Spain violated the political rights of separatist Catalan politicians by barring them from public duties before convicting them for their role in the 2017 independence referendum, the UN Human Rights Committee said on Wednesday.
The case was brought to the committee by former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras and three government ministers who held power during the illegal vote on succession and the parliament's subsequent declaration of independence from Spain.
After the Catalan government declared independence, Madrid took control of the breakaway region and dissolved its parliament.
Following the crisis, prosecutors initially charged the four politicians involved in the UN case with the crime of rebellion, which entails a call for a violent uprising against the constitutional order.
In July 2018, while in pretrial detention, they were suspended from public duties, as Spanish law stipulates that officials can be suspended when charged with rebellion.
In October 2019, however, the politicians were finally convicted of sedition, a crime that does not include the same element of violence as rebellion.
As a result, they were allowed to return to holding public duties.
"Taking note that the four complainants had urged the public to remain strictly peaceful, the committee considered that the decision to charge them with the crime of rebellion, which led to their automatic suspension prior to a conviction, was not foreseeable and therefore not based on reasonable and objective grounds provided for by law," said the UN Committee for Human Rights in a press release.
Helene Tigroudja, a committee member, said this UN decision affirms that the restrictions of political rights "must be applied more rigorously" if they occur before convictions.
"The decision to suspend elected officials should rely on clear and foreseeable laws which establish reasonable and objective grounds for the restriction of the political rights and must be applied based on an individualized assessment. Such an approach and safeguards are the best way to ensure respect for institutions and to promote the rule of law in a democratic society," she added.
All four Catalan politicians were sentenced to more than 10 years behind bars for their role in attempting to break Catalonia away from Spain. However, in 2021, the Spanish government issued pardons for the politicians and freed them from prison.