Time for Spain to deliver on human rights

In Madrid today, Amnesty International made public the human rights agenda for the Spanish government’s second term, a review of progress to date and a number of concrete suggestions for future action which was presented yesterday to President Rodriguez Zapatero.

“We welcome the commitment President Zapatero gave us to adopt a national Human Rights Plan by the end of 2008,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “This is an opportunity to show leadership in delivering results on human rights.”

Spain – a Stronger commitment, more effective action – A Human Rights Agenda for 2008 – 2012
reviews progress made over the government’s previous term, defines the key human rights challenges facing Spain, and sets out a roadmap for change which includes a list of 17 indicators to test the government’s performance against its promises.

“President Zapatero told us his Human Rights Plan will be ambitious, and we shall certainly hold him to that,” said Irene Khan.  Amnesty International is calling for a plan which is widely consulted, consistent with Spain’s international obligations, and coherent in demonstrating the same commitment to human rights at home and abroad.  The plan must be responsive to the human rights challenges facing Spain, strengthening protection for those most vulnerable in society such as women survivors of violence, children, migrants and the detained.  It should set challenging and clear benchmarks, against which progress can be mapped in a transparent manner.

“The plan must not be just a paper promise – it must be a plan for delivery of results,” said Ms Khan.

Amnesty International’s review of the past four years shows progress in some areas but also the need for stronger commitment and more effective action in some others.  Amnesty International welcomes the law to control the trade in military equipment and the law to combat gender-based violence.  They show political will but much more than political will is needed to convert these measures into effective action.  The law on the rights of victims of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime was an important first step but it has fallen short of expectations on truth, justice and reparation.

“The time is ripe for a truly ambitious national Human Rights Plan – a Plan that builds on these achievements and boldly moves further to tackle the critical human rights challenges of today,” said Ms Khan.

One of the challenges the government faces is that of the continuing grave abuses by Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). Amnesty International has consistently and unreservedly condemned the violence by ETA as grave human rights abuses and categorically refutes any arguments or objectives which attempt to justify them.

The government has an obligation to protect people from such attacks but it must do so within the framework of human rights and the rule of international law.  “Terrorism cannot be overcome by undermining human rights and the rule of international law – that is Amnesty International’s message in the fight against terrorism worldwide and it is our message in Spain,” said Ms Khan.

Another of the complex challenges facing Spain, and indeed the whole of Europe is that of migration.  While Amnesty International recognizes that states have the right to control their borders this should not, however, be at the expense of undermining the human rights of migrants, whether they have documents or not.

“Having no documents does not mean you have no rights,” said Ms Khan, “and Amnesty International is deeply disappointed by the adoption on 18 June of a European Union directive which will now allow member states to detain people who have not committed any crime, including minors, for up to 18 months”.

The Spanish government has indicated that it will be revising its Aliens Law. Amnesty International calls on Spain not to drive down its standards on the treatment of migrants to the lowest common denominator of Europe.  The government reiterated the commitment it made in its election manifesto to ratify the Convention on Migrant Workers, which Amnesty International welcomes.  “We challenge the Spanish government – in developing its National Human Rights Plan – to take the lead in Europe to build a migration policy of best practice based on human rights,” said Ms Khan.

Spain must also wake up to the Europe-wide challenge of racism and xenophobia.  Despite the creation in Spain of an Observatory on these issues, no data or statistics have been published.  “Racism and xenophobia are alive in reality, but invisible in official terms.  Such a situation must be brought to an end immediately,” said Ms Khan.  Amnesty International calls for the adoption of a comprehensive strategy for gathering and publishing such information throughout Spain, as part of a wider plan to combat racism and intolerance.

Research by Amnesty International and others shows that incidents of torture and ill-treatment, while not systematic, continue to be reported by a wide range of individuals from across the country.  The organisation welcomes the increasing recognition on the part of the authorities that torture and ill-treatment are not isolated aberrations, and calls for action to tackle the problem, including through the establishment of an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against the police, as is done in a number of European countries. Safeguards such as this are the best way to protect both the rights of detainees and the reputation of law enforcement officials against false complaints.

One welcome preventative measure in this regard has been the introduction of video cameras to monitor detainees in police custody – a move pioneered by the Basque Country and now followed by Catalonia.  The introduction of measures that would allow judges to order the video surveillance of incommunicado detainees held by state police forces is an improvement.  Amnesty International calls for such a measure to be made compulsory in all cases of detention.  “In any case, the Spanish law on incommunicado detention is an anomaly in Europe, and should be repealed,” said Ms Khan.

In the international arena Amnesty International calls on Spain to show a commitment to human rights consistently across the entire spectrum of its foreign policy.  Amnesty International welcomes Spain’s commitment to multilateralism and the positive support it has given in recent years to the human rights institutions at the United Nations.  But it needs to show a similar commitment to human rights in its bilateral relations with governments such as China, Colombia, Morocco, Russia, and the USA.

“Subordinating human rights to short-term economic, strategic and political interests in bilateral relations is not only short-sighted, it contradicts and undermines the Spanish government’s overall foreign policy goals of promoting human rights multilaterally,” said Ms Khan.

“President Zapatero has launched a bold initiative for a global moratorium on the death penalty, which we support,” said Ms Khan.  “We challenge President Zapatero to be equally bold in leading on other pressing human rights challenges at home, in Europe and abroad.  In its second term the Zapatero government has got a unique opportunity to deliver on human rights.”


An Amnesty International delegation, led by Secretary General Irene Khan, has been in Spain since 14 June, meeting with representatives of civil society, parliamentarians and members of the government.  In the Canary Islands the delegation met with the President of the autonomous government and visited a centre for unaccompanied minors.  In the Basque Country Irene Khan met the President of the autonomous government, the Ombudsman and the Counsellors of Interior and Justice.  She was also invited to address the Basque parliamentary Human Rights Commission. While in Madrid Irene Khