GENEVA (25 October 2017) – The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, is calling on Spanish authorities to enter into negotiations in good faith with leaders in Catalonia following the announcement that the Spanish Government would suspend the region’s autonomy. On 19 October, the Spanish Government announced its intention to impose direct rule on the region after a deadline seeking an end to the Catalan independence campaign was not met. His statement is as follows:
“I deplore the decision of the Spanish Government to suspend Catalan autonomy. This action constitutes retrogression in human rights protection, incompatible with Articles 1, 19, 25 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pursuant to Articles 10(2) and 96 of the Spanish Constitution, international treaties constitute the law of the land and, therefore, Spanish law must be interpreted in conformity with international treaties.
“Denying a people the right to express themselves on the issue of self-determination, denying the legality of a referendum, using force to prevent the holding of a referendum, and cancelling the limited autonomy of a people by way of punishment constitutes a violation of Article 1 of the ICCPR and of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alternatively, addressing the aspiration of peoples to self-determination in a timely fashion is an important conflict prevention measure, as is evidenced by the countless wars that have occurred since 1945 that found their origin in denial of self-determination. Dialogue and political negotiation should be encouraged to prevent violence.
“The Spanish Government appears to invoke the principle of territorial integrity to justify forceful attempts to silence political dissent and aspirations of self-determination. While the principle of territorial integrity is important, as understood in many United Nations Resolutions, including GA Resolutions 2625 and 3314, it is intended to be applied externally, to prohibit foreign threats or incursions into the territorial integrity of sovereign States. This principle cannot be invoked to quench the right of all people, guaranteed under Article 1 of the International Covenants on Human Rights, to express their desire to control their futures. The right of self-determination is a right of peoples and not a prerogative of States to grant or deny. In case of a conflict between the principle of territorial integrity and the human right to self-determination, it is the latter that prevails.
“Of course, there are many peoples worldwide who aspire to self-determination, whether internal in the form of autonomy or external in the form of independence. And while the realization of self-determination is not automatic or self-executing, it is a fundamental human right that the international community should help implement.
“The international law of self-determination has also progressed far beyond mere decolonization. Applying the 15 criteria contained in my 2014 report (paras 63-77), it is evident that no state can use the principle of territorial integrity to deny the right of self-determination and that arguments about the legality of actions taken by Catalonia’s elected parliament are immaterial. Such arguments do not nullify the ius cogens character of self-determination.
“The only democratic solution to the current impasse is to suspend repressive measures and to organize a referendum so as to determine the true wishes of the population concerned. Such a referendum should be monitored by the EU, OSCE and private observers including the Carter Center.”
Mr. Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Mr. de Zayas practiced corporate law and family law in New York and Florida. As a Human Rights Council mandate holder, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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