In mid-January, the Parliament of Navarre granted the processing of a law on the recognition of victims of politically-motivated actions. The aim is to provide reparation for the harm done to “people killed within a context of politically-motivated violence since March 1st 1960, putting the victims of these actions on a level with what is established as reparation, justice and memory” in the region’s laws of Historical Memory and Assistance to the Victims of Terrorism.
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I. Human rights
1. Definitive cessation of armed activity by ETA
Following the communiqué issued by the International Verification Committee (IVF) last December 21st informing on the process of the sealing of ETA weapons, munition and explosives and putting them out of operational use, no developments have occurred in this area in January.
In a public statement, the Director-General of the Spanish National Police said that they would continue to work to arrest members of ETA and that these efforts would continue “until its complete disappearance has been achieved.”
2. The victims
In mid-January, the Parliament of Navarre granted the processing of a law on the recognition of victims of politically-motivated actions. The draft bill was approved by all the groups in the Parliament except UPN and PP, who abstained. The aim is to provide reparation for the harm done to “people killed within a context of politically-motivated violence since March 1st 1960, putting the victims of these actions on a level with what is established as reparation, justice and memory” in the region’s laws of Historical Memory and Assistance to the Victims of Terrorism.
For its part, the Basque Government presented an action plan for 2015 for victims. The main items in the plan are ‘Municipal Portraits of Memory’ to continue developing the Map of Memory and extending the Day of Memory to all municipalities, the Eraikiz programme (consisting of the creation of several different spaces for safe dialogue between victims and with victims), the recording of testimonies of victims so that they can be sent to the Institute of Memory, an event to receive victims of terrorism from all over the Spanish State, and the holding of events and encounters between victims and with victims. Another point, planned for June this year, is the inauguration of the Institute of Memory, Coexistence and Human Rights, an ongoing effort to clarify what happened in the past and processes of critical reflection on it.
At end of January hundreds of people attended a demonstration in Madrid organised by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) under the slogan “No more betrayals”. The association’s president, Ángeles Pedraza, strongly criticised Premier Rajoy’s anti-terrorist policy and the Ministry of the interior.
3. Situation of people in prison
One day before the annual demonstration in support of the human rights of prisoners, the group representing Basque political prisoners – EPPK – stated that 2014 had been a positive and encouraging year, and indicated the steps taken regarding the repatriation of prisoners and complaints against the policy of dispersion. The group also announced new steps depending on the response to these actions. The Basque Government welcomed the communiqué and said it awaited the materialisation of these new actions.
On January 10th, Bilbao was the scene of a demonstration to call for the end of the dispersion of ETA prisoners. The demonstration was convened by the Sare platform under the slogan: “Bring Basque prisoners home now!” and it took place peacefully and in silence. Around 80,000 people took part.
On January 13th the Supreme Court published its decision on prison term calculations. The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court agreed – with a vote of 9 in favour and 6 against – not to discount sentences served in France, against the recently approved European Directive. This sentence affects 56 prisoners, some of whom had already been released under previous decisions by the Higher National Court in application of the European Directive. The six magistrates who did not agree with the sentence are preparing an individual opinion against the decision, arguing that the Supreme Court had repeated the error of the ‘Parot doctrine’, which had been repealed by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Ten days later, the historic ETA leader Santiago Arrospide was arrested, charged with two attacks carried out by ETA in 1986 and 1997. He had been freed by the Higher National Court in early December after the European Directive on calculation of sentences had been applied. Following the decision by the Supreme Court (see above), he returned to prison but his arrest brought the issue to the fore again. His arrest was described by his lawyer as “legal architecture”, while the Vice-president of the Spanish Government claimed that it was proof that the Rule of Law was working correctly.
