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Place.png Catalonia
(Spanish region)
An autonomous community of Spain with a large independence movement.

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain located on the eastern extremity of the Iberian Peninsula and consists of four provinces:

  1. Barcelona
  2. Girona
  3. Lleida and
  4. Tarragona.

The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-most populated municipality in Spain and the core of the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union.[1]

Catalonia comprises most of the territory of the former Principality of Catalonia (with the remainder Roussillon now part of France's Pyrénées-Orientales). It is bordered by France and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.[2]

2006 Statute of Autonomy

The 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was passed into law by the legislature in the autonomous Spanish community and was then approved by Spain’s parliament and later ratified in a referendum by Catalan voters.[3]

Almost immediately, the Popular Party, the centre-right group that now governs the country, challenged the statute (parliament was then dominated by the Socialists) before the Constitutional Court.

The court, Spain’s highest body for matters related to the constitutionality of laws, deliberated for the next four years, until 28 June 2010. Its decision, on the face of it at the time, seemed harmless enough: Of the statute’s 223 articles, the court struck down 14 and curtailed another 27. Among other things, the ruling struck down attempts to place the distinctive Catalan language above Spanish in the region; ruled as unconstitutional regional powers over courts and judges; and said:

“The interpretation of the references to ‘Catalonia as a nation’ and to ‘the national reality of Catalonia’ in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect.”

At the time, outside observers wondered why the court had taken so long to formulate a ruling seemed so anodyne. As the Economist noted:

“For a decision that took four years to reach, the rewriting of Catalonia's controversial autonomy charter ordered by Spain's constitutional court on June 28th was surprisingly light-handed.”[4]

Reaction to Court's decision

The anger in Catalonia was immediate. There were massive protests against the decision, which was, in the words of Argelia Queralt Jiménez, a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Barcelona, “understood as an act of contempt against the will of the Catalan people expressed by its Parliament and a referendum. From that moment, on each September 11, the National Day of Catalonia, thousands have taken to the street to claim their citizenship of this Autonomous Community and to demand at least a new revised autonomy or, even, independence.”

History of antipathy

Catalonia has had a centuries-long history of antipathy toward the Spanish monarchy, but in 1931 it was granted broad autonomy as Spain became a republic. That didn’t last long. The 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War saw much of the fighting—and literary romanticising—centered on Catalonia, which was a Republican stronghold. General Francisco Franco’s victory ensured that Catalonia’s official autonomy remained short-lived. Franco’s death in 1975 changed some of that when Spain became a constitutional monarchy. A new 1978 national constitution granted Catalonia autonomy again. In subsequent years, Catalonia became Spain’s richest region, the Catalan language enjoyed a broad revival, and Barcelona, the regional capital, became a centerpiece of European culture and even hosted the 1992 Olympics. Cut to 2003, when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the socialist prime minister, voted to approve the Statute of Catalonia if the measure passed the Catalan legislature. Which returns us to the Constitutional Court’s decision seven years later.

Independence referendum, 2014

The Constitutional Court’s decision prompted Artur Mas, then the president of Catalonia, to declare that he would call for an independence referendum if his party won re-election with a sizable majority. It did—and the non-binding vote (which had been made non-binding after the Constitutional Court stepped in once again) that was held in November 2014 asked voters two questions:

“1) Do you want Catalonia to become a State? And, if yes,
"2) Do you want Catalonia to be an independent State?”

About 80 percent said “yes” to both questions; turnout was estimated at between 37 and 41 percent—so, not high.

Artur Mas was forced to step aside after elections in 2015, paving the way for Carles Puigdemont, the mayor of Girona, to take the helm of the region. Puigdemont, who had advocated for Catalan independence long before it was popular, vowed to carry out a binding independence vote. Those plans look like they will come to a head Sunday 1 October 2017 as Catalans are set to vote once again on whether to remain part of Spain. The Spanish government is staunchly opposed to the vote, which the Constitutional Court has ruled illegal, and has taken strong steps to stop it from going ahead. If Catalans succeed in voting—and even if they do, it’s all but certain turnout will be low given a crackdown being carried out by the government in Madrid—the issue of their future will once again be fraught. If Spain succeeds in effectively blocking the vote, the result will almost certainly be the same.[5]

