UN expert on self-determination warns EU

"EU is based on democracy, rule of law and human rights. When you ignore self-determination, you ignore all three" says UN independent expert Alfred de Zayas

News / 02.2.18

According to UN Independent Expert, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, the European Commission is sticking its head in the sand and acting like an ostrich when it comes to the legitimate aspirations of many peoples around the world, including in Europe, because it is not a subject that it is likely to go away. When asked about the current position of the European institutions with regards to self-determination, de Zayas says that ignoring the situation is not the best policy.

“The European Union is based on three pillars: democracy, rule of law and human rights. When you ignore self-determination, you are violating all three,” he adds. This is because “self-determination is an expression of democracy and a fundamental human rights that belongs to all peoples. It is not a prerogative of states to grant it.”

He believes that there is a good reason why the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) put self-determination in its first article. According to that same article, de Zayas argues, “every state has the obligation to promote it. It is not merely that they should not create obstacles. They have a positive obligation to advance it. So, denying a referendum is absolutely aberrant. In Europe it is inconceivable.

“Ignoring self-determination violates EU’s founding pillars” UN independent expert, De Zayas, at European Parliament.

“For those who worry about the dissolution of Europe [because of self-determination], this is not the case,” he adds. He argues that what we need, “is the opportunity to decide. The best way to express your opinion is by way of referendum, because we are democrats and hence we want to know what people think.”

On the specific situation of Catalonia, he proposes, “to organise an independence referendum conducted by the United Nations with OECD observers, so as to know exactly what people want”. He regrets that so far there have only been negative responses to all the proposals to organise such a referendum.

Additionally, he is worried that there are political prisoners in Spain: “It is outrageous that there are political prisoners in Europe and that the European Commission remains silent and says nothing about it”. He highlighted that it is a ‘European problem’ since, according to him, it is evident that one part does not want to talk, referring to the Spanish government. Moreover, he added that the European Commission must intervene in the conflict between Catalonia and Spain, because the situation puts “democracy at risk”.

Coppieters Foundation interviewed UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, after his intervention at a conference on “Civil and Fundamental Rights in the EU” organised by Members of the European Parliament Jordi Sole and Josep Maria Terricabras.