Brutality In Barcelona


Human Rights Groups in Spain are investigating the excessive force used against participants in Catalonia’s referendum Sunday. Al Jazeera reported yesterday that nearly 900 civilians and 431 police officers were injured. Human Rights Watch has formally stated that there are “serious allegations of excessive use of force by police against people who were assembling peacefully to express their views in Catalonia.” Tensions are beginning to mount in Spain threatening peace and security. Catalonians call for separation from the Spanish state was met with aggression, which resulted in a day-long strike, as well as road blockades and a mass rally in downtown Barcelona on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera it sent a representative to the capital of Catalonia to examine the veracity of allegations of police brutality amidst the Catalonian referendum. A United Nations Senior Human Rights Official said that the brutality came at a critical moment in Spanish politics and that Sunday was a critical attack on human rights and democracy. He went on to say that he was “very disturbed regarding Sundays events.” However, the Spanish government defended its police action as proportional with the national government’s Prime Minister Mariano Roy, thanking officials for acting with firmness and serenity in upholding the rule of law. King Felipe VI accused the regions separatist leaders of “inadmissible disloyalty” and creating a “situation of extreme gravity that threatens the country’s constitution and unity.” He further explained to the New York Times that “Catalan authorities have put themselves completely on the sidelines of the law and democracy with irresponsible conduct, they can even put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and thus the whole of Spain.” Rhetoric between leaders took a sharp turn for the worst when, in a damning statement expressed to the New York Times, Mr. Puigdemont, a Catalan politician, stated that the current government is returning Spain to the authoritarianism of the former leader General Francisco Franco, to which a spokesperson of the state government replied, saying that the “Catalan strike was clearly political with Nazi connotations in terms of indoctrinating Catalans into following the separatist ideology and hoping to provoke deaths in Catalonia.”

He further explained to the New York Times that “Catalan authorities have put themselves completely on the sidelines of the law and democracy with irresponsible conduct, they can even put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and thus the whole of Spain.” Rhetoric between leaders took a sharp turn for the worst when, in a damning statement expressed to the New York Times, Mr. Puigdemont, a Catalan politician, stated that the current government is returning Spain to the authoritarianism of the former leader General Francisco Franco, to which a spokesperson of the state government replied, saying that the “Catalan strike was clearly political with Nazi connotations in terms of indoctrinating Catalans into following the separatist ideology and hoping to provoke deaths in Catalonia.”

Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions; it is home to 7.5 million people, has its own culture, history, and language. According to the New York Times, Catalonia accounts for approximately one-fifth of Spain’s total economic output, the equivalent of Portugal’s economy. On September 111714, Catalonia lost its autonomy after being captured by King Felipe V’s troops. In the 1930s the region’s push for autonomy was partly responsible for sparking the Spanish civil war. Under the leadership of Franco, many civil liberties were suppressed, including the use of the Catalan language. The Guardian explained that while Franco’s death in 1975 ushered in a constitutional democracy, it did not establish a formally federal state. The constitution awarded some political autonomy to the region, but separatists do not consider this nearly enough. Sunday’s referendum was earlier declared illegal by the Constitutional Court in Madrid, and separatists were warned that the state would use all means necessary to uphold the law.

With that said, the separation of Catalonia highlights one of the most difficult areas of constitutional and human rights law. On one hand, the rule of law should be followed to ensure national security and peace. On the other, the right to vote and use a referendum to express political will should be respected and observed. Whether or not the separation goes ahead, proportional measures should have been in place to deal with the threat presented at the time by protestors. Reports have arisen of children and elderly being injured, as well as the police using rubber bullets and seizing ballot boxes as well as violence, according to Al Jazeera. Such actions bring forth questions regarding censorship and state policing. As such, the infringements on the fundamental human rights of the Catalonian people must be considered. In a contentious and highly emotional political issue, as reflected in The Guardian, I applaud Catalonians for wanting “to fight for independence with…votes and not weapons.” Resorting to violence when all other avenues have not been exhausted should never be condoned.

Megan Fraser