Helena Torroja Mateu

Helena Torroja Mateu is a senior tenured professor of Public International Law and International Relations at the University of Barcelona (UB) Law School (Barcelona, Spain), where she has been teaching since 1993. She holds a JD (1992) and a PhD in Law from the UB, with a dissertation on humanitarian action, law and policies at the United Nations (Summa cum laude and Special Award for the Best Thesis, 2001). Her research interests and publications have covered topics such as: United Nations law, human rights law, humanitarian law, international criminal law, diplomatic protection, privatization of the use of force, and territorial sovereignty and self-determination of peoples. She is currently studying populism in liberal democracies and international and European law. In this area, she is leading the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation research project “Secession, Democracy and Human Rights: The Role of International and European Law in the Catalan Case” (2020-2024).
In addition to the University of Barcelona, she has taught, among other places, at the Public Prosecutor’s Office-Spanish Ministry of Justice, the Spanish General Council of the Judiciary, the Vitoria-Gasteiz International Law and International Relations Courses, the Army War College (Spanish Ministry of Defense), the Spanish Red Cross; as well as at the Universities of Granada, Seville, and Valencia, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University in Spain and the Universities of Puerto Rico and Ottawa abroad.
Her international practice includes consulting for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2014) and serving as an OSCE International Election Observer in Sarajevo (1996), among other activities.

CONTACT: ht2247@nyu.edu

Research Project

Intrastate nationalisms, democracy, and human rights in Europe: the end of the functions of the Council of Europe? This research will explore the limits of the internationalization of the Catalan problem. From an ad intra perspective, the Catalan secessionist process – launched in 2012 and culminating in September and October 2017 – has caused a deep crisis of liberal democracy in Spain, a European Union (EU) and Council of Europe (CoE) member. No other European country has experienced this kind of (soft) revolution against its constitutional democracy and rule of law. Some of the main political and civil leaders involved in the process were prosecuted and condemned by the Spanish Supreme Court on October 14, 2019; others fled to Belgium, the UK, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, in Spain, new Catalan regional elections were held in February 2021; the pro-secessionist political parties again won by a slim margin of seats if not votes. In June 2021, the socialist central government – which governs with the support of secessionist parties represented in the national parliament – decided to use its constitutional powers of clemency to pardon the prisoners.   A priori, this is a Spanish domestic affair. Nevertheless, its essence has changed since the first claim of independence, due to the nationalist secessionists’ desire to internationalize it, in order to draw the support of diffuse particular foreign forces to their cause. Their strategy has been to claim violations of the Catalan people’s right to self-determination and of the secessionist leaders’ human rights before the international community and, especially, certain EU and CoE bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights. It is no longer a domestic affair. But is it an international human rights issue? Or is it something else? From an ad extra perspective, Europe faces a new challenge: the tension between the nationalist secessionist interest and the values of democracy, rule of law, and human rights, which the EU and the CoE are supposed to defend and protect. The first stage of this research will focus on the CoE; its hypothesis is that if the CoE cannot prevent human rights abuses by nationalist authoritarian populisms (the original reason for its creation in 1948), then the rationale for its existence is no longer valid.