Current events: news and press releases

The Catalan Ombudsman appears before the British Parliament to explain the situation of human rights in Catalonia

20/06/2019

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Two witnesses rejected by the Spanish Supreme Court, the Catalan ombudsman and a former chief constable of the Police Service in Northern Ireland, appear before the British Parliament

People who wanted to lodge complaints met with the Catalan Ombudsman

The Catalan Ombudsman will participate in a seminar on the improvement of the Ombudsman's service through new powers at the University of Aberystwyth


The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, appeared before the British Parliament to deliver the speech "The situation of human rights in Catalonia: dialogue and freedom appeal", in the Margaret Thatcher room, at the Portcullis House in London. The event, organized by The All Party Parliamentary Group On Catalonia (APPC), has given voice to two of the witnesses excluded by the Spanish Supreme Court in the special cause on Catalan separatist leaders: on the one hand, the Catalan Ombudsman; and, on the other, Sir Hugh Orde, former chief constable of the Police Service in Northern Ireland and former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), who wrote a report regarding 20-S demonstration and October 1st referendum in Catalonia, concluding that in both cases the crowds had no intention of being violent or committing a crime.

Within the framework of his speech, the Catalan Ombudsman, who has the duty to protect and defend rights and freedoms in Catalonia, offered the audience a summary of the main actions carried out by the institution as a result of the political and legal reactions of the State before these events regarding fundamental rights. The speech was based on the three reports submitted to Parliament on this matter, which include, among others, the irregularities committed by the Parliament of Catalonia, the violence committed by the Spanish security forces during the referendum and subsequent concerns about other violation of rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, abolition of self-government and criminal disproportion, and rights to participation and political representation.

In addition, as a result of the culmination of the hearing phase of special cause 20907/2017 of the Spanish Supreme Court, and once the trial is set for judgment, he has called for political dialogue, participation and freedom, as the only way to solve the Catalan conflict.

Attention to people in London

At the facilities of the Government of Catalonia in London, the Catalan Ombudsman also attended the people who wanted to lodge complaints and queries, in accordance with its competence scope. In this regard, the Catalan Ombudsman met with sixteen people of Catalan origin residing in the United Kingdom who brought up some problems that will be studied and dealt with by the institution, especially with regards to their difficulties to exercise the right to vote in elections called for in Spain. The Catalan Ombudsman explained them the recommendation issued by the institution, in particular that it is necessary to regulate alternative voting mechanisms that allow the exercise of the right of active suffrage to be remotely (remotely) in a simpler way for voters.

The Catalan Ombudsman launched the itinerant office service in 1996, and currently goes four times a week to several municipalities in Catalonia. This is the first time that it provides the service to people outside Catalonia.

Seminar on best practices in the improvement of the public service of the ombudsmen (new powers and possibilities)

Finally, the Catalan Ombudsman has been invited to participate in the seminar on best practices, organized by the Welsh Ombudsman, in the framework of the International Ombudsman Institute and the Ombudsman Association (which brings together all the ombudsmen, public and private, of the United Kingdom and Ireland).

The seminar, which will  be taking place at the University of Aberystwyth on Friday, 21st June, 2019, analyses from different perspectives the improvement of the public service of the ombudsman offices through the acquisition of new powers, as well as the possibilities and the challenges that entails. In this regard, the Catalan Ombudsman will be analysing the experience of ex officio actions, power recently acquired by the Welsh Ombudsman.

Rafael Ribó, as European President of the IOI and Ombudsman of Catalonia, already participated in the same university in a seminar in October 2016, in which he explained the potentialities of ex officio proceedings.

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The Catalan Ombudsman calls for political dialogue, participation and freedom

14/06/2019

Following the culmination of the hearing stage of special cause 20907/2017 of the Spanish Supreme Court, remitted for decision, the Catalan Ombudsman makes some relevant statements.

1. A political issue. A political conflict should be resolved by political means

As well as in other occasions over the last few months, the Catalan Ombudsman shows that the territorial conflict existing between Catalonia and the rest of Spain has an eminently political character and results of a restrict interpretation of the constitutional precepts on territorial self-government (among others, Articles 2, 3, 149 and 156 CE, regarding nationalities, linguistic diversity, territorial dialogue and financing), which has as a turning point the ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court of 2010 on the Statute of Catalonia.

This eminently political conflict is affecting fundamental rights, including the rights of political participation through elected representatives, freedom of expression and expression, and the right to individual freedom.

