Wow, this needed to be said, and here it is! This is a statement on the Catalonian referendum issued on 25th October 2017 by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. I show the link above, but I quote the statement in full anyway at the foot of this post.
The statement makes four main points, exposing the logical fudges used by those who support the Spanish government. These points are also highly pertinent to the Scottish situation, and we need to think of ways of addressing them. The four main points are:
- The right of self-determination belongs to the people, not the state, and the state cannot take it away.
- The right to self-determination overrides the principle of territorial integrity.
- Using force, making a referendum illegal, and annulling autonomy violate international covenants on civil and political rights.
- Dialogue and negotiation are the way forward.
The constitutional settlement for Scotland violates the first of these four points: we can’t hold a legally binding referendum without the consent of the UK government. Nor are the conditions clear under which the UK government can withhold consent. At least in Spain they know where they stand – it’s illegal, full-stop. In Britain it’s at the discretion of the government of the day, which is a way of giving us no rights but not admitting it. We need to say loudly and clearly that this is wrong, and basically ignore it.
On the second point, there is firstly the trivial jibe that we “want to break up the United Kingdom”. Yes, we do, because it basically f*cks us, and this UN statement tells us that we have the higher claim. Of more weight is the constant assertion in mainstream media that regions cannot become states because there is an international consensus – supported by the United Nations – that international borders are inviolable. This statement gives the lie to that.
Some commentators doubt that the UK government would use force to suppress an independence campaign, but I’m not persuaded that they wouldn’t. The Irish Civil War is less than 100 years old, and the Northern Ireland Troubles cost 3,000 lives. The UK government will surely exploit Yoon thuggery if it needs to.
Fourthly, dialogue is the way forward – yes, thank you, now pull the other one. The current UK government doesn’t engage in dialogue at the best of times, and the coming indy ref will not be the best of times. But if we can’t do it peacefully, by dialogue, and basically with agreement – including the grudging agreement of Scottish opponents – then, however good the consequences for our economy and well-being, we still face 100 years of bitterness, discord and hostility. Ideally we should be putting to the UK government an offer they can’t refuse, showing the benefits to them of a Scottish secession. That will mean some hard thinking and some forceful point-making.
[Title of this post changed 1/11/2017.]
Statement on Catalonian autonomy from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
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.”