A review of the first trial of Josu Urrutikoetxea

Negotiators, international mediators and researchers look back at the conduct and issues of the first trial, for the period 2011-2013, of Josu Urrutikoetxea, a key player in the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country, which took place on June 15 and 16 before the 16th Correctional Chamber of the Judicial Court of Paris.

The two days of hearings held on 15 and 16 June before the 16th criminal chamber of the Paris court had the merit of bringing to light the decisive historical role played by Josu Urrutikoetxea in the preparation and conduct of the negotiations and in the resolution of the Basque conflict.

Thanks to the reports of the SDAT (Sous-direction anti-terroriste) and the UCLAT (Unité de coordination de la lutte antiterroriste), the trial made it possible to establish his direct participation in the long peace process.

As early as the mid-1980s, it is attested that he was working on the setting up of the Algiers talks, which began, unofficially, in 1987 and, officially, in 1989, just after the first cease-fire of this conflict and his arrest on 11 January 1989 in Bayonne.

In the police reports, it is stated that his name is proposed to participate in the Zurich discussions in 1999.

Later, it is also attested that Josu Urrutikoetxea, a member of parliament since 1998 and re-elected in 2001 to the Basque Parliament, worked from 2002 to 2005 in the search for international mediators and in the preparation of the Geneva negotiations, which he conducted with the support of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue from 2005 to 2006, before definitively leaving the ETA organisation in September 2006 as a result of substantive disagreements with its new leadership.

After retiring to a village in the Ariège mountains, it was verified, by means of an impressive surveillance system on his entire entourage, that Josu Urrutikoetxea had cut off all relations with the pro-independence movement and that his only contact was with his closest family on very rare occasions.

It has been established that, nevertheless, he was subsequently approached by the Basque Left, via a member of his family, as an emblematic figure and because of his proven diplomatic experience, to participate in the Oslo negotiations, from October 2011 to February 2013. During these negotiations, with the support of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and under the protection of the Norwegian government, he met with a number of diplomats and international facilitators in order to put an end to the conflict, although the Spanish State did not attend these negotiations as it had committed to do by ratifying the road-map contracted with the international mediators. This road-map also provided a double impulse: on the one hand, the holding of the Aiete International Peace Conference on 17 October 2011 under the aegis of Kofi Annan, where the final declaration once again reiterated the imperative need for the French and Spanish states to enter into negotiations to deal with the consequences of the conflict; and, on the other hand, the declaration by ETA that it would definitively cease its armed activities three days later, on 20 October 2011.

Finally, it has also been shown that, from the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Josu Urrutikoetxea was designated by the Abertzale Left to declare the dissolution of ETA on 3 May 2018, as a historical figure and former militant.

On 1 September 2021, French justice will have the opportunity, in its deliberations, to recognise the commitment of this key actor in the resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country by negotiated and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. In so doing, it will send a strong message to all those who, like Josu Urrutikoetxea, are personally and courageously committed to breaking away from the logic of war and building a peaceful alternative.

Conversely, to sentence Josu Urrutikoetxea to five years' imprisonment, as requested by the Public Prosecutor in the name of the fight against terrorism, but in the absence of any factual evidence, would make it more difficult for those in the world who are working for dialogue and negotiation to persuade their companions to follow them along the path of peace. Indeed, if the protection of these key actors cannot be guaranteed by states and in this case by France the international community will no longer be able to resolve these conflicts through negotiation, leaving the field open to warmongering alone.

We are convinced that by acquitting Josu Urrutikoetxea, the court would contribute to preserving the chances of a just and lasting peace solution in other conflicts. The French state would be honoured by such a decision, which would reinforce its place in the concert of nations as an international mediator and defender of human rights.

Gerry Adamsformer leader of Sinn Féin, negotiator and signatory of the Good Friday Agreement (Northern Ireland Peace Accords)

Bill Bowring, professor Birkbeck College, University of London, President European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights

Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director of Conciliation Resources, Chair of the Steering Committee of the European Peace building Liaison Office

Brian Currin, International Peace Process Mediator and Human Rights Lawyer, Executive Director of Concentric Alliance

Didier Fassin, professor at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study

Harold Good, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, played a key role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and supervised the disarmament of the IRA and ETA in the Basque Country, World Methodist Peace Award

Caroline Guibet Lafaye, Director of Research at the CNRS, Centre Émile Durkheim

Ronnie Kasrils, former Minister of the Intelligence Services of the Republic of South Africa, former member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress, Alan Paton Award for Literature

Michael Keating, Executive Director of the European Institute of Peace, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General

Raymond Kendall, former Secretary General of INTERPOL

Thomas Lacoste, filmmaker, founder of La Bande Passante

I. William Zartman, professor emeritus at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns-Hopkins University, Jacob Blaustein Chair in International Organizations and Conflict Resolution

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