Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International: “Saudi Arabia dismembered a journalist and Spain sells him weapons”

The world opens up on the desk Esteban Beltran, director of Amnesty International in Spain. Those who die in Yemen under the arms of Saudi Arabia, one of the main clients of the European military industry, appear; also sound those voices that protest under threat of fine or jail. It’s far away, but it’s also close here. In an interview given to PublicBeltrán raises the keys around human rights in Spain and other parts of the world.

What are Amnesty International’s challenges for this new course?

We live in a world that, for the first time since the Second World War, questions a basic consensus: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. That basic consensus is today in question by some governments that think that there are parts of society that do not have the same rights as others. Another important point is the armed conflicts: they all cause suffering to the civilian population, but there are some that require the attention of the international community, such as Ukraine, and others completely ignored and where governments do business with arms sales.

On the other hand, there is a third fundamental point: the world must understand that education, health or housing they are basic elements of human rights and must be understood as such. We must not forget that inequality is a breeding ground for human rights violations.

Amnesty International has made claims about the need to repeal the Gag Law. Is it important to move forward on this matter?

Freedom of expression and assembly in Spain exists, but it has been damaged. The most massive form of damaging freedom of expression and assembly in Spain has been precisely the gag law. Hundreds of thousands of people have been fined for peacefully exercising their rights. We have been trying to change this law for seven years, and today there is a risk that, if it is reformed, the most harmful aspects will not be changed.

Also on the table is the reform of the Official Secrets Law of the Franco dictatorship, another area in which his organization has presented claims.

The draft bill that has been approved does not emphasize the guarantees of truth. It should be clear that human rights violations cannot be classified as secretthat classification is something exceptional and that human rights violations since 1968 should be declassified. Until that happens, we are going to have a problem.

What is your opinion of the new Democratic Memory Law?

“There is a feeling that impunity prevails”

We always fall short in relation to serious crimes committed in the past. This law is progress. Regarding the exhumations or the annulment of sentences related to serious human rights violations during the Franco regime, but we are not making enough progress. Here there is a feeling that impunity prevailsAnd that has to change radically. Nor does it seem that progress will be made in the judicial truth of the facts. On the other hand, that law also has problems with freedom of expression: we cannot apply the same criteria that were used in the anti-terrorist legislation. As much as we don’t like it, people have the right to express their opinions as long as it’s not hate speech or violence.

How can it be understood that the Government authorizes arms exports to the Saudi regime, responsible for the attacks against Yemen?

Human rights, despite the official discourse, do not play any role. For example, in Spain we are manufacturing parts for the Eurofighter combat aircraft, and that is the aircraft that is being used to bomb the civilian population in Yemen. The government of Saudi Arabia dismembered a journalist, and we without any problem sell them weapons or celebrate football cups. I must also say that there has been an important step here: together with other organizations we have asked the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the collaboration of some European governments, including Spain, with Saudi Arabia.

The Pegasus case caused an international scandal that also affected Spain. Have the necessary steps been taken to clarify what happened?

“We don’t know if he’s still using Pegasus”

No, not enough. Pegasus is a very powerful espionage software that in theory was born in Israel to investigate terrorist crimes, but has been used by governments to spy on dissidents or people from civil society. We have documented this in 12 countries, including Spain. In our country everyone knows that Pegasus was used, but the Government has not formally recognized it. On the other hand, we do not know if they are still using it, because there is no way to control it. Looking ahead, the only way forward is for governments commit to the import ban and use of these types of tools.

The war in Ukraine has been in the focus of the international community for months now. Will it be possible to know the true dimension of the human rights violations registered in this conflict?

I think so. We know some of the human rights violations that have been committed so far. We also know that Russia is the aggressor. We have documented on the ground the use of cluster munitions that punish the civilian population, the bombing of residential areas or schools, extrajudicial executions, disappearances… On the Ukrainian side, we have also seen that the actions of its army have put the civilian population at risk. The International Criminal Court has opened a very quick investigation, as it should be, but it draws powerful attention when in other countries it argues that does not have the resources to open investigations. The war in Ukraine also shows how refugees should be protected, but also how other refugees who have the same rights are not protected.


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