Iosu Uribetxebarria, an ETA prisoner who had been suffering terminal cancer, died in January. In August 2012 he was transferred from the prison where he was serving his sentence to the Hospital de Donostia in San Sebastian for treatment for his serious illness. A week later, he started a hunger strike to demand his release. Popular support for his demand did not take long to appear, and he was finally released. In April 2014 he was called to declare before the Higher National Court for an attack carried out in 1986, and he was put under house arrest. This measure was later repealed, and he was once again granted release on parole. In the last case, the State Prosecutor’s Office had called for a 29-year prison sentence. After his death, a demonstration was held in his birthplace to call for respect for human rights, the release of sick prisoners and an end to the policy of dispersion.
Civil and political rights
January 12th was the date set for the start of the trial against the leaders of the political formations Batasuna, EHAK and ANV. This involved 35 people, among them historical leaders of the pro-independence Left, the charge being ‘belonging to a terrorist organisation’.
However, that very morning – and before the trial was due to start – a police operation led to the arrest of 12 lawyers (among them some of the legal representatives of the defendants, who were present in a hotel in Madrid on the point of leaving for the Court), and 4 other people accused of ‘belonging to a terrorist organisation and offences against the tax authorities’. As a result, the trial could not be held and the hearing was postponed.
The offices of the LAB trade union in Bilbao were also searched. The money contributed in the demonstration held two days before against the dispersion of prisoners was confiscated.
After making statements, the lawyers were released on charges of belonging to, or collaborating with, a terrorist organisation, money laundering and tax evasion. Precautionary measures were imposed on them, among them a prohibition of ‘making organised visits to prisoners of the supporting environment of ETA’. Of the four arrested, one was released on charges, while the other three were sent to prison, accused of continuing the work of Herrira, an organisation whose activities were suspended in 2013 following a police operation. Other former members of Herrira were also called to declare a few days later, for an alleged offence against workers.
A number of mobilisations took place in response to these arrests. In addition, AEDEDL (European Democratic Lawyers) and ELDH (European Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights) expressed their “extreme concern” at these arrests, as did the General Council of Spanish Lawyers, which presented a complaint before the Higher National Court, considering that the arrests “may have affected the right to defence, not only of the persons detained, but also of many of their clients”.
In another development, The Supreme Court of the Basque Country confirmed that Hasier Arraiz, a member of Sortu, did not commit an offence of glorification of terrorism by referring to the trajectory of the pro-independence Left in a statement he had made. The court considered that the words he used came under freedom of expression and were part of a political analysis.
III. Political dialogue
There continues to be a lack of spaces for official dialogue in the institutions, such as the Peace Forum of the Basque Parliament, which remains at a standstill.
In a statement made to the media, the President of the Partido Popular in Gipuzkoa, Borja Sémper, said the his party’s discourse “cannot be anchored in the past”, because the “situation has changed”. He also said that “some people have not understood this”. His declaration can be understood in a context of criticisms aimed at the Partido Popular by the AVT, accusing it of ‘betraying’ the victims of terrorism. He also said that “we are at a time of change, of transition” and that the cessation of armed activity by ETA “also changes the positions of the political parties”.
IV. Social reconciliation
As every year, a homage was made to cook Ramon Diaz, employer of the Navy that was killed by ETA in January 2011. On this occasion and for the first time, apart from the family and friends, victims of GAL, ETA or Franco’s violence attended the event. These gestures are becoming more common in recent months.
V. International support
At the end of January the ‘Ecuador Encounter for Peace in the Basque Country’ was held in Quito. The event was organised by Serpaj (Ecuador), Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz (Colombia), Lokarri (Basque Country) and the International Contact Group. The aim was to obtain the support of political representatives and civil society in Ecuador for the efforts made by Basque society to drive and consolidate the peace process. During the event, a manifesto of support was read out, and information was given on where the support came from. There was a wide range of representation from different political parties and human rights associations in Ecuador that explicitly supported both the peace process and the Declaration of Aiete.
The event was a follow-up to previous encounters in support of the Basque peace process that had been held in South America. Specifically, events held a month ago in Argentina, last June in Uruguay, and the Continental Conference of Mexico in October 2013.
Lokarri is a citizens’ network that works for peace, consensus, consultation and reconciliation. To learn more about their work, please click here.