A conflict of this type can only have a political solution, based on the linguistic, cultural and national diversity of the Kingdom of Spain. A constructive dialogue must be initiated to achieve a political solution to the conflict; an imaginative and ambitious dialogue, such as the one that occurred during the Transition to democracy, which should include a consultation to the people of Catalonia.

In this sense, article 4 of Law 24/2009, of December 23, sets out, among the powers of the Catalan Ombudsman, to promote conciliation and carry out, where appropriate and within its scope of action, mediation functions or dispute resolution. For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman, within its function of mediation, offers public authorities and society to organize a board of understanding and agreement, in the framework of its institutional responsibility and with full respect for human rights.

2. Right to participate. Citizens have the right to choose representatives, who have the right to perform their duty of representation

The Catalan Ombudsman has repeatedly stated that article 23 of the Spanish Constitution and article 3 of Additional Protocol n. 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), when they recognize the right to active and passive suffrage, determine that people who do not incur non-eligibility can be chosen as popular representatives. The right to passive suffrage is not limited, however, to the right to be voted on or to be chosen, but it is deployed, once chosen, in the right to carry out the task of representation for which they have been elected. This was already stated by the European Commission on Human Rights in 1984, considering that "it is not enough that a person has the right to be a candidate, they must also have the right to act as a parliamentarians once chosen. Adopting an opposite opinion would mean void the meaning of the right to be candidate in elections "(Case M. against the United Kingdom, decision of the Commission of March 7, 1984, No. 10316/83).

a) As it was noted in the statement issued almost one year ago (June 29, 2018), an interpretation of article 384 bis LECrim (Spanish Law of Criminal Procedure) in accordance with the doctrine of the Spanish Constitutional Court (Judgment 199/1987) makes inaplicable the automatic suspension of public office or public function of the people prosecuted and imprisoned for crimes of which MPs are accused of, since in this case the use of weapons or explosives has not occurred at any time, such as "it has been revealed throughout the hearing and recognized by the Supreme Court itself in its ruling on June 26, 2018. For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman considers that the rights of MPs and senators have been affected in the participation in conditions of equality, which also affects voters’ rights, and, as a result, this may lead to appeal against this decision to the competent judicial authorities, including the Constitutional Court.

b) Furthermore, it must be reminded that the application of article 384 bis corresponds exclusively to the examining judge and that it must be taken, if appropriate, immediately after having dictated the indictment of an person, if they are being remanded in custody for that cause. No other public authority, neither judicial nor of any other type, can use this extraordinary criminal procedural rule.

c) The same considerations have to be made regarding the people who have been elected as Members of the European Parliament and as Councillor of the City Council of Barcelona, so that they must be able to fully and effectively act as elected MPs and Councillor and enjoy the respective prerogatives linked to their duty.

d) Article 99 of the Spanish Constitution states that, after the renewal of the Congress of Deputies, the king "after consultation with representatives appointed by political groups with parliamentary representation [...] will propose a candidate for the Presidency of the Government". It is completely improper, and violates the principle of separation of powers, that the Second Hall of the Supreme Court has prevented the deputy appointed by a political group with parliamentary representation from going to the query with the head of the State, adducing that it can be done by another deputy.

3. Right to freedom. Pre-trial detention for 20 months has been abusive and freedom should be restored

The Catalan Ombudsman has repeatedly stated that the restriction on the personal freedom of several political and social leaders through abusive and disproportionate use of the precautionary measure of pre-trial detention constitutes a flagrant violation of fundamental rights.  A political claim for a political problem can never be confronted or solved by criminal law procedure.

The institution has also stated that the classification of the facts object of the different judicial processes as rebellion or sedition is manifestly inappropriate and can be contrary to the principle of legality. In addition, it could be understood as a criminalization of freedom of expression and demonstration, as the peaceful demonstrations of the population, as accredited by a report of two Scotland Yard former commanders, can never be understood as a substrate for such serious crimes. The release of these people would make a decisive contribution to coexistence and favour political dialogue. Furthermore, their  release would automatically result in the inapplicability of article 384 bis LECrim by any instance, including the judicial one.

