Side Event at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations
“SDG16 for Human Rights: The Case of Spain”
In a Side Event at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, in Geneva, the Center for UNESCO of Catalonia analysed the challenges and weaknesses of Spanish institutions regarding Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Center for UNESCO of Catalonia organised a Side Event entitled “SDG16 for Human Rights: The Case of Spain” at the 39th Session of the Human Rights Council, on Tuesday, 25th September, day of the the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The event dealt specifically with the SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, focusing in the importance of institutions to assure the achievement of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The panelists covered different approaches to the analysis of the case of Spain, and the role of its institutions regarding the SDG 16 and the Human and Fundamental Rights. Democracy decline, freedoms in danger, repression of civil society activism and participation, corruption, transparency and bad practices were some of the ideas that appeared on their speaches about the Spanish reality, and they urged Spain to do changes to improve the quality of its institutions and Democracy and the full respect to Human and Fundamental Rights.
Prof Nico Krisch, warned about new forms of democratic decline which take place through many small and subtile steps, without big brake points. Professor Krisch analysed the case of Spain in that scenario, and described an alternative reality to the one that considers spanish transition after the Franco’s dictatorship a successful evolution in terms of politics and economy, there is a latent lack of confrontation to it’s authoritarian past left continuities persisting in different State levels, endemic corruption, favoritism, politicised Courts…
We can find a clear example of this in the Catalan conflict and the way the State acted in response to the challenges posed by Catalan institutions and population. In contrast to Great Britain and Canada -where governments tried to engage minorities and engage them in refounding the- or the principles included in the International agreements (SDG16, for instance), Spanish institutions rejected acting in an inclusive and participatory way, were ultraconservative, and criminalised and repressed . Now, the use of pre-trial detention of pro-independence political and activist leaders is brutal, with 9 of them in prison for some months or even almost a year now in some cases, and 7 more in exile, accused of seditions and rebellion which requires violence that did not exist.
Prof. Krisch also mentioned other warning signs in Spain beyond the Catalan case, concerning freedom of expression and excessive use of antiterrorism against political and artistic expression, such as the case of rapper condemned to 3 and a half years in prison for songs that criticised the King and supposedly glorified terrorisme, so the panelist concluded that small steps that leads to a decline in democracy and freedoms must be not ignored, as are the beginning. When minorities are targeted, we should be vigilant and respond to violations quickly, otherwise the same tools are likely to be used more broadly against political opponents. We cannot wait for the big event that turns democracy into autocracy, it is a gradual process, step by step, and we have to stop it from its beginning.
Mrs. Bonet explained some consequences of the exercice of promoting Fundamental and Human Rights by civil society organisations today in Spain. She considered that the called Catalan conflict is not a Catalan or Spanish, even European issue, it is a global conflict that should worry us all, as it not only a political dispute, but a violation of Fundamental Rights.
The civil society agents are key actors in Democracy and public life and should be specially defended by the States, as UN states. The right to participation by citizens in democracy is not only by voting, it is also needed when debating relevant public issues, including direct participation throught referendums. Mrs Bonet considered that in Spain happened the opposite, when the fair desire to decide democratically the future of Catalonia was repressed violently, and civil society leaders were acused of rebellion and has are in pre-trial detention for 11 months now, when they were just supporting the Right of citizenship to demonstrate, freedom of expression and participation in political issues without any violence.
Mrs Bonet repported that judicial institutions are constructing a false story of unexisting violence to support the accusation of rebellion, that can be punished with up to 30 years in prison. The Referendum of 1st October 2017 in Catalonia, was repressed with obvious state violence by police, even the people acted pacifically to defend the polling stations and voting polls, and this police violence has not have any consequence and is not beeing investigated. She wanted to highlight that in Spain organising a referendum is not a crime, and, surprisingly, even some citizen’s complaints against police brutality are turned into complaints against them for hate incitement.
Mrs. Patricia Lopez exposed how Francoism is still latent in the deepest parts of the Spanish state, influencing and shaping its democratic institutions since their inception. Mrs. Lopez described the existence of a powerful network comprised by different stakeholders (politicians, police officers, journalists, judges, businessmen) that, behaving as a mafia, instrumentalize the State to pursue their own agenda. This latent network promotes judicial “truths” which create an alternative reality that obstaculize an accountable, fair and fully democratic judiciary system.
Mrs. Lopez described that through the last years the judiciary system has labeled the fighters for Democracy and Human Rights during the Franco regime as terrorists, while the officials who created a mafia that parasitizes the rule of law are treated and paid like heroes of the statehood. She argued that the judicial truth in Spain, the one that gives meaning with its practice to the rule of law in Spain is damaged to death, denouncing that Spain is therefore moving away from the fundamental values that the UN promotes.
The Center for UNESCO of Catalonia is an NGO with special consultative status with ECOSOC, and Oficial Relation with UNESCO and the DPI, committed with the UN values and initiatives, and we would like to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, following the UN call. As a result of this, we are firmly committed to contribute to progress towards the shared targets and goals, to speak up and act against injustice and to help bringing to light obstacles to overcome.
Human Rights are one of the pillars of the 2030 Agenda, that offers a unique opportunity to seek to realize the human rights of all. The achievement of sustainable development and full human potential is not possible if Human Rights are not assured to everyone. We need to promote peaceful, fair and inclusive societies with equal access to justice, and based on respect to Human Rights, in States with effective rule of law and governance at all levels, with effective, accountable and transparent institutions.
We are aware that the 17 SDG are integrated and indivisible, but in this Side Event we wanted to focus on the importance of SDG 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) for Human Rights.
We emphasized the importance of “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” and the fact that -as seen on the SDG 16 targets- to ensure the respect and achievement of Human Rights we need to reach “equal access to justice for all” (16.3), “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels” (16.7) and “public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms” (16.10).
As an NGO that has Official Relations with UNESCO, we are convinced of the key role of Education to achieve the SDG and the Learning Objectives UNESCO has stablished for each of the Goals. For the SDG16 the aim is to educate learners that understand their local and national legislative and governance systems, how they represent them and aware that they can be abused through corruption; undestand the importance of the international human rights framework; are able to show empathy with and solidarity for those suffering from injustice in their own country as well as in other countries; collaborate with groups that are currently experiencing injustice and/or conflicts; and become agents of change in local decision-making, speaking up against injustice.
We believe that we, adults, must have, at least, similar competencies that the ones we ask to our students, that is another reason to look to our reality. The 2030 Agenda illustrates that, at all scales, from local to global, development and sustainability are closely linked and require global active citizens to face the major challenges to come, so the participation of all countries is necessary to achieve the SDG. All of them have to do steps towards more efficient, responsible and inclusive institutions at all levels, contribute to a sustainable development and, specially, assure the respect to Human Rights. Not only developing or in conflict countries or where institutions are less structured, we wanted to stress the challenges to face by developed countries with structured and consolidated institutions, underlining weaknesses, deficiencies and bad practices to tackle.
We analysed our most immediate context, as a Catalan organization, at the moment in that Spain is living severe and very challenging social and political movements that test the institutional system on how to respond to extraordinary and relevant new challenges.