Current events: news and press releases

Catalan ombudsman institutions take the Belgian model as a reference for networking

19/09/2018

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Belgian Federal Ombudsman, Guido Herman, explained in Girona how their federal, regional and local ombudsmen coordinate their work

The conference brought together thirty members of the Network of Ombudsmen of Catalonia, created at the end of 2017 with the aim of strengthening synergies

The meeting has also brought together the goals achieved by the ombudsmen during the years of economic crisis

 

Within the framework of the second meeting organized by the Catalan Ombudsmen Network, Federal Ombudsman of Belgium, Guido Herman, explained, before about thirty representatives of several Catalan ombudsman institutions, how Belgian ombudsmen (federal, regional and local) are coordinated.

The event, which took place at the University of Girona, was inaugurated by the rector, Quim Salvi. The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has made the closing.

In his speech, Herman highlighted the peculiarities of the Federal Ombudsman in his country, in accordance with the situation of identity plurality that exists in Belgium. It is an institution that includes two federal institutions and their staff. Federal ombudsmen are appointed by the House of Representatives and currently they are Catherine De Bruecker (francophone) and Guido Herman (Flemish), who assumed their duties on November 19, 2013.

The meeting has also brought together the work accomplished by the different levels of ombudsmen in Catalonia before the violation of social rights in recent years of economic crisis. In this regard, there were given speeches by the Deputy General of the Catalan Ombudsman, Jaume Saura; the Ombudsman of Barcelona, Maria Assumpció Vila; the Ombudsman of the University of Barcelona, Lluís Caballol, and the defender of client (AGBAR company), Sergi Sanchís.

The Catalan Ombudsmen Network is a platform with a clear training vocation and promoted by the Catalan Ombudsman to coordinate its work with the rest of the sectorial ombudsmen (related to municipalities, universities and companies that provide services of general interest).

Beyond the bilateral relations and collaborations that in practice already work between the Catalan Ombudsman and the other Catalan ombudsman institutions, the creation of a rights defence network throughout Catalonia was one of the goals that the Catalan Ombudsman had set for his term.

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Statement regarding the suspension from public office of six MPs of the Parliament of Catalonia

11/07/2018

On July 10th, 2018, the judge's ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court in special cause 20907/2017 was issued, ordering the suspension from public office of six MPs of the Parliament of Catalonia in application of article 384 bis of the Spanish Law of criminal prosecution (LeCrim).

With regard to this decision, the Catalan Ombudsman states the following:

1. As indicated in the statement issued on June 29th, an interpretation of article 384 bis in accordance with the doctrine of the Spanish Constitutional Court (STC 199/1987) would make inapplicable the automatic suspension of office or public function of the people indicted and imprisoned for alleged crimes linked to the Catalan process, since in this case the use of weapons or explosives has not occurred at any time, as the Spanish Supreme Court itself acknowledges in its ruling June 26th, 2018. For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman believes that the MPs affected by the suspension measure, in exercise of their right of participation and representation, may appeal against the decision to the competent jurisdictional bodies, including the constitutional one.

2. The suspension of public office or public function of article 384 bis of LeCrim may have a direct effect on the majorities of the Parliament of Catalonia and may distort the result of the elections of December 21, 2017. In this regard, it should be noted that, by means of a judicial decision of a merely precautionary nature and not on the grounds of the case under trial, several MPs could be deprived of exercising their functions for an indefinite period. Therefore, there would be a violation of the fundamental right of participation of the MP as an individual in the Parliament and, above all, of the collective right of participation of Catalan voters in the formation of political majorities through elections every four years. This decision, at the present stage of the procedure, would contradict the case law of the ECtHR, for whom "the role of the judicial bodies cannot change the expression of the people in any case" (Kerimova against Azerbaijan, September 30th, 2010).

3. The alternative provided by the judge's ruling, according to which the Parliament of Catalonia could agree to replace the suspended MPs by other members of the corresponding candidates, is not provided for in the legal system, supposes an overruling of the judicial functions for invasion of the legislative power, represents an interference with parliamentary autonomy and raises for all these reasons serious difficulties of effective application. In particular, the delivery of acts of provisional MPs, that would correspond to the Electoral Board and that cannot be sustained in the Organic Law of General Electoral Regime (LOREG). Therefore, all the risks of distortion of the electoral results of the last elections to the Parliament of Catalonia indicated in the previous point subsist for the time being.

