La noche del 1 de octubre entrevistaron brevemente a un votante del no en un canal de televisión estatal. Se trataba de un joven andaluz, casado con una catalana y padre de dos niñas. Había llegado a Catalunya seis años atrás y decía haber sido muy bien acogido. Visiblemente conmocionado, tras señalar el sentido de su voto nuestro protagonista se lamentaba: “Hoy siento que me han dejado sin argumentos”.
Este hombre y millones más necesitan recuperar esos argumentos. Es más, después de semanas de tensión y angustia, de la DUI y del 155, creo que no me pongo excesivamente dramático si escribo que los necesita la sociedad española en su conjunto.
Aunque no sabemos el número exacto, parece que cerca de dos millones de catalanes se expresaron por la independencia el 1 de octubre. Voces desde Catalunya sostienen que mucha gente, especialmente jóvenes, ya han desconectado de España. Para estas personas no habría solución que no fuera quirúrgica. Es posible que así se sienta parte de la población pero me niego a aceptar que sea el caso de la mayoría. Es más, aunque lo fuera, seguiríamos obligados a buscar y agotar los espacios de entendimiento.
With only five seats in a Parliament of 350 Members, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) is playing a crucial role in Spanish politics.
In a hung parliament, PP’s conservative government can only rely on its 134 MPs and two more that tend to be loyal. About 40 seats short, the government has to negotiate each legislative initiative with the opposition, where two parties stand out as most likely allies in tumultuous waters: the 32 MPs of the central-liberal Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) and the mentioned five from PNV-EAJ. After some political juggling, their support can be enough most of the time.
However, while Ciudadanos is comfortable with PP’s economic policies and anti-devolution Jacobinism, ideology does not explain the PNV-EAJ’s position. PNV-EAJ is closer to the social-democratic PSOE (allegedly closer than PSOE leaders towards each other), and in fact, they share power in the Basque government, in the three Basque provincial governments and in many local councils, including the three main cities.
Even Podemos (“We can”), which is supposed to be to the left of everybody else, included in its Ikea-style 2016 manifesto the expansion of the Basque welfare regime to the rest of Spain, and the recognition of the right to self-determination of the Basque Country and Catalonia, all of which suggests that there could be room for mutual understanding with them too.
But the PNV-EAJ has made a different choice. In essence, Mr Rajoy needs the moderate Basque nationalists to remain in power, and the Basque nationalists know it all too well. After weeks of negotiations, PNV-EAJ has just confirmed it will support the approval of the Spanish budget. Less than one month ago, with its abstention PP facilitated the approval of the Basque government’s budget in the Basque parliament.
Together, these two treaties constitute the core of the international system that protects human rights. Both treaties entered into force a decade later in 1976, only a few weeks apart. And both of them have received approximately the same number of ratifications to this day: 168 for the ICCPR and 164 for the ICESCR. Like all other European countries, the UK is a party to both of them.
Degrees of separation
But there are significant differences between these two treaties. The intention of those who drafted them was to flesh out the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by making the protection of rights legally binding for states. But considering that the 1948 Universal Declaration contained civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights in a single text, by creating two separate documents it was clear that the drafters wanted to introduce differences between these rights.
While all this happened during the political context of the Cold War, this was not the main reason why different types of human rights were treated differently. Rather, the decision had to do with states’ general preference for a weaker duty to protect their citizens’ economic, social and cultural rights. Countries were willing to proclaim these rights as long as this proclamation did not entail strong accountability mechanisms.
The second difference between the two treaties refers to the clarity and burden of words. Article 2(1) of the ICCPR talks about states’ obligations “to respect and to ensure [civil and political rights] without distinction of any kind”. Yet the same article in the ICESCR uses much more cryptic language about how the compliance of states to the treaty on economic, social and cultural rights will be monitored. It states:
Each state party to the present covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the present covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
It’s difficult to assess compliance if rights are meant to be “achieved progressively”, or to decide the “appropriateness” of the “means” authorities are making use of. And can we blame governments if they promise “to take steps”, but not just yet?