In this regard, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations, in Opinion 6/2017, of May 27, 2019, and with similar arguments to those stated by the Catalan Ombudsman in reports and statements issued last year and a half, has stated that the detention of Cuixart, Sánchez and Junqueras was arbitrary, concluding that the Kingdom of Spain should immediately release them and compensate them for the time they have been deprived of their freedom. The arguments of the Working Group can be extended to the rest of people deprived of freedom within the framework of the special cause 20907/2017.

In the opinion of the Catalan Ombudsman, the legal value of this Opinion is comparable to that issued by committees linked to international human rights treaties. This was stated by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the decision of admissibility of the Peraldi case c. France (April 7, 2009), when defining this working group, under article 35. 2 of European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as "a procedure for international investigation or settlement".

In this context, it should be recalled that the Spanish Supreme Court, in its judgment of July 17, 2018 (2747/2018), stated that, although there is no specific and autonomous procedure in the Spanish legal system to comply with the recommendations of a United Nations Committee on the violation of fundamental rights, "it goes beyond doubt" that its opinions "shall be binding /obligatory for the State".

In accordance with this jurisprudence, the State should give immediate consideration to the Opinion 6/2017 of the Working Group. In this regard, the questioning that the Government of the Kingdom of Spain has made about the impartiality of two of the members of the Working Group has not been made in the opportune time process, which should have been in the framework of the response stage to the complaint lodged by the applicants.

Finally, it should be noted that the Opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention does not prevent from lodging in the future applications before the ECtHR for other facts related to the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms recognized in the European Convention that affect issues related to this process beyond these detentions considered as arbitrary (Savda c. Turkey, of June 12, 2012, paragraphs 64-70).

4. Conclusions

Therefore, the Catalan Ombudsman calls:

  • on the political representatives, parliamentary groups and authorities to seek a settlement to the constitutional conflict;
  • on the social leaders to promote this dialogue offering the Ombudsman institution to foster it;
  • to consider as positive the release of the people linked to the Catalan independence process in pre-trial detention;
  • to consider the suspension of MPs and Senators to be revoked, taking into account that this measure affects the right of passive suffrage and equal participation of suspended MPs, and also −indirectly− that of Catalan citizens who voted in the elections on April 26, 2019.

This appeal has been sent to the Parliament of Catalonia (presidency and parliamentary groups), the Government of Catalonia, the Spanish Prime Minister, the President of the Spanish Parliament, the Spanish Ombudsman, the European Ombudsman, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and all European members of the International Ombudsman Institute. It will also be sent to social leaders who can promote and favour this dialogue.

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The Catalan Ombudsman holds an institutional meeting with the Ombudsman of Slovenia

15/05/2019

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It was the first institutional visit on an international scope since Peter Svetina was appointed Ombudsman three months ago

The human rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia, Peter Svetina, met on Tuesday, May 14, with members of the institution of the Catalan Ombudsman, in the framework of an institutional visit.

Together with his Deputy and Chief of Cabinet, Svetina has held several meetings with the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó; the Deputy General, Jaume Saura; the deputy for the defence of children’s rights, M. Jesús Larios, and other members of the team.

The purpose of the visit was to make an institutional exchange, knowing the functioning of the two Ombudsman offices and their competencies in accordance with the current legal system. 

The meetings have also highlighted the main current challenges facing both institutions, taking into account the particular context and political and social scene in Europe.

The tasks and achievements of the Catalan Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture and the Children's Area have been addressed, especially with regard to the activity carried out by the European Network of Ombudsmen for Children (ENOC ), as well as the other actions carried out by the Catalan Ombudsman in the international framework.

It was the first international visit on an international scope since Peter Svetina was appointed Ombudsman three months ago

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The Catalan Ombudsman participates in the Annual Conference of the European Ombudsman leading a working group on the Regulation on data protection (GDPR)

11/04/2019

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The meeting, which has taken place at the headquarters of the European Parliament, has also addressed issues such as participation in public affairs or social rights

The Ombudsman of Catalonia, Rafael Ribó, in the framework of the European Network of Ombudsmen conference, which took place on April 8th and 9th in Brussels analized, together with ombudsmen from all over Europe, what effects has the entry into force of the new European data protection regulation on the institution.

Ribó led a work group on the effects of the law and explained some of the actions carried out by the Catalan Ombudsman in order to guarantee compliance with the new regulations since their coming into force. Among others, all complaints procedures and forms have been reviewed and the entire staff has been trained on the criteria that must be followed to protect the confidentiality of the data managed. In addition, the consulting services of an experienced person have been hired, along with other statutory control bodies. According to the Catalan Ombudsman, the ombudsmen work with highly sensitive material and the new regulations are more of a tool than an obligation. In the presentation of conclusions, Ribó emphasized the degree of responsibility assumed by the Ombudsman in the implementation of the law.