4. Finally, the Catalan Ombudsman again emphasizes, as he has shown in his recent report of June 2017, on the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms arising from the criminal justice reaction to October 1st, that the accusations of rebellion, sedition and criminal organization that are being substantiated by the Spanish Supreme Court, the Spanish National Court and other courts of instruction are clearly disproportionate to the events that occurred in Catalonia, particularly between September and October 2017. More specifically, regarding the rebellion, the references made by the Spanish Constitutional Court (STC 199/1987) to the use of war and explosive weapons to justify the suspension of public office of people prosecuted and imprisoned by rebellion clearly denote that none of the facts that are investigated in special cause 20907/2017 incur in this criminal type. This ruling is a step in the opposite direction to the necessary dialogue to resolve the political conflict in Catalonia.

This statement is brought to the attention of the European Commissioner for Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to their knowledge and consideration.

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Statement regarding the suspension from public office of six MPs of the Parliament of Catalonia

11/07/2018

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On July 10th, 2018, the judge's ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court in special cause 20907/2017 was issued, ordering the suspension from public office of six MPs of the Parliament of Catalonia in application of article 384 bis of the Spanish Law of criminal prosecution (LeCrim).

With regard to this decision, the Catalan Ombudsman states the following:

1. As indicated in the statement issued on June 29th, an interpretation of article 384 bis in accordance with the doctrine of the Spanish Constitutional Court (STC 199/1987) would make inapplicable the automatic suspension of office or public function of the people indicted and imprisoned for alleged crimes linked to the Catalan process, since in this case the use of weapons or explosives has not occurred at any time, as the Spanish Supreme Court itself acknowledges in its ruling June 26th, 2018. For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman believes that the MPs affected by the suspension measure, in exercise of their right of participation and representation, may appeal against the decision to the competent jurisdictional bodies, including the constitutional one.

2. The suspension of public office or public function of article 384 bis of LeCrim may have a direct effect on the majorities of the Parliament of Catalonia and may distort the result of the elections of December 21, 2017. In this regard, it should be noted that, by means of a judicial decision of a merely precautionary nature and not on the grounds of the case under trial, several MPs could be deprived of exercising their functions for an indefinite period. Therefore, there would be a violation of the fundamental right of participation of the MP as an individual in the Parliament and, above all, of the collective right of participation of Catalan voters in the formation of political majorities through elections every four years. This decision, at the present stage of the procedure, would contradict the case law of the ECtHR, for whom "the role of the judicial bodies cannot change the expression of the people in any case" (Kerimova against Azerbaijan, September 30th, 2010).

3. The alternative provided by the judge's ruling, according to which the Parliament of Catalonia could agree to replace the suspended MPs by other members of the corresponding candidates, is not provided for in the legal system, supposes an overruling of the judicial functions for invasion of the legislative power, represents an interference with parliamentary autonomy and raises for all these reasons serious difficulties of effective application. In particular, the delivery of acts of provisional MPs, that would correspond to the Electoral Board and that cannot be sustained in the Organic Law of General Electoral Regime (LOREG). Therefore, all the risks of distortion of the electoral results of the last elections to the Parliament of Catalonia indicated in the previous point subsist for the time being.

4. Finally, the Catalan Ombudsman again emphasizes, as he has shown in his recent report of June 2017, on the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms arising from the criminal justice reaction to October 1st, that the accusations of rebellion, sedition and criminal organization that are being substantiated by the Spanish Supreme Court, the Spanish National Court and other courts of instruction are clearly disproportionate to the events that occurred in Catalonia, particularly between September and October 2017. More specifically, regarding the rebellion, the references made by the Spanish Constitutional Court (STC 199/1987) to the use of war and explosive weapons to justify the suspension of public office of people prosecuted and imprisoned by rebellion clearly denote that none of the facts that are investigated in special cause 20907/2017 incur in this criminal type. This ruling is a step in the opposite direction to the necessary dialogue to resolve the political conflict in Catalonia.

This statement is brought to the attention of the European Commissioner for Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to their knowledge and consideration.

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Statement of the Catalan Ombudsman on the suspension of public officials

29/06/2018

On  June  27, 2018 the ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court confirming the prosecution of several Catalan political and social leaders for rebellion was issued.

