THE United Nations’ Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised Spain’s continued detention of Catalan pro-independence leaders.

Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein’s intervention came as the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) condemned Spain for its “excessive use of force to disperse peaceful protests” during the Catalan independence referendum.

In a presentation to yesterday’s session of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, al Hussein told Spain: “I remind the authorities that pre-trial detention should be considered a measure of last resort.

“I encourage resolution of the situation through political dialogue.”

Jordi Sànchez, who has been named as Catalonia’s presidential candidate, and grassroots leader Jordi Cuixart, have been in jail for more than four months without trial, along with deposed vice-president, Oriol Junqueras and former MP Joaquim Forn.

All played prominent parts in the Catalan independence campaign and face charges of rebellion and sedition.

Spanish authorities have refused to release them on the grounds that they could commit the same offences.

The commissioner also spoke out against the “excessive” use of force by Spain’s National Police during the referendum and questioned the Madrid government’s reasoning for it.

“I was dismayed by the violence which broke out during October’s referendum on independence in Catalonia,” he said.

“Given what appeared to be excessive use of force by police, the government’s characterisation of police action on 1 October as ‘legal, legitimate and necessary’ is questionable.”

Last September, the commission called on the Spanish government “to ensure that measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum on 1 October do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation”.

A statement to the commission from the OMCT – a coalition of non-governmental organisations – saw Spain join the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Togo, Sudan and Honduras on a list of countries it urged to “uphold the prohibition of torture and carry out prompt and effective investigations” into the “excessive use of force”.

The OMCT expressed its concern over migration control policies and agreements, and how they impacted on the human rights of those seeking refuge.

“In a context where migrants are increasingly exposed to the risk of human rights violations including torture and ill-treatment, both in their countries of origin and of transit and destination, we express our serious concern over states’ trend to engage in migration control policies and international migration agreements - such as the ones between the EU and Turkey or Libya - which undermine or actively disregard the absolute prohibition of torture and the non-refoulement principle [where refugees are not forced to return to their own countries].

“We are also alarmed by the growing tendency of states to resort to deprivation of liberty of migrants as a routine or mandatory practice, and stand by [UN Special Rapporteur on Torture] Nils Melzer’s view that such practices all too often fall short of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, in particular when involving survivors of torture, children and persons in need of international protection.”

The OMCT added it was also worried by the “increased repression and stigmatisation of defenders of the rights of people on the move in a number of countries, such as in Mexico, Greece, Spain and France, as well as by restrictive laws that seriously impact such efforts by civil society”.