Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued, but reportedly decreased in police stations which had installed CCTV systems. Reforms to asylum legislation recognized gender and sexual orientation as grounds for persecution, but increased procedural restrictions on applying for asylum. The authorities continued to hold detainees incommunicado, despite repeated calls from international human rights bodies for this practice to be abolished. The armed Basque group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) continued its campaign of violence, claiming responsibility for killing two people. Victims of gender-based violence, and human trafficking in particular, continued to lack adequate state protection and assistance. There was little progress in investigating enforced disappearances and mass graves relating to the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. Government measures to tackle racism were inadequate. The application of universal jurisdiction for international crimes was restricted following legislative reform.
Torture and other ill-treatment/police and security forces
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued. Following the introduction in 2008 of comprehensive CCTV systems in Catalan autonomous police stations, a national NGO network reported that complaints of ill-treatment against Catalan police officers had gone down by almost 40 per cent compared to 2007. None of the complaints they recorded related to ill-treatment occurring inside a police station. However, the national police and Civil Guard had still not implemented these measures, except with detainees held incommunicado, and only then when specifically requested by a judge.
The Public Prosecutor’s annual report stated that there had been more than 230 complaints of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials during the year. No steps had been taken to create an independent police complaints commission, despite repeated recommendations by international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee.
- No date was set for the trial of the two police officers charged with killing Osamuyia Akpitaye while he was being forcibly deported from Spain in June 2007.
- In June a video was published on the internet showing the degrading treatment of a Senegalese man during an attempt to forcibly deport him from Spain. The footage showed him lying on his stomach on the tarmac at Madrid airport, his arms and legs tied together behind his back and apparently being gagged by plain-clothes police officers. The officers then picked him up off the ground, still tied up, and put him into the back of a police van after the pilot refused to allow him to board in these conditions.
- In June, three police officers accused of ill-treating a detainee at Les Corts autonomous Catalan police station in Barcelona in March 2007 were convicted of assault and sentenced to a €600 fine. A fourth officer was acquitted. Concealed camera footage showed the officers kicking and beating the detainee.
Migrants’ rights, refugees and asylum-seekers
Migrants and asylum-seekers continued to risk their lives attempting to reach Spain along dangerous land and sea routes, although official figures showed a 45 per cent decrease in arrivals by boat compared to the previous year. Spain continued to have one of the lowest asylum recognition rates in the EU.
In February, police trade unions reported that officers at the Vallecas police station in Madrid had received orders to arrest a specified monthly quota of irregular migrants; similar instructions were reported by police in other parts of the country. The Minister of the Interior publicly denied that such a policy existed. NGOs across Spain reported an increase in racially motivated identity checks by police over the course of the year; this was believed to be as a result of migration control measures.
In October, Spain ratified Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits collective expulsion of foreign nationals.
The reform of the asylum law, adopted in October, broadens the grounds for granting refugee status or subsidiary protection to include individuals persecuted on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation. However, it also excludes EU citizens from seeking asylum, eliminates the possibility of claiming asylum in Spanish embassies abroad, and increases the grounds for excluding an individual from refugee status on the basis of undefined, vague criteria such as “constituting a danger to national security”.
The Law on Foreigners was amended in October. The amendments grant NGOs access to migration detention centres, but increase the maximum period of detention of irregular migrants from 40 to 60 days.
Counter-terror and security
The authorities continued to hold in incommunicado detention people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities, despite repeated calls from international human rights bodies for this practice to be abolished. Under current legislation, detainees held incommunicado have severely restricted access to legal representation and are at increased risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
In its concluding observations of 19 November, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) reiterated its concern that Spain’s incommunicado detention regime for cases involving terrorism or armed groups weakened necessary legal safeguards against acts of torture or ill-treatment. The CAT called upon Spain to amend the incommunicado regime with a view to abolishing it.
- Following the refusal of the Public Prosecutor and investigating judge to examine the allegations of torture made before the investigating court by Mohammed Fahsi, in June his lawyer submitted a formal complaint in relation to the treatment received by Mohammed Fahsi while he was detained incommunicado by the Civil Guard in January 2006. No response had been received by the end of the year. In September, Mohammed Fahsi and eight other men were put on trial on terrorism-related charges. In December the four-year limit on pre-trial detention for people accused of serious crimes was reached, and he was released awaiting sentence.
