Renowned NGO Human Rights Watch has conducted an international, independent investigation into the October 1 incidents in Catalonia. Their report concludes that Spain’s Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil used “excessive force”. Over one thousand people were injured as a result of attacks by Spanish law enforcement officers. The NGO’s report is based on footage and pictures taken on October 1, the accounts of several eye-witnesses and victims of police brutality, as well as medical evidence.

“The police may well have had the law on their side, but it didn’t give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters”, said researcher Kartik Raj. His report goes on to say that “at such divisive times it is especially important that authorities respect human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and the rule of law”. It also calls on the Spanish and Catalan authorities to cooperate with an independent, international investigation into the violent incidents on the day of the independence referendum.

HRW points out that Spain’s Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil —as well as Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra— had orders to stop the vote whilst respecting “coexistence among citizens”, but the Spanish officers responded violently. Human Rights Watch has focused on violent incidents in Barcelona, Girona, Aiguaviva and Fonollosa, but it says that unverified evidence and allegations of further attacks and abuse have also been received.

The report also includes the position of the Spanish authorities, who claim that police actions “were prudent, appropriate and proportionate”. In a message to the Spanish government, the report argues that “the Spanish government has an obligation to ensure that an effective investigation is carried out into the allegations of excessive use of force” and advises asking for assistance from an independent international expert body.

HRW notes that Spain is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, therefore, it has an obligation to respect the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Furthermore, the state cannot deprive individuals of their rights, or use excessive force, even where people “may be acting unlawfully”. Finally, the report stresses that law enforcement agencies have an ethical code to avoid using excessive force.

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