European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has hosted the annual European Network of Ombudsmen conference, where measures to improve participatory democracy in the EU have been discussed. Some of the issues raised were: Do citizens feel they can shape EU decisions? What makes a successful participatory democracy tool? How can public administrations, ombudsmen and others better involve citizens in decision-making?

This annual event brings together around 100 national and regional ombudsmen from all over Europe, as well as MEPs, EU officials, organisations and other interested participants. In addition to participation in public affairs, other issues dealt with in depth on this occasion have been family benefits, social rights and the right to health.

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The Catalan Ombudsman suggests measures to reduce the home electricity bill by half

27/03/2019

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Report: The right to electricity supply: obstacles and solutions in the price, access to the service and the guarantee of its quality. March 2019

The proposal, included in a new report of the Catalan Ombudsman, focuses mainly on distributing proportionally and fairly between all types of consumer uses (home, industrial, services, etc.) charges not related to consumption

With regard to the tax on electricity generation, which from April on will be added to the bill, Rafael Ribó emphasized that it goes in the opposite direction of the recommendations of the report

As far as taxation is concerned, it is suggested to reduce the tax burdens that are no longer justified, such as the electricity tax, and to bring the VAT of 21% to a reduced rate, similar to that applied by the nearby countries

The institution recommends to the State Administration that the procedure for the application and renewal of the social benefit be redefined, taking into account the rights of vulnerable people and the principles of administrative simplification


The Catalan Ombudsman has suggested that the necessary legal and political measures be taken to make a 50% reduction in the electricity bill for domestic purposes, that is, in the electricity supply contracts for home consumption.

The proposal, included in a new report of the Catalan Ombudsman, focuses mainly on distributing proportionally and fairly between all types or uses of consumption (domestic, industrial, services, etc.) charges not related to the expenses directly attributable to supply or consumption. They are concepts that are outside the contracted service, such as the commitment of remuneration for renewable energies and cogeneration or the rate deficit, and represent about 70% of the total amount that must be paid.

This is also the case of the tax on electricity generation (technically called tax on the value of electricity production), that next April, after six months of exemption decreed by the Spanish Government to modulate the increase in the price of electricity, will be added to the electricity bill. In this sense, and beyond increasing the bill by 4%, the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has warned that this measure goes in the opposite direction of the recommendations included in the report. In fact, this is a topic on which the Catalan Ombudsman already intervened in November 2015, when he requested that the concepts other than consumption and imposed by the Administration be excluded from the bill.

The report, delivered to Catalan Parliament on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, makes a diagnosis of the current situation from analyzing the cost of electrical energy based on the three contributing components with a similar relative weight in the final amount of the bill: the electricity that is consumed properly, the cost of which is derived from the resulting price in the wholesale market, where generators and traders negotiate energy sales daily; the second component, which are the access tolls that serve to pay, on the one hand, regulated system costs such as transport and distribution of energy, but also other non-supply-related expenses, such as subsidies to renewable generation or financing of the rate deficit (energy policy decisions), and, finally, taxes imposed to the consumer (such as electricity tax and VAT).

As far as taxation is concerned, it is proposed to reduce the tax burdens that are no longer justified, such as the electricity tax, and bring the VAT of 21% to a reduced rate, similar to that applied by nearby countries. Other measures that are proposed are to remove the concept of rent from the invoice counter, since it is not economically justified (lack of cost-benefit analysis).

Other issues

With regard to the electric social benefit, the Catalan Ombudsman recommends to the State Administration that the procedure for the application and renewal of the social benefit be redefined, taking into account the rights of vulnerable people and the principles of administrative simplification.

Likewise, the Administration should take the appropriate measures for the regulatory development of Law 24/2015, which should include the establishment of a model of report of social services to determine if the person or the family is in one of the situations of risk of residential exclusion determined by the Law. The institution also reminds the obligation of public administrations to act against criminal conduct regarding electricity networks and the duty of distribution companies to inform the administrations of irregularities they detect.

Lastly, and for cases of vulnerable squatters, the Administration should conduct a socioeconomic study to determine whether the illegal occupation is out of necessity and, if appropriate, provide the right solution.

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