By Alex Calvo

As soon as Catalan parties announced their agreement on the date and wording of the independence referendum, held on 9 November 2014, fresh threats of a coup emerged in the Spanish press and in the social media. This was, unfortunately, nothing new, and confirmed once again that the concept of government of the people, by the people, for the people, is yet to take root in Spain. Instead of campaigning to convince Catalans to stay, many Spanish politicians are threatening to employ force in a desperate attempt to keep control over Catalonia.

The question, therefore, is how to prevent violence and widespread human rights abuses. Right now, many Spanish police and military officers are wondering what to do if they are ordered to employ force against civilians. To be honest, it is not an easy decision. If they obey, they risk awar crimes prosecution and long years in jail. If they do not, they could lose their jobs and even suffer other penalties at the hands of Spanish authorities. In this scenario, Catalonia needs to make it clear that war crimes will be prosecuted. That sooner or later, those responsible for employing force against civilians, in breach of international law and the laws of war, will be prosecuted and punished, no matter where they seek refuge.

Ideally this should deter anybody tempted to obey such an order, rendering it meaningless. Alternatively, if deterrence did not work, it should facilitate legal proceedings once Catalonia had recovered her sovereignty, regardless of the place of residence of the culprits. Justice can know no borders.

It is here that modern technologies, from the Internet to the easily available picture-taking devices currently so widespread, have a significant role to play. Those tempted to try to retain Catalonia by force of arms must understand that they are being watched. That if they take that fateful decision, their deeds will be recorded, and that they will be duly identified, so that they can be subject to legal proceedings. With all due guarantees, in accordance with the rule of law, but with no impunity. It is most important to make sure that this is understood by all potential criminals, and that they feel observed. Should they, on the other hand, imagine that they could resort to force without any personal consequences to themselves, this could make the proposition much more tempting.

Therefore, two things are necessary. On the one hand, Catalan authorities, must gather all the necessary intelligence on open sources (OSINT) on those tempted to resort to force and on anybody actually employing arms in a desperate attempt to retain Catalonia. On the other hand, ordinary citizens must also do the same. Discreetly but effectively, they can and must make sure that no violent incident can take place in the darkness, out of the prying eyes of the public. Furthermore, if force is finally employed, they must make sure that the whole world is instantly aware, so that democratic governments can apply diplomatic pressure and citizens the world over can name and shame those who pretend to be a democracy while insisting on not letting their slaves leave. The combination of modern technology with globalization is no magical formula to prevent human rights abuses, but it can and must be employed to make them less likely and, should they finally take place, less liable to go unpunished. Only this way, by stressing individual criminal responsibility, can we help democracy move forward.

Alex Calvo is an expert on Asian security and defence.

Alex Calvo is an expert on Asian security and defence

Alex Calvo is an expert on Asian security and defence

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