Spain's counter measures

Since the beginning of the Catalonia bid for independence, the Spanish Government has made an effort to prevent it from happening. In the week beginning 18 September 2017, the Spanish police force arrested 15 Catalan Government officials. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy argued that the state was forced to act since the Constitutional Court declared the vote illegal.[6]

But the Spanish Government did not stop there. The Spanish Civil Guard searched a number of newspaper offices without warrants and large amounts of referendum material was seized. When appearing before the press, Mariano Rajoy justified the raids and arrests by arguing in defence of the Constitution and the “rights of all Spaniards” and warned that “greater harm” lies ahead if the 1 October vote continues as planned.

Spain’s top Judges have used orders that violate rights by loosely interpreting the Supreme Court’s ruling on the referendum’s illegality. They have also warned that those who participate in the poll could face prosecution, including 700 Catalan mayors. Additionally, the Constitutional Court declared that it will fine members of an electoral board overseeing Catalonia’s referendum anywhere between 6,000 to 12,000 euros a day. Nevertheless, the Catalan Government has announced that it will go ahead with the vote on 1 October and that it will be binding.

This conflict is now becoming an issue of an attack on basic rights, including freedom of assembly, speech and the press, and less about different concepts of democracy. Spain’s King Felipe has called for political dialogue and for the Spanish Government to listen to the voice of the people.

On 20 September 2017, UNPO joined Catalan supporters at the Schumann square in Brussels to protest the violations of the Spanish Government and raise our voice in defending Catalonia’s self-determination. In Barcelona, thousands of people gathered to protest outside of Catalonia’s judiciary body to demand the release of the officials arrested in connection with the planned referendum.

On this occasion, UNPO strongly condemns the Spanish Government’s actions in violating the basic freedoms and values. UNPO also welcomes the Catalan Government’s right to a referendum on independence planned for 1 October 2017 and their self-determination. Self-determination is enshrined in international treaties, including the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Self-determination is the legal right of a people to decide their own destiny, its form of political organisation and their relation to other groups.

The events that took place this week exemplify the difficulty of obtaining self-determination. The Catalans and several UNPO members share this difficulty and continue their efforts in determining their own destiny.

The Scottish referendum represents a positive example of self-determination, where the people of Scotland voted freely and without government repression. The Scottish experience, which resulted in a slight majority of “No” votes in 2014, is a good example of how an expression of self-determination is not necessarily tied to the decision to go for full independence, but by the actual right to decide.[7]

Independence referendum, 2017

Despite its being declared "illegal", a second independence referendum was held on 1 October 2017 when 2.26 million Catalans – 43% of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters – were said to have taken part, and which was staged in defiance of the Spanish government, the country’s Constitutional Court and the Catalan High Court. 90% of those who voted had opted for independence, nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. The Catalan government had not set a minimum threshold for turnout in the election, arguing the vote would be binding regardless of the level of participation.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called for international help in tackling its independence dispute with Spain, saying Europe cannot continue to ignore the issue after almost 900 people were injured during the police crackdown on the referendum:

“The European Commission must encourage international mediation. It cannot look the other way any longer.”

At least 844 people and 33 officers were reported to have been hurt on Sunday after riot police stormed polling stations, dragging out voters and firing rubber bullets into crowds.

The European Commission has so far declined to intervene in what it has described as an internal Spanish matter and has urged both sides to “move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue”:

“Violence can never be an instrument in politics. We trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process in full respect of the Spanish constitution and of the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined therein.”

The police operation was also criticised by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said he had been “very disturbed” by the violence in Catalonia:

“With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence. Police responses must at all times be proportionate and necessary.”

Hussein asked Spain to immediately accept requests for UN Human Rights monitors to visit the country.[8]

Statement by UN Independent Expert

On 25 October 2017, the UN Independent Expert issued a statement on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order which urges Spanish Government to reverse decision on Catalan autonomy:

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.
"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.
“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 organise 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.”[9]



2017 Barcelona attacksAttackers were police informants and under intense surveillance. Happened at a convenient time for the Spanish government.
Scala case



University of Barcelona3 November 1450 JLThe biggest university in Catalonia and one of the biggest in Spain


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