Ending the armed conflict in Spain


The work of international NGOs helped to end the conflict between the Government of Spain and the Basque separatist movement, ETA.

Faced with violent repression from the Franco regime (1939-1975) in Spain, the passive resistance campaign of the historically dominant Basque separatist political party began losing ground to more radical movements in the 1950s. In 1959, Basque Nation and Liberty (Euskadi ta azkatasuna, ETA) was established. Renouncing the peaceful strategy of its forebears, ETA launched an armed insurrection against the Spanish state in the 1960s with the goal of achieving independence for the Basque Country. After initially targeting politicians and security services, ETA launched increasingly indiscriminate attacks in the 1980s. Peace talks were held in Algeria in 1989 but proved fruitless. In 1992, several key ETA leaders were arrested, signalling a significant decline in the conflict: the number of battle-related deaths has not reached 25 since. However, attacks continued throughout the 1990s up until 2006, when ETA bombed Madrid airport.1

Despite several ceasefires holding for a year or two, a lasting settlement proved impossible thanks to the irreconcilable positions of the belligerents. Successive Spanish governments refused to negotiate until ETA disarmed, while ETA insisted on disarming as part of a negotiated peace process. This changed in 2011, when the ETA leadership announced a unilateral ceasefire and renounced violence. Later that year, an international conference on ways to advance the peace process was held in San Sebastian. Although neither the Spanish government nor representatives of ETA attended, the conference served to set the agenda for the resolution of the conflict. Following the conference, ETA issued a public statement expressing its wish for negotiations and willingness to disarm. To the surprise of observers, the Spanish government rebuffed the opportunity entirely and refused to enter into any kind of dialogue. In response, regional governments in Spain took it upon themselves to open talks and facilitate the peace process (as far as they legally could), while Basque political parties and international NGOs stepped up to discuss the options with ETA. The DAG, a Dutch NGO, played a leading role in these talks and subsequently developed the International Verification Mechanism (IVM) to facilitate the disarmament of ETA. With the Spanish government still refusing to participate, ETA gave the location of its cached weapons to French Basque activists, who in turn gave them to the IVM, who then offered this information to French authorities. This process was completed on 8 April 2017, and a year later ETA formally dissolved itself as an organisation.2

1 UCDP. Government of Spain – ETA. (UCDP, 2021) Available at: https://ucdp.uu.se/statebased/763 (Accessed 26/10/2021)

2 Vlad Corbu. “From ceasefire to disarmament without states: Lessons from the Basque Country.” Accord, Vol. 29. (2020) pp.99-102

Start Year


End Year



Basque Country

UN Regional Group

Western Europe and Others

Type of Conflict

Vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict

Type of Initiative

Other ( Unique efforts which defy classification )

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The Dialogue Advisory Group (DAG) and other international NGOs




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