The Catalan Ombudsman recently reported the disproportion of criminal qualifications regarding the events of October 1 and 27 and the possible violation of rights with regards to the principle of criminal legality, among others. (See report)

Regardless of those considerations, as for the automatic suspension of public office to the prosecuted people, the Catalan Ombudsman notes that:

Article 384 bis of the Criminal Law can only be applied when people accused of terrorism or rebellion are prosecuted and in prison. Therefore, people prosecuted with decreed prison, but not subject to an effective provisional loss of freedom cannot be deprived of their public office.

In addition, the ruling of Spanish Constitutional Court 199/1987, when referring to suspension of public office to people prosecuted for rebellion, it states it can only be applied when there has been an illegitimate use of war weapons or explosives.   

Furthermore, the ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court of June 16 Excludes explicitly the use of weapons in the presumed crime of rebellion on the part of the prosecuted people and, even less, the use of war or explosive weapons in the commission of the presumed crimes object of the cause. This means that one of the legal elements is missing to agree to the suspension of public office to all the people prosecuted and imprisoned.

Consequently, Catalan Ombudsman understands that the constitutional right to exercise public office, in accordance with the criteria of capacity and merit and by virtue of appointment or election, would be violated if a provision reserved for other cases is a applied to this cause.

 

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The Catalan Ombudsman meets with the European Commissioner for Human Rights to expose the situation of rights violation in Spain

19/06/2018

At the meeting, the Catalan Ombudsman emphasized the violation of rights of the dismissed public officials and ceased representatives following the dissolution of Parliament, the right of political participation of citizens and the right to freedom of expression

In addition, he has requested the organizations with whom he has met to verify that the Spain fulfils the commitment to carry out an investigation for the police batton chargeson the 1st October

The Ombudsman also held meetings with the Directorate of Human Rights and the State of Law and with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, both of which are also in the Council of Europe

The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, was to Strasbourg on Tuesday, June 19, to meet with the new Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović. The Catalan Ombudsman expressed his concern about the precariousness of democracy in Spain over the last years, and especially in relation to the Catalan conflict. Specifically, he has delivered the report that he has recently submitted to the Parliament of Catalonia. Report on the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms arising from the criminal justice reaction following October 1, and application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution

Ribó also explained the main points of the report to several members of the Council of Europe with whom he met previously: Günter Schirmer, Head of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Europe; Christos Giakoumpoulos, of the Directorate of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, and Hugh Chetwynd, head of section of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

In addition, he has requested the organizations with whom he has met to verify that the Spain fulfils the commitment to carry out an investigation for the police batton chargeson the 1st October. In particular, it refers to the commitment that the former Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, Alfonso Dastis, acquired with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, as part of a meeting.

According to the report, the abusive and disproportionate use of the cautionary measure of pre-trial incarceration is perhaps the most flagrant violation of fundamental rights in this situation

Likewise, the dissolution by article 155 of the Parliament and the removal of over 250 senior officials of the government, including the president of the Catalan Government and the entire Executive Council, have a direct impact on the right to political participation recognized in Article 23 of the Spanish Constitution, in two ways: on one hand, the rights of ousted public officials and representatives whose dismissal followed the premature dissolution of the Parliament are impaired; and, on the other, citizens’ rights to political participation, in general, are also impaired as the representatives they have elected have not been able to take office to serve the terms for which they were elected.

The right to political participation was also affected by the acts that, after the elections of December 21, blocked some of the candidates who had been elected, and who were in possession of their political rights, from standing as candidates for the presidency of the Catalan Government, in the process of investiture meant to form a new government.

The regression of freedom of expression and the rights of assembly and demonstration are not limited to pro-independence expressions or demonstrations in Catalonia, but are of a wider scope, and are being applied to different forms of protest and dissidence.

Last, on several occasions throughout the period covered in this report, and especially on October 1, 2017, the Spanish Civil Guard and the Spanish National Police Corps acted in a manner that could be considered disproportionate, and caused damage greater than that which they supposedly sought to prevent. Especially serious is the fact that on October 1 State law enforcement agencies used rubber bullet.

In the report Human rights regression: Elected officials’ freedom of expression and the separation of powers in the kingdom of Spain, the Catalan Ombudsman already alerted in April 2017 of the erosion of the separation of powers in Spain and its effects on democratic principles.

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