Almost four years later, the UN Human Rights Committee has released its decision on the complaint lodged on 18th December 2018 by Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull against Spain. Now, the Committee considers that the Spanish state violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 by suspending the four pro-independence Catalan politicians from their positions as members of the Catalan Parliament. This decision represents "a new confirmation that the political repression of the Catalan independence movement by Spain has seriously violated human rights - in this case, political rights that are essential in a democracy," according to the ERC party in a statement.
The UN Human Rights Committee has today published its decision that Spain has violated int'l human rights by suspending four Catalan independence leaders from their positions as members of the Catalan parliament in 2018. Important. #Catalonia @UNHumanRights @UNTreatyBodies pic.twitter.com/9uuR4Uk5zT— Nico Krisch (@NicoKrisch) August 31, 2022
Former Catalan vice president Junqueras, and former ministers Romeva, Rull and Turull, presented a complaint to the Committee on 18th December 2018. All four actively participated in the campaign for Catalan independence, which culminated in the referendum on 1st October 2017. Until the Spanish executive led by Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan government of president Carles Puigdemont on October 27th, 2017, they were members of the Catalan government.
From October 30th, 2017, they were under investigation for a crime of rebellion with regard to the referendum and independence process, and were remanded in custody on November 2nd. The crime of rebellion entails a call for a violent uprising against the constitutional order, and only under this crime can officials be immediately suspended from public duties under Spain's Criminal Justice Act. The four politicians, along with other Catalan pro-independence leaders, continued in pre-trial detention until late 2019, when the Supreme Court found them guilty of a different crime - sedition, "which does not include the element of violence" - and sentenced them to prison terms of between 9 and 13 years on October 14th, 2019. In June 2021, they were released from prison along with the five other Catalan political prisoners after a conditional pardon from the Spanish government.
“The Committee took an important step in affirming that 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 UN Human Rights Committee member Hélène Tigroudja.
Rebellion charge was "not based on reasonable grounds"
Taking note that the four complainants had urged the Catalan public to remain strictly peaceful, the Committee considered that the decision to charge them with the crime of rebellion, which led to their automatic suspension prior to a conviction, was not foreseeable and therefore not based on reasonable and objective grounds provided for by law.
“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, and must be applied based on an individualized assessment. 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,” Tigroudja added.
The UN had already taken a position on this conflict. The pre-trial detention imposed on the Catalan leaders was declared arbitrary by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2019. A year later, it was established that Spain had not complied with the decisions, and had neither released nor compensated them for the violation of rights, as required by the 2019 decisions.
Reactions from the political prisoners
Of the four complainants, all of whom have since 2021 been on conditional release from prison under partial pardons, Jordi Turull, now general secretary of Junts per Catalunya, was one of the first to react to this news, on which he expressed satisfaction: "Very happy with this new international victory of Catalan independentism over the Spanish state and its repressors in legal gowns", he wrote in a tweet, thanking the work of his lawyers and calling for independence. "We must never abandon the task or give up hope," he said.
“Cal no abandonar mai ni la tasca ni l’esperança”.— Jordi Turull i Negre (@jorditurull) August 31, 2022
Molt content d’aquesta nova victòria internacional de l’independentisme vers l’Estat espanyol i els seus repressors amb toga. Infinites gràcies @NicoKrisch @casals_neus per l’excel·lent feina. #independència o #independència pic.twitter.com/BBXAFVU5fs
Below, the advance version of the UN Human Rights Committee's decision, released in Spanish: