Updates on the Basque peace process

Updates on the Basque peace process

In mid-December, the International Verification Commission announced that it had “received reports from ETA that it is continuing the process of sealing and putting its weapons, munitions and explosives out of operational use”.

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By Lokarri

1. Definitive cessation of ETA’s armed activity

In a press release dated December 21st the International Verification Commission explained that it had “received reports from ETA that it is continuing the process of sealing and putting its weapons, munitions and explosives out of operational use”. They also stated that, “from our experience in other processes, making an inventory of weapons, munitions and explosives and putting them out of operational use is a necessary prior step towards complete disarmament” and that the Commission “will continue to work with all appropriate stakeholders to complete this process as soon as possible”, trusting that “with the support of all the political and social stakeholders in the Basque Country, this can be achieved”.

In response to the announcement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that it “shows ETA’s commitment to make progress in the peace process”. Bake Bidea also welcomed the announcement and urged Paris and Madrid to “take note”.

On the same day, the Basque Government announced a proposal for “quick disarmament” based on “a unilateral gesture by ETA before Basque society, with social, international and institutional coverage”. One of the five points the Basque Government is demanding from ETA is the creation of a “Committee for Disarmament”, to which ETA would provide the location of its weapons “within a notified timescale” so that the Basque Government could act accordingly. In its proposal, the Basque Government points out that “38 months after” the announcement of the definitive cessation of armed activity by ETA is “too long [a period] without any effective result”. Consequently, it
says that “the time has come to make a direct call to ETA with a specific proposal for a quick, viable and effective procedure for disarmament”.

On receiving the news, the International Verification Committee announced that it will share the proposal made by the Basque Government with “all the stakeholders” involved in the process, including ETA.

2. The victims

In early December, the Basque Government presented the conclusions of a study titled “Report on the situation of court cases for attacks carried out by terrorist organisations that caused deaths between 1960 and 2014″. At least 197 families of people killed by ETA and 20 families of victims of the GAL, the BVE and other organisations have not received a sentence clarifying their case. Furthermore, there are no data available on another 29 killings related to the GAL and the BVE. There are also three other cases where the perpetrators are unknown, or there is confusion, that have not received a clarifying sentence. All the cases correspond to the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, and represent 26% of the cases of terrorism that occurred.

There are 220 cases of terrorism that have not been resolved, and are part of an unfinished report, in the words of Iñigo Urkullu. The report states that the [Spanish] Minister of the Interior “has not shown a willingness to collaborate” in this investigation. Neither has it been possible to obtain the cooperation of the Foundation of Victims of Terrorism or that of several ministers. The Basque President has therefore called for a “shared effort” to contribute to the victims’ right to reparation.

The Basque Government has also presented a publication containing around 260 cases of deaths caused by violence and terrorism in Vitoria, Bilbao and San Sebastian, to help the Basque capitals to promote the ‘Map of Memory’ and organise events recognising the victims.

Among the tributes and recognitions held recently, we would highlight the one dedicated to Santi Brouard in Bilbao City Hall 30 years after he was killed by the GAL. In mid-December San Sebastian City Council organised a seminar titled “Peace, coexistence and reconciliation. Bringing us close to suffering”, in which the testimonies of different victims of violence were heard. Covite, the group representing victims of terrorism, placed two plaques; one in Errenteria and the other in San Sebastian, in memory of a victim of the GAL and two people killed by ETA. The group plans to continue its programme of plaques in memory of victims of terrorism.

Finally, the René Cassin 2014 Human Rights Prize was awarded to 41 victims of ETA, the GAL and police brutality who have collaborated in the Basque Government’s programme to bring the testimonies of these groups to school classrooms and hold meetings with victims of different types of violence. Mr Urkullu said that the prizewinners were an “example” because they make it clear, through their work, that “going through provoked and unjust suffering does not necessarily lead to rancour”, and that “they have converted a traumatic experience into one of life, education and coexistence”.

3. Situation of people in prison

Following the issue of a European directive that allows prisoners to discount the time spent in prisons of other European Union countries, at least 57 ETA prisoners have made a request to discount the years they have spent in French jails from their sentences passed in Spain. However, the recent Act 7/2014, which became effective last December 3rd thanks to the Partido Popular’s majority in the Spanish Parliament, contains a Sole Supplementary Provision to the effect that “in no case will sentences passed by a court of a European Union member state prior to August 15th 2010 be taken into account” regarding their application.

This legal reform, strongly criticised by some political parties, has caused division within the Audiencia Nacional, the body charged with resolving these issues. While some judges consider that the application of the European Directive is compulsory, others use the Additional Provision as an excuse to refuse a revised calculation of sentences for prisoners who have requested this, arguing that their sentences in France were passed before August 15th 2010. The matter has been referred to the Supreme Court, which will make a decision in January.