There are also differences in the ways states who violate these two sets of rights are held to account. When the ICCPR was adopted, it brought with it an independent monitoring body known as the Human Rights Committee.
This had three responsibilities: examining states’ abidance by the treaty approximately every five years; dealing with interstate complaints (although to date this has never been used); and receiving complaints from individuals who consider themselves to be victims of a violation of any of the political and civil rights contained in the ICCPR. A complaint can lead to detailed recommendations on the specific case which countries are expected to implement. To date, 115 countries have let their citizens complain to the UN like this, but the UK is not one of them.
But when it came to economic, social and cultural rights, the ICESCR did not contain anything similar, and this was only partly corrected in 1985 when the UN created a body to periodically assess the general level of enjoyment of these rights in those countries which have ratified the treaty.
All this means that there are three degrees of separation between the two sets of rights: different treaties that states could pick and choose from, different legal wording, and different accountability mechanisms.
An unfortunate hierarchy
Something similar happened in the European context. In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was set up with a relatively resourceful European Court of Human Rights devoted essentially to civil and political rights. Then, in 1961, the European Social Charter was established (and then revised in 1996). This is monitored by the much weaker European Committee of Social Rights.
The impact of this hierarchy in which civil and political rights are given more weight than economic, social and cultural rights is visible at the domestic level, too. In the UK, for example, the very important Human Rights Act 1998 gives judges the means to apply the European Convention on Human Rights, but not the European Social Charter or the ICESCR, although the UK has ratified both treaties.
Half a century since the adoption of the two landmark human rights treaties, it is time to close the gap between human rights.
Independent human rights bodies, scholars and a growing number of practitioners have worked to define the meaning of economic, social and cultural rights and the contours of states’ obligations to uphold them.
Since 2013, individuals in 22 countries, ranging from Argentina to France and Mongolia, can also complain directly to the UN if their economic, social and cultural rights have been violated. This only applies to countries that have ratified the 2008 Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. Unfortunately, the UK is not one of them.
Yet, even in the UK, a minority of the judges in the Supreme Court has accepted that given their nature, some human rights treaties (although not the ICESCR for now) should be “directly enforceable in UK domestic law”, even without an act of parliament.
Half a century ago, human rights were internationalised with some degrees of separation. Luckily, we now have some tools that we lacked at that time – but we need to tell the government to make use of them.
Last February, I wrote a short piece praising British humour and weather, thanking London for hosting me and, yes, asking Brits to vote for Brexit. The text was full of irony, and I warned the reader that I would not do it if I were British. But, as a European citizen living in London, I did call for a vote out. And I regret it deeply now.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware my text didn’t make a difference on the 17+ million Brits who chose to leave the European Union yesterday. But I feel sorry anyway.
I feel sorry because last weeks I have added one more item to the long list of things I like from this country and its global capital.
I have discovered a European side to London and its British inhabitants that I had never seen before. Yes, most of my friends and London-based Facebook acquaintances are highly educated and sophisticated. And London is multicultural, multilingual and profoundly diverse. Unsurprisingly, it has gone 60/40 for Remain. England is an entirely different story. Still, one didn’t really see EU flags hanging out the window in London flats, and in common parlance locals used to refer to Europe in third person, as if the English Channel was not 20 mile long, as if Britain constituted its own continent. We may easily go back to that sooner than later, but somehow Brits and Londoners campaigning for Remain made me feel welcome in a way that I had never felt before.
Like most people, I was convinced Brexit was not going to happen. Hence I felt I could stand by my ironic and provocative “vote-out-if-you-dare”. And I believed (and still do) the EU had a lot to work on in terms of social rights protection and democratic accountability. So I didn’t want to line up behind Cameron and Osborne.
I felt welcome and confident with my predictions and convictions. So yesterday, when I put an “in” sticker on my t-shirt, I had to clarify to someone that it was “a critical in”. As if it made a difference.
If yesterday I felt welcome, confident and critical, today I feel sad, shocked and sorry.
