrell, as foreign minister. Why should they worry now?
Josep Borrell will surely go down in history as a how-to guide for anti-diplomacy. It is obvious that this causes damage. When you come out saying that the only thing that happened in [the colonization] of America was that a handful of Indians were killed; when you say that what the Slovenians did exemplified a path of violence; when you make statements about Russia and they have to ask you for explanations... As I understand it, one of the main tasks of diplomacy is to go around the world making friends.
And this approach which you call anti-diplomacy, has it had any impact?
Well, Borrell will not be foreign minister in the incoming government. For him, it's had some impact.
But it's said that he could be appointed to one of the major positions in the EU...
Yes, but Spain's representation abroad will not boast about that.
But if you have a European position, your voice will still be more important...
I don't know what he'll be. But right now, what we know is that he won't be Spanish foreign minister. Therefore, someone has finally noticed that things have to be done differently.
For the Catalan independence process in the world, what effect did Borrell's time as foreign minister have?
There has been a powerful campaign, with a lot of resources devoted to it, a political campaign to discredit the independence movement, to sabotage any action abroad... I've experienced this in first person. But, at the same time, this action by Spanish nationalism - an expansive nationalism - has been so blatantly partisan, that in the end, what they have achieved is the opposite effect: that we are being listened to more and more. When you go around the world saying you want a Catalan republic, they listen to you to an extent. When you go around the world saying that your rights have been violated, that there is no judicial independence, that democracy is in danger... These are universal values and people can't say to you that it doesn't affect them.
But for every action taken in different European countries in support of the Catalan prisoners and demands, there is a reaction by the Spanish government, calling the respective embassies and forcing a response in the opposite direction...
It doesn't matter. We're not giving up.
Spain has converted the Catalan process into an eminently democratic cause in the eyes of the world, one of civil rights
The independence movement's strategy is having an effect, then?
It's having an effect. They are listening to us more all the time. It's partly because we have gone from an issue of political differences to an issue of human rights. The actions of the Spanish state have reinforced a cause that has now become a eminently democratic cause in the eyes of the world, one of civil rights, and international. It's more international all the time.
Spain does not hide its dislike for the ministry that you direct, the foreign ministry. What is your ministry doing now to tell the world what's happening in Catalonia?
Explaining reality. We are in a global world and Catalonia is very global and cosmopolitan and is part of all the international networks. If we didn't act internationally, we wouldn't be fulfilling our obligation. Not only is it a necessity, it is an obligation we have as government of Catalonia. I am here to comply with my obligation.
Have you encountered many obstacles to act in your foreign ministry role?
We have come up against an official campaign, recognized by Spain's foreign ministry, to discredit the Catalan independence movement and to assert that everything we say is false. And we have come up against Irene Lozano, who is in charge of the office of Global Spain, who gives instructions to 190 civil servants, people who are paid by the state which in theory should represent us, to combat a democratic movement in Catalonia and mobilize resources and state officials. When the embassies are supposed to help us all, instead of doing their jobs and defending our rights as citizens around the world, they are committed to undermining a democratic movement, with certain ideas. So of course we encounter that.
And have they managed to close doors to you?
We don't give up on opening any door or on being able to talk to anyone. And we have achieved remarkable things. We have sat down with parliamentary foreign affairs committees, we have spoken with political parties, with governing parties, with all the international press... We're doing our job.
The Catalan government's delegations abroad, its famous "embassies": are they fully functioning again?
What is fully functioning are the delegates. We have all the foreign delegates that we had before [the period of direct rule by Madrid under article 155], either the same person restored or a new person. As for the status of the offices, we are still restoring them to the full status they had before. We've already managed to restore some with greater powers and more capacities than before, but others, not yet. It's very easy to destroy, very easy through the application of 155, but it's very complicated and laborious to rebuild.
But will they return to their full functions?
Of course. Some are already at a higher level than a couple of years ago.
The entire network of delegations from before 155 is already back in operation, and we'll expand it further. We have to be everywhere
So, the attack on the delegations hasn't stopped them from opening up again?
The entire network from before 155 is already back in operation, and we'll expand it further. Of course we'll expand it. Because we have to be present everywhere. Now, we are basically in Europe and the US. But Catalonia has an obligation to be present in the world, on the five continents. We are going to expand this network in order to comply with our obligation.
Finally, as former leader of ERC in the Barcelona city council, do you think that ERC candidate Ernest Maragall will be able to obtain the mayoralty?
The mayor must be the most-voted candidate. What happened four years ago when Ada Colau won the most votes? There were people who started to say that we had to form an agreement [against her] with Cs, PP, the PSC... I don't know how many things, which I found to be bizarre and which, furthermore, we always said we wouldn't do. And so we stuck to that. And in the end we understood that the party with most votes, which was Barcelona en Comú led by Ada Colau, had to occupy the mayoralty.
Four years ago, people were proposing all sorts of bizarre agreements to keep Colau out of the Barcelona mayoralty and we understood that the most voted candidate had to be mayor
But now this seems to be less clear ...
Colau must understand that if, at that time, she claimed that, being the candidate with most votes, she had the right to be mayor, that now the most voted candidate is someone else. At that time, we acted coherently, we were intelligent. It's normal and healthy for democracy that the most voted candidate occupies the first place. Now, she should look back four years and apply this maxim.