Spain: use of force should be independently investigated

The ICJ today expressed concern at the apparently unlawful violence surrounding yesterday’s referendum in Catalonia, as Catalan authorities sought to hold a vote on the independence of the region. The Spanish Constitutional Court had ruled that the referendum was illegal.

The ICJ calls on all parties concerned to resolve the current crisis in accordance with international human rights law and in the framework of the rule of law.

The ICJ is particularly concerned at allegations of excessive use of force during police operations aimed at enforcing court orders to prevent the referendum being held.

International human rights obligations binding on Spain require that any use of force by agents of the State must be no more than is strictly necessary in the circumstances to meet a grave threat .

All aspects of police operations, including their planning and co-ordination, and the training, guidance and orders given to police officers on the ground, must be designed to minimize the use of physical force.

The ICJ calls for a thorough, prompt and independent investigation into the violence surrounding the referendum, and for those responsible for acts of violence in violation of human rights to be brought to justice.


Spain has obligations to respect the right to life and the right to physical integrity of any person under its jurisdiction under articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and articles 2, 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Standards in this regard are re-enforced by the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Positive obligations under these provisions require that allegations of lethal or potentially lethal force, or force that could amount to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or torture, be the subject of investigation that is independent and impartial, thorough and prompt.

The violence surrounding the referendum on Catalonia’s independence reportedly resulted in injuries to at least 844 civilians and 33 police offices.


Róisín Pillay, ICJ Europe Programme Director, t: +32 2 734 84 46 ; e: roisin.pillay(a)

Massimo Frigo, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +41 22 979 3805 ; e: massimo.frigo(a)

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