Just because something isn’t forbidden doesn’t necessarily mean you have a right to it: Catalan UDI and international law redux

Something that’s been bothering me for a while: Every time a Brussels spokespoisson pops up and says that secession will leave Catalonia outside the EU, the secessionists say that that poisson is a liar or a simpleton. If they sincerely believe that the EU is run by such people, why then do they wish to be a part of it?

But to the mistranslation.

A garden-shed party called Reagrupament is encouraging citizens to give dear old Ban Ki-moon some light relief from the Soviet Republic of the Black Sea Coast by emailing him the claim that the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the international legality of Kosovan UDI means that we too should be able to look forward to a future as an political nonentity terrorised by criminal, illiterate peasants who breed with their relatives, all of whom have big moustaches (this on the authority of GM, just returned):

However, as expressed by the International Court of Justice (opinion consulted on July 22nd, 2010), “during the second half of the twentieth century, as far as self-determination is concerned, the international view has evolved to create a right to independence when it benefits nations whose territories are not self-governing or those who are subjected, exploited and/or controlled by foreign powers. A high number of new states have been born as a result of exercising this right.”

However, that is not what the judges said. Their conclusion, approved 10-4 on the issue in question, was that “the adoption of [the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008] did not violate any applicable rule of international law.”

The principle of nulla poena sine lege is generally applied in modern democratic states (I have a right to eat dog poo in England because it is not illegal here), but international law isn’t similarly binary. The lack of any international law prohibiting UDI attaches no right to any such declaration. At best, any “right” is a function not of law but of might – compare the USA’s tacit acceptance at Geneva of Crimea’s Russian Anschluss with the views expressed by Washington re Catalan secession.

Candide – from whom I have this – thinks that Reagrupament somehow screwed this up by translating from the French. However, having peeked at the standard of English in their email and consulted Mr Ockham, I’m quite happy to accept that they simply can’t, or won’t, understand English.


But this is garden shed politics. Reagrupament only got 40,000 votes in the regional elections in 2010 and have since been forgotten by most people, including me. (Seriously, what was their USP? I imagine there was some kind of bitch-fight about Joan Carretero’s moustache being smaller than Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira’s – please correct me.)

The question of whether a referendum on UDI should be held on November 9 strikes me as academic anyway, since ANC (whose leader, Carme Forcadell, controversially, has no moustache) has announced that it will seize power on September 11. But best-laid plans, etc etc.

Ban KM appears to mean something in Vietnamese, but what?


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Last updated 19/04/2014

Barcelona (1399):

English language (462):

Föcked Translation (414): I posted to a light-hearted blog called Fucked Translation over on Blogger from 2007 to 2016, when I was often in Barcelona. Its original subtitle was "What happens when Spanish institutions and businesses give translation contracts to relatives or to some guy in a bar who once went to London and only charges 0.05€/word." I never actually did much Spanish-English translation (most of my work is from Dutch, French and German) but I was intrigued and amused by the hubristic Spanish belief, then common, that nepotism and quality went hand in hand, and by the nemeses that inevitably followed.

Reagrupament (2): Reagrupament or Reagrupament Independentista is a political party in Catalonia, Spain, formally constituted on 3 October 2009.

Spain (1881):

Spanish language (504):

Translation (788):


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