Düsseldorf / London – February 2012
In 2011 ELDH published two statements concerning the legalization of SORTU (1).
ELDH stated that it “regards the foundation of the political party SORTU as opening up a real chance for transition to a peaceful and democratic solution of the conflicts in the Basque Country. This new party SORTU has on the occasion of its obligatory registration with the Spanish Interior Ministry presented its statute in which – without ambiguity – it clearly rejects the use of violence for the fulfilment of its political aims. In this context it refers explicitly to the violence committed by the ETA organization. It also clearly expresses its intention not to allow any continuation of those parties illegalized and banned by the Spanish Supreme Court.”
However in March 2011, less than a month after its registration, Sortu was banned by the 61st chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court, three judges dissenting. The majority of the court considered the new party to have been sponsored by the “Basque nationalist left” as the successor to Herri Batasuna (“Unity of the People”), and therefore in affiliation with ETA. As a result SORTU was not able to register as a political party and could not participate in the regional elections in 2011.
The founders of SORTU appealed to the Spanish Constitutional Court but it was not possible to get a decision in time before the local and regional elections on 22rd May 2011. In order to give Basque politicians the possibility to participate in the elections a coalition called Bildu of pro-independence parties was founded. Shortly afterwards this coalition was also banned by the Supreme Court. However in the case of Bildu the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the banning was unconstitutional. The final ruling declared that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Bildu is the heir to Herri Batasuna which was banned in 2003, and therefore according to Article 23 of the Spanish Constitution Bildu had the right to participate in the local elections.
ELDH considers that the same reasons which allowed the Spanish Constitutional Court to unban Bildu should apply to SORTU as well. At a press conference in Madrid in which ELDH President Professor Bill Bowring participated, SORTU presented its statute in which – without ambiguity – it clearly rejects the use of violence for the fulfilment of its political aims. In this context it refers explicitly to the violence committed by the ETA organization. It also clearly expresses its intention not to allow any continuation of the parties which were banned by the Spanish Supreme Court.
SORTU appealed the decision of its banning to the Spanish Constitutional Court on 18th May. The Constitutional Court is not subject to any deadline to release a ruling on the case. However, and given the General Elections to be held on the 20th November, once all parts had submitted their allegations, on 21st September, SORTU’s lawyers registered a special request for the ruling to be released before the deadline for participating in the electoral process. (7th of October for electoral coalitions).
This special request was not heard and there is still no definitive decision over SORTU. Even if it fully complies with the existing legislation, the party has not been registered and cannot stand in elections or have any kind of activity until the Constitutional Court takes a decision. The civil and political rights of thousands of citizens are still limited.
The general situation in the Basque Country has developed positively, and after the “International Conference to promote the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country”(2) held on 17th October 2011, ETA declared the definitive cessation of all its armed activities.
Despite these positive steps towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the legalization of SORTU is still awaiting the final decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court.
During the recent elections the right to vote and to stand as a candidate – as guaranteed by Art. 39 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – has already been denied to potential candidates and voters of SORTU. The Spanish Constitutional Court should not risk losing its impartiality by preventing SORTU from participating in the elections, just by its inactivity, and by failing to take a decision “within a reasonable time” as guaranteed by Art. 6. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
ELDH also urges to the Spanish Constitutional Court to seize the opportunity which is now open for a lasting peace by a decision allowing SORTU to participate immediately in the emerging peace process going on in the Basque Country.
ELDH appeals to the European Union if necessary to remind the Spanish Government to fulfil its obligations under the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular concerning civil and political rights.
(1) Declarations of ELDH (February 2011, June 2011)
(2) Final declaration of the International Conference attached