We’ll have to resort to the trite keep-calm-and-carry-on. We need to live with the consequences. I say “we”, because I for one don’t intend to leave just yet. But I say “we” although I know that the burden will not be fairly shared among “us”. Disenfranchised English working people, many of whom voted out, will suffer the consequences of Brexit just as much they missed most of the benefits of being part of the EU. This strikes me as the most devastating outcome of this referendum.
There are other critical issues that Brits will have to face, of course. For example, the future of a Europhile Scotland outside the EU, the profound divide between London and the rest of England, or the generational gap between a Eurosceptic elderly and a younger generation that had envisioned their future as part of the European Union. That is gone now.
Other European countries will not be in a good mood, and EU institutions are unlikely to let the Tories regroup and trigger Article 50 TEU (the exit door from the EU) at their convenience: “Of course, Sir, we’ll wait until October for you. Anytime, really. Thank you very much for these lovely decades of charm”. England may see Scotland go, Northern Ireland join the Republic and Boris Johnson hold the keys of Number 10. And at this point it’s too early to tell if the meagre chances of having a socialist Labour opposition have just evaporated. After all, supposedly Jeremy Corbyn has also lost this referendum.
Recapitulating, Britain, I understand you couldn’t care less about my opinion, but I still want you to know that I regret urging you to vote out. If I had known, I would have kept quiet. To the 17+ million of you who voted out, I’m also sorry for bothering you with my presence in your country. For now, however, I don’t plan to do anything about that.
The postman just knocked on the door to hand me a parcel. “Thank you”, I say. “You’re welcome, my friend”. Well, at least, I have that.
I have lived in England for nearly five years, mostly in London, but for personal reasons I have also become familiar with other parts of the country as well. I have always felt welcome here – for which I am grateful. I like England very much. I adore the preciseness of language, the humour, the diversity and buzz of the capital… I don’t even mind the weather! Ideally, I would like to stay for some time.
This is my caveat, which I believe to be necessary since I will argue that the European Union would be better off without the United Kingdom.
The UK has been part of the European Communities and then the EU for more than four decades. In the second half of this period it has enjoyed a special treatment granted by the other Member States. It did not adopt the Euro, it does not participate in Schengen, and it can pick and choose from within the areas of security, justice and police cooperation as it pleases. Even the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not fully applicable in the UK.
But, as is well known, David Cameron promised to get more leeway or leave. After intense talks behind closed doors, on 19 February the European Council discussed and agreed on a new settlement for the UK in the EU. Brits will be called to an in-or-out referendum scheduled for 23 June.
I say it is time to fly free – both for the UK and for the rest of the EU..
Years ago, a local journalist offered me, as a representative of Amnesty International, to take part in a radio programme on the death penalty. He told me he wanted to talk about this punishment through three personal stories. He said he’d let me choose the cases, but suggested some options: an unfaithful wife stoned to death in Nigeria, a political dissident in North Korea or a child offender in Iran. For example.
I loved the idea. The programme had many listeners and it was going to be a great opportunity to raise awareness. I discussed it with the death penalty expert in my local group, a committed volunteer since 1981. He liked the idea too, but with a caveat. The cases had to be different. More than 600 people were executed in 22 countries in 2014 (probably many more since Chinese and North Korean numbers are not reported), hundreds more were sentenced to death, and currently about 19,000 people await their execution in 58 different countries (find detailed data from Amnesty International here). And the hard truth is that most of the people in death corridors have committed awful blood crimes. Continue reading “Don’t execute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev”→
Apareció en El País Semanal del domingo pasado, día 13, pero no la había visto hasta esta mañana. Llevaba un tiempo medio incómodo. Hacía ya tres semanas que no dejaba nada escrito en este humilde blog. Y, de pronto, me desayuno con esta fotografía.
La estampa es tan difícil de creer que perfectamente podría no ser real. Pero, aunque no lo fuera, lo es. Podría ser la viva imagen de aquel que ha visto, sin ver, que la crisis le ha adelantado por la derecha, sin intermitente ni advertencia alguna. La realidad le ha pillado a contrapié, con el cojín bajo las nalgas, la mochila Nike del gimnasio a un lado y la caligrafía impoluta entre las piernas. Continue reading “Un hombre cualquiera… dos veces pobre”→