Photo: Ben Emmerson (Credit: Colombo Gazette)
By Antoni Maria Piqué
Friday, 2 February 2018
Below, we have collected fifteen quotes from the lawyers behind the application lodged with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention about the case of the Catalan political prisoners.
The legal team behind the application is fronted by Ben Emmerson QC, a deputy High Court judge and honorary Oxford fellow who also sits as a judge in the Appeal Chambers of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia. He was one of the founding members of Matrix Chambers, a barristers’ chambers with offices in London and Geneva and extensive international experience. Their website lists 77 members in the Human Rights section. Emmerson himself has practised widely, but specialises in European human rights law, public international law and international criminal law.
He is already known at the UN, having been Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights for six years as part of a noteworthy career. He has 25 years’ experience litigating before international courts and tribunals including the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
In this case, he is working alongside Rachel Lindon (link in French), who has been called to the bars of Paris and Madrid and is an assistant to council on the International Criminal Court, and Jessica Jones, a fellow member of Matrix Chambers with experience in human rights, public law, extradition, crime and international law.
The following quotes come from the press conference they gave in London this Thursday to announce the application:
- “Their detention and continued imprisonment is an affront to human rights designed to prevent them from performing their role as political representatives of the Catalan people. (…) Their imprisonment by Spain clearly falls foul of international law. We ask the UN to make that declaration and then to use all of the resources at its disposal to secure the release of these men.”
- “Our application sets out that the imprisonment of Mr Junqueras, Mr Cuixart and Mr Sànchez violates their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, their rights to political opinion and participation in public life and discriminates against them because of their advocacy for the rights of the Catalan people to self-determination.”
- “The proceedings against them have also failed, in a number of respects, to meet international fair-trial standards. (…) Over a hundred academic Spanish legal experts have gone on record as confirming that the charges brought against them are unsustainable in the light of what has happened since there was no element of violence in the allegations against them. The allegations are purely political and, in short, this is a classic case of arbitrary political detention.”
- “This case does not ask the United Nations to adjudicate on the issue of Catalan independence. Rather, it seeks the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents.”
- “The actions of the Spanish government set a dangerous precedent for the rights to peaceful protest and political opposition around the world.”
- “Spanish authorities are using dictatorial means, imprisoning political opponents and refusing their release so that they abandon their convictions and their political roles. That (…) is an inadmissible violation of their fundamental rights.”
- Imagine that the United Kingdom imprisoned the leaders of the Scottish National Party for advocating the independence of Scotland. That is the situation that we are here confronted with.”
- “It is a cornerstone of political democracy, as it is understood in the international community, that there should be scope for plurality of political opinion and opportunities for the advocacy of political change, even if it’s unpopular, even if it’s unpopular with the majority government, even if it doesn’t command the majority opinion of the people although, as we know, that is not the position here.”
- “To use the machinery of the state so as coercively to force people into jail and only to release them or to abandon criminal proceedings against them if they abdicate their political beliefs has a chilling effect on the plurality of democracy (…) and belongs to a bygone era in Spain’s history that many of us thought was long left behind.”
- “If you go around imprisoning those who advocate for political change you are undermining the foundations of democracy.”
- “The case of Mr Forn illustrates many of the problems that we have just outlined. It is an incredibly difficult decision for any individual who has been locked up in jail for their political beliefs what steps they wish to take in relation to securing their release. It’s been widely reported that Mr Forn has made statements abandoning his political position and abandoning his position as a deputy in the new Parliament. The chilling effect of detention is being played out as we speak. Of course it is, in the end, a personal decision for him where he draws the line, but the three clients that we represent remain committed to their cause, above all to the cause of free speech.”
- “As with any major piece of international litigation, there is more to the strategy that is being pursued on behalf of the Catalan political leadership in the international sphere than just this application. This is the first salvo and there will be further steps to come. Of course, in due course, when proceedings have concluded in Spain, there is recourse to the European Court of Human Rights which is binding on Spanish authorities. But we’re very much hoping that a clear statement from the United Nations backed not only by the Working Group but by other aspects of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Procedures of the United Nations will bring to bear sufficient political pressure upon Spain, and indeed that its judicial authorities will take account of what is a judicial decision by the Working Group, in order to exercise the powers that are absolutely available to them to release these men and allow them to continue with their political activities, peaceful as they are. And I emphasise, these are non-violent political activities of a kind that would be tolerated in any modern democracy apart, it seems, from Spain.”
- “For years, there has been a cause to get independence. For years, there have been complaints against them in front of the jurisdiction of Catalonia. (…) Never, for years, [did] the courts of Catalonia accept the crimes of sedition and rebellion that now are the cause of their imprisonment. Because they were saying, as we say, because it’s still true, that these crimes can not be constituted because they both need violence and there has not been any violence, ever, in this movement. You can criticise it, but there is no violence. (…) You’ve got law professors, you’ve got judges of Spain’s Supreme Court who all say that, without violence, these crimes cannot be constituted. [So] why have they qualified these events, suddenly, with these qualifications? Because these are the only crimes that could put them in jail. If it was just disobedience, they could not be in jail.”
- “It’s just not true to say that the crimes of rebellion and sedition, as they have been applied in this case, find echoes in other European democracies. They exist, but not as they have been applied to non-violent protests. Indeed, the opposite is true: The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and political participation, which these imprisonment decisions ride roughshod over. It’s simply not true to say that Spain can find itself in common company with other European democracies. This could not happen in other countries. If it did, it would be as illegal internationally as it is in Spain.
- “The key point is that you cannot use prison, even under Spanish law and the Constitution, as the basis for suppressing non-violent political speech. It is a universal principle. It is surprising that we are having to even debate this, because it is [as principle] recognised in relation to democracies all over the world for decades. And yet, Spain is doing the very thing which is an affront to the right to organise, the right to expression and the right to legitimate, non-violent, political movements. That is the axiom question: a democracy tolerates non-violent dissent and non-violent opposition. The suppression of non-violent political speech is simply inconsistent with international law.”
Video of the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH6gDHkBwVc
Original text from El Nacional (English): https://www.elnacional.cat/en/news/reasons-political-prisoners-un_235314_102.html
Original text from El Nacional (Catalan): https://www.elnacional.cat/ca/politica/emmerson-jordis-junqueras-onu_234966_102.html