1. Spanish Government denies that Catalonia has a right to decide. Could International law overrule that bar?
Yes. I have always been of the opinion that international law, and more specifically the the International Covenants on Human Rights to which Spain is a party, guarantees the right of peoples to self-determination, including the right to freetly decide of its political status. This right is universal in nature as it is granted to « all peoples », including the people of Catalonia. Furthermore, the establishment of a sovereign and independent State is an accepted mode of implementing the right of self-determination.
2. Some unionists use recent Canadian legislation to insist that the Quebec case “proves” that self-determination is out of the question. Is that fair?
That is not only unfair, it is incorrect. After the second independence referendum held in Québec in1995 which took place, like the first 1980 independence, referendum, without any objection on the part of Canada, the Supreme Court acknowledged in its 1998 Reference re Secession of Quebec, the “ right of Quebec to pursue secession ”. The Parliament of Canada confirmed such right of Québec to “ cease to be part of Canada” in a Clarity Act adopted in 2000.
3. Others say that only colonized countries have the right to make a new State of their own…
Although some States, including Spain, continue to claim that the right of self-determination—and notably the right to establish a sovereign and independent State – belongs only to colonial or oppressed peoples, the views expressed by the International Court of Justice in its 2010 advisory opinion on the Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Kosovo, have contributed to restoring the original scope of the right of self-determination. This rights includes, for « all » peoples, the right to establish a sovereign and independent state enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations as interpreted by the Declaration on Friendly Relations and in the International Covenants on Human Rights to which Spain is bound, and which it must, in accordance with article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, perform in good faith.
International practice tends to show that attempts to contain the right to self-determination, including the right to independence, to the colonial sphere and to refuse to non-colonial peoples the benefit of independence has not been successful during the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The international community witnessed the accession to independence of Eritrea or Eastern Timor, as well as of the republics of the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. It also saw the United Kingdom recognize the right of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland and Scotland to decide their own future, and Canada doing the same, as mentioned above, with Québec.
4. Those partial to Catalan sovereignty have the loss of statehood in 1714 as a reference point to justify separation. Is that going back too far? Do 300 years of “unity” iron out all pretence to sovereignty?
The exercise the right of self-determination is not conditional upon the existing political status of a people. The fact that Catalonia is a comprised in a State which has experienced 300 years of unity does not preclude the « pretence of sovereignty » and the choice of the people of Catalonia to establish a sovereign and independent State.
5. In Spain, the Socialists offer almost unflinching support to the PP, even when democratic rights are crushed. Why do you think this happens?
I do not know why the Socialists support a position which is inconsistent with article 24 of the Declaration of Principles of the International Socialist of which there are a member. This article reads as follows : « 24. The national struggles for democratic socialism in the years to come will show differences in policy and divergences on legislative provisions. These will reflect different histories and the pluralism of varied societies. Socialists do not claim to possess the blueprint for some final and fixed society which cannot be changed, reformed or further developed. In a movement committed to democratic self-determination there will always be room for creativity since each people and every generation must set its own goals».
6. The Spanish media (TV debates, editorials, reports) show a disrepect and hatred of almost anything Catalan similar to that displayed in Serbia towards Bosnia etc. And yet the International community looks on with apparent disinterest. Could there be consequences here?
To display such a lack of respect, even hatred, can only lead to the widening the gap that separates Catalonia from the rest of Spain. The international community should be concerned by such a consequence and take the necessary steps to prevent any action that would lead to additional infringments of the fundamental collective right of self-determination of the people of Catalonia and the individual rights of its inhabitants,
7, The Spanish president accuses Catalan sovereignty followers of being totalitarian and antidemocratic. Did this happen in Quebec during the Referendum years?
No. During the referendums years, from 1976 to 1980 for the first consulation of May 20, 1980 and in 1994 and 1995 for the second consultation of October 30, 1995, the Canadian Prime Ministers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien never accused the Québec sovereingty followers of being totalarian and anti-democratic. On the contrary, they partipated personnally in the referendum campaigns governed by a Québec’s Referendum Act and acknowledged, in so doing, the democratic character of the referendums.
8. Público digital newspaper, in the video “Cloacas de Interior” (not shown on any major State TV channel) revealed the whole “Operación Cataluña” issue and showed that the Spanish government had secretly conspired to slander Catalan politicians and use the State attorneys to derail the Catalan Process. Should this have consequences?
If such conspiration or any attempt to derail the Catalan process can be proven, these acts would be in violation of right of the people of Catalonia to self-determination. They would also be a breach of the obligation of the Spanish State to « promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and […] respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations » entrenched in article 1 common to both Internaitional Covenants opn Human Rights.
9. Spanish judges ordering the dismantling of key elements in the Referendum process are known to have been signatories of anti-Referendum manifestos in the past. Would that have been possible in Quebec?
10. The Spanish government sent 4000 Spanish Police to try and stop the Referendum in the days preceding the October 1st, referendum. How do you see this step?
This move of the Spanish State should be be considered contrary to its obligation to «promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and […] respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations » entrenched in article 1 common to both Internaitional Covenants pn Human Rights.
11. What is your opinion of the events occurring on October 1st and State violence employed?
With regards to the interventions of the Spanish police on October 1st, they were in breach of the freedom of expression and assembly of the citizens of Catalonia granted to the inhabitants of Catalonia by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human rights. The use of excessive force was also in violation of, among other rights, the right to life, the right not to be subjected to degrading treatment, to the right to liberty and security as well as other rights recognized in the above-mentioned international instruments.
12. The Referendum result is about 43% participation (final figure to be known due to Police confiscation of ballot boxes) and 90.1% YES vote. How does a UDI fare now?
In light of such results and from the standpoint of international law as stated by International Court of Justice in its 2010 advisory opinion on the Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Kosovo, an UDI by Catalonia would not be illegal.
Professor of Constitutional and Iinternational Law
Université de Montréal