Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: “Unjust laws must be challenged”

Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1980) Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an activist for peoples’ rights who supports Catalonia’s right to self-determination

In 1980 Adolfo Pérez Esquivel received the Nobel Peace Prize and now he supports Catalonia’s referendum on independence. The Argentine activist for peoples’ rights argues the case for the Catalan people’s right to self-determination.

Why do you support the vote on October 1 (1-O)?

All peoples have a right to self-determination, to sovereignty and independence. This is endorsed by the UN.

But do you think self-determination applies to Catalonia?

Yes, but it is important to engage in talks and find ways that shun violence and confrontation. The right must be negotiated and discussed by both sides. Catalonia is not the only case [in Spain]: you have the Basques and the Galicians, too.

So far, though, the Spanish government has stated that it won’t allow a vote on October 1?

That depends on the strength of the Catalan people’s resolve. Catalans must be heard, their history must be known and we must see the path they choose. The Spanish government must respect this. Otherwise, it is authoritarianism and the rule of force, rather than the rule of law.

Still, Madrid claims that the referendum is illegal. Is it legitimate to forge ahead with 1-O, even when the vote has been prohibited?

Many times a law is unjust, and unjust laws must be challenged. Also, we will need to see how an agreement that respects self-determination may be reached with the Spanish State.

How would the international community perceive any action by the Spanish authorities to seize the ballot boxes on October 1?

It will be seen as an imposition by force. And you may dominate a people by force, but you can never subjugate it. Still, it will all depend on the international alliances which Catalans manage to forge. We will have to see what Europe’s stand is. The situation must not lead to violence or confrontation. In Catalonia’s case, it must be resolved as civilised peoples do: through dialogue and the rule of law.

Do you believe it is possible to enact the result of the referendum, regardless of the turnout?

The vote’s turnout is key. If it’s low, this will fall flat on its face. A majority turnout is needed.

You are working on the Santiago Maldonado case, the forced disappearance of a young man during a protest in favour of the Mapuche people a month ago. What’s the situation?

It is extremely serious. For a month now, the government [of Argentina] has shirked its responsibilities on the matter and claims that the Mapuche are a violent people. Thirty-two people have been detained. The government is violating the rule of law. We are waiting for a response that, so far, has not come. The authorities must account for Maldonado’s whereabouts. At present, they are still denying that his was a forced disappearance, a crime against humanity.

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