- In May the Supreme Court acquitted Sabino Ormazabal and seven other men previously convicted of “collaborating with terrorism” in the so-called “Macroproceso 18/98” trial. A woman who had been convicted of membership of a terrorist organization was also acquitted. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism and the UN Human Rights Committee had raised concerns in 2008 about the excessively broad and imprecise nature of some articles of Spanish counter-terrorism legislation, including those applied in this case, which may not be in line with international law.
Abuses by armed groups
ETA claimed responsibility for numerous bomb attacks during the year, including a car bomb which killed two Civil Guard officers in Mallorca and an attack on a Civil Guard barracks in the Basque Country, both in July.
Children living in state-run children’s homes were exposed to human rights violations. There were complaints of negligence, forced medication, excessive use of force and mental and physical abuse by staff. A study published by the Spanish Ombudsperson in 2008 highlighted similar issues.
Violence against women and girls
Despite some positive developments in recent years, women continued to be killed by their partners and former partners. Migrant women who were victims of domestic violence continued to face additional difficulties in obtaining justice and specialist services. The institutional response to other forms of gender-based violence, including human trafficking for sexual exploitation, remained inadequate. There was no institutionalized system for identifying victims of sex trafficking or referring them for assistance. Victims of gender-based violence seeking redress faced numerous obstacles, including lack of compensation for the psychological effects of violence.
- Eight years after being run over and stabbed 15 times by her ex-husband, Ascensión Anguita had still received no compensation for the attack, and her recovery was impeded by inadequate institutional support. She remained unable to work and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, living on a monthly disability allowance of €401. In July 2008, her ex-husband became entitled to six days leave a month from prison, during which time Ascensión Anguita had to leave her home and go into hiding. The police told her they did not have sufficient resources to protect her.
The National Human Rights Plan launched in 2008 contained a provision to establish a comprehensive National Strategy to Combat Racism; however, at the end of the year this had still not begun, contrary to the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. The Council for Advancement and Equal Treatment, established by law in 2003, was still not operational. According to the 2009 annual report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, published in June, this leaves Spain as one of only four EU countries that do not have a national equality body producing statistics on complaints about racism. Spain is also one of just six EU member states that do not collect or publish official data on racist crimes.
In September, Spain ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but enforced disappearance is still not criminalized in Spanish law.
In December 2008 the National Criminal Court ruled that it was not competent to investigate cases of enforced disappearances dating from the Spanish Civil War and early years of the rule of Francisco Franco; it therefore referred the 114,266 suspected cases of enforced disappearance to the 43 local criminal courts in whose jurisdiction the mass graves had been found. Subsequently, 13 courts classified the cases as ordinary crimes and closed the investigations on the grounds that the crimes had passed the statute of limitations (which sets a maximum period of time that legal proceedings may be initiated after a specific crime). Only three of the local courts classified the cases as crimes under international law (which have no expiry date). These investigations were ongoing at the end of the year.
On 11 March the Senate rejected a draft law calling on the government to take on the task of locating, exhuming and identifying the remains of victims of the Civil War and the rule of Francisco Franco. This was in contradiction to the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, which contained provisions to help families locate and recover the remains of their loved ones. The 2007 law itself falls short of international standards relating to the right to reparation for victims and relatives of victims of gross human rights violations.
In October, parliament adopted an amendment to the Law on the Judiciary, which would restrict the application of universal jurisdiction. Thirteen cases under investigation in Spain could be closed as a result. The amendment limits universal jurisdiction to cases in which the victims are Spanish or in which Spain has a “relevant connecting link”, where the alleged perpetrator is in Spain, and as long as no effective investigation or prosecution has already begun in another country or international court. The criteria for determining what constitutes “effective” in this context were not defined. The legislative amendment was passed without specific debate.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Spain in November.
- Spain: Out of the Shadows – time to end incommunicado detention
- Spain: Adding insult to injury – police impunity two years on
- Spain: Briefing to the Committee against Torture