By suspending former Catalan government and parliament members from public duties prior to them being convicted, following the independence referendum back in 2017, Spain violated their political rights, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a statement published on Wednesday.
The findings by the group of independent human rights experts were published after revision of a complaint filed by Oriol Junqueras i Vies, former Vice-President of Catalonia, and three former ministers, Raül Romeva i Rueda, Josep Rull i Andreu and Jordi Turull i Negre.
The four former Catalan separatist leaders were suspended from public duties prior to their convictions over the region’s 2017 bid for independence, and prosecuted for the crime of rebellion.
The Parliament of Catalonia passed a law authorising a referendum on Catalonia’s independence, in September 2017. Despite the Constitutional Court’s suspension order and police intervention, the referendum went ahead on 1 October.
In mid-October, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that both the law and the referendum were unconstitutional, null and void.
Nevertheless, the Catalonian Parliament declared independence and was thus immediately dissolved by the Government of Spain.
‘Crime of rebellion’
Mr. Junqueras and the three ministers were prosecuted, together with other officials, for the crime of rebellion, which entails a call for a violent uprising against the constitutional order, the group of experts said.
“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 Committee member Hélène Tigroudja.
Taking note that the four complainants had urged the 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 Criminal Procedure Act only allows the suspension of officials when they are charged with rebellion. Nevertheless, they were suspended from their functions as Members of Parliament in July 2018, the Committee reiterated.
During their pretrial detention, the four former Parliament members brought their case to the Committee of independent UN-appointed experts, alleging that their suspension from public duties, prior to any conviction violated their political rights under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In October 2019, the four of them were convicted of sedition, a crime that does not include the element of violence, as opposed to rebellion, and their suspensions were lifted.
“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.
Independent UN human rights experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
They operate in their individual capacity and are neither UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.