Dominique Nogueres: "It seems as if the outcome of the trial has already been decided"

An interview with the vice-president of a French human rights group (Ligue des Droits de l'Homme) and an international observer of the 1-O trial

Dominique Nogueres (Paris, 1947) is vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Last week she got up at the crack of dawn to make sure she was able to obtain a seat in the Supreme Court where the trial of the independence referendum is taking place. She joined the delegation of four international observers who, with the logistical support of the International Trial Watch-Catalan Referendum Case platform, have followed the trial from the public gallery, since the court refused to reserve them seats.

How did the first week of the trial go?

All in all, it was rather strange: it looks like the Supreme has everything very well organized, but there’s something about the courtroom I don’t like, the atmosphere is like in a theatre. In contrast to what you can see on TV, the courtroom is soulless. It's very cold. What’s more, the presence of Vox as a private prosecution taints everything: the far-right party has supporters among the public who have a thirst for revenge, women insulting the defendants as soon as they come in and calling for them to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

Does the fact that it’s taking place in Madrid have any effect?

Oh yes. I feel like the defendants’ families are really isolated, they’re alone, like their lawyers. The fact that they’re on trial outside of Catalonia makes a big difference.

What’s your opinion of the part played by the prosecutor?

It seems to me that the prosecutor was very tough in his opening statements. I'm not very optimistic about the outcome. It left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Do you subscribe to the theory that the sentence has already been written?

The president of the court, Manuel Marchena, told the lawyers and the defendants that he will only take into account what is said in the courtroom. But, in the same way as it’s organized, it seems that it was already decided some time ago. As if the outcome of the trial had already been decided. When the leader of ERC Oriol Junqueras spoke, I noticed that the president listened but didn’t take notes and neither did the rest of the court. As if he didn’t care. And Junqueras is facing 25 years in prison.

But, aside from your intuition, are you aware of any clear irregularities?

The door are kept closed, for example, so no one can enter or leave the courtroom. And also the distance between the defendants and their lawyers. At the start of the trial Junqueras was unable to speak to his lawyer. In a trial of this magnitude it’s unthinkable that you’re not in constant touch with your defence. As a lawyer, I know it’s really important. But eventually Marchena has allowed the defendants to sit behind their lawyers, though it’s not the same as sitting next to them, as they’d requested.

Will you draw up a report detailing what you’ve seen before the trial ends?

First I have to pool the information regarding everything I’ve seen with my colleague from the FIDH, Alexander Faro, who was also in Madrid last week. It’s hard to spot if there are any irregularities in three days. We’ll return, since there were so many things going on in the first week that it’s hard to draw firm conclusions.

What might change in the Supreme in the coming months?

If the trial goes on for a long time, it might become a routine, meaning it no longer appears on the news and people stop talking about it. This means they might change the procedures and it becomes less transparent. There needs to be some external pressure so people speak about it, it’s visible and it’s also spoken about outside Spain. That’s why our work is so important.

Has it made an impact up to now?

It seems to me that there’s not much talk about the trial in the rest of Europe, that it’s of little interest. In France it made the news for the first couple of days, but then it dropped off the radar.

Does it make it more difficult, not having a place reserved for you in the courtroom?

It’s really complicated because every day we have to start queuing at five in the morning. I'm very tired. This isn’t normal. The court doesn’t want us to be there. I’ve been an observer in trials in Morocco, Lebanon, Ivory Coast and Tunisia. This is my first trial in Europe. Everything is different: it’s a political mass trial.

What consequences do you think the verdict will have?

It will affect Spain’s future, but we’ll have to see in what way exactly. The political landscape has also been affected, with elections on 28 April and 26 May. This may well affect the trial, and it’s highly unusual that the trial is continuing with a political party [Vox] involved as part of the prosecution.

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