Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Human Rights and Politically-Motivated Violence in the Basque Country

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Human Rights and Politically-Motivated Violence in the Basque Country

Article excerpt

The Basque Region has experienced politically-motivated violence in different forms for decades. However, public policies and legal tools utilized in addressing this violence have centered on counterterrorism strategies, while bypassing, or even covering up, the occurrence of serious human rights violations committed by, or in collusion with, State representatives. This contribution identifies different forms of politically-motivated violence that have taken place from the period of the civil war in Spain onwards, offering an up-to-date map of the most serious violations of human rights related to the Basque Country. Thereafter, it briefly presents the legal framework addressing human rights violations, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. The central thesis points out that double standards are being applied when legally acknowledging victims of human rights violations resulting from political violence. It leads to victims of terrorism being adequately and fairly considered, while other victims of the State or actors connected to the State are subject to non-recognition and even discrimination.

Keywords: human rights; victims; Basque Country; Spain; politically-motivated violence; terrorism; historical memory

The violation of human rights in the Basque Country is a subject of controversy, particularly in relation to politically-motivated violence. Polarization within the political arena has prompted very different narratives about the so-called "Basque problem" that influence the terminology, data collection and even the methodological approach required for any attempt to fairly assess the situation. Therefore, it may be helpful to begin with a concise historical overview in order to put in perspective the different kinds of violence that have been-and still are-surrounding the case of the Basque Country. Moreover, this brief historical account will lead us to a key recent development worth mentioning from the very beginning: the ceasefire of ETA (the terrorist organization Basque Country and Freedom).1 The significance of this ceasefire is based on how it radically changed the political environment in the Basque Region and, as a consequence, opened new perspectives for dealing with past violations of human rights. It is only in the post-ceasefire scenario that some important human rights issues, such as torture or police abuses, have begun to be discussed openly in public,2 even to the extent that the possibility of approving new legislation to deal with their consequences is discussed.3

Following the historical overview (section 1), and before presenting any analysis of human rights violations (section 3) or considering the legal framework for human rights protection (section 4), it is helpful to clarify some key terminology featured in this text, which contribute to narrowing the content of this article both in terms of its territorial and personal scope (section 2). The structure and main thesis of this contribution will be also presented in section 2.

1. A brief historical overview

Basque society is a divided society. From medieval times the Basque people have enjoyed some degree of political autonomy within both public and private law. There was a kind of autonomous institutional framework respected by the Kingdom of Spain (Bazán, 2006; Monreal, 2000a and 2000b). However, due to civil wars during the nineteenth century, the Basque Region was subject to attempts at assimilation and equalization within Spain, i.e. the basis of the Basque identity thus far was at risk through the abolition of a great deal of its own juridical status. At the same time, the industrial revolution and its inherent socio-economic changes attracted increasing migration movements to the Basque Region from other parts of Spain. Therein lies some of the key factors for understanding the birth of the so-called "Basque problem" that paved the way to the creation and development of different political identities related either to a higher degree of autonomy and independence for the Basque Region, or to a greater deal of identification with or integration in Spain (Montero, 1993; Tellidis, 2011). …

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