On another front, a report by Etxerat has denounced the fact that, as a result of the policy of dispersion, “42% of prisoners are between 800 and 1,100 kilometres from their homes and 37% are between 500 and 790 kilometres”. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed that the policy of dispersion is “fundamental for the reinsertion” of the prisoners, who [he considers] are being done “a big favour” so that they can break their links with ETA. In this regard, the Basque Government has presented a plan titled ‘Zuzen bidea’ (straight path) in which it puts forward 20 proposals to make progress in “normality in penal and penitentiary law” after the end of ETA. Among other things, it proposes the transfer of prison administration to the Basque Country, bringing prisoners closer to home and responding to the commitment made by the prisoners who have opted for the ‘Nanclares option’. This plan has been considered a positive contribution by Sare, the citizens’ network that defends prisoners’ rights.

Finally, the Spanish Parliament has approved a ‘Victim’s Statute’. It will enable victims to appeal against release on parole, permits and prison benefits of their aggressors, and also against decisions not to prosecute or the filing of a case, even if they have not brought an action. The text was rejected by a part of the Opposition because it considered that it could “complicate the reinsertion of a prisoner and encourage the desire for revenge”.

II. Civil and political rights

The State Prosecutor’s Office withdrew a charge against 12 of 28 people accused of belonging to ETA in the new macro-trial against Segi. It had previously called for sentence of six years in jail for joining a terrorist organisation. The reason for the withdrawal: police statements have not been corroborated by other information to be able to sustain the accusations.

In this context, the team of psychologists that applied the Istanbul Protocol to the 19 young people who reported torture testified in the trial and ratified the report that gave a high degree of credibility to the reports of mistreatment. The trial, which continues for the rest of the accused, is awaiting judgement.

III. Political dialogue

In a public statement, Basque Government spokesman Josu Erkoreka reported that the “intense” conversations taking place between the PNV and EH Bildu on an ‘ethical base’ could “produce tangible and positive results” in 2015 and thus allow the reactivation of the Basque Parliament’s Forum for Peace and Coexistence. The forum has been at a standstill for over a year, as it is only supported by the PNV and EH Bildu and has not met since the socialists abandoned it.

IV. Social reconciliation

At the end of November the Basque Parliament approved the creation of an ‘Institute of Memory, Coexistence and Human Rights’, promoted by the PNV and the PSE. EH Bildu abstained, while PP and UPyD voted against the proposal. The institute has been created with the aim of coordinating proposals for peace and coexistence in the Basque Country “to avoid rewriting a history of the legitimisation of any kind of violence, terrorism, violence or violation of human rights”. The Act emphasises that the Basque Country has suffered four “traumatic experiences: the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s dictatorship, ETA and illicit counter-terrorism”. UPyD and PP have criticised that equivalences have been drawn between forms of violence and victims. Furthermore, groups that work on historical memory have complained that they have been excluded from the debate in the Institute of the Memory.

The Territorial Administration of Gipuzkoa has presented its appraisal of the work of 17 municipal councils in the area that have participated in initiatives to promote coexistence, within the framework of a programme led by the Department of Human Rights and Historical Memory of the Territorial Administration. Other associations such as Bakeola, Baketik and Lokarri have also taken part.

Finally, the ‘Adi-Adian’ programme of the Basque Government has been announced. It has organised 50 sessions of testimonies by victims, 47 of them direct, in classrooms in the Basque Autonomous Community. In total, 2,256 pupils from 21 different schools have taken part. The programme will continue next year, and the Basque Government has already received requests from more than 30 schools. Sixty testimonies will be provided in 2015, in addition to others that may be added during the year.

V. International support

A number of personalities and stakeholders from different areas such as the police or civil society organisations have presented a document in the Argentinian Senate to support the peace process in the Basque Country, calling for more involvement by France and Spain. “We are in a new political phase that requires action without delay”, was the key message from the Conference. A call was made to “open up the route and the spirit towards Peace, above the logic of force and confrontation”, and without any “excuses or obstacles that are presented as insuperable”. In the text, they called on “all parties to involve themselves in the construction of a just and lasting peace in the Basque Country”. The document, signed (among others) by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, outlines and supports the steps taken so far within the peace process.

Finally, around twenty personalities from Germany – including university professors, parliamentarians and journalists – signed a manifesto titled “Peace in the Basque Country: the participation of Germany and the EU is necessary”.

Lokarri is a citizens’ network that works for peace, consensus, consultation and reconciliation. To learn more about their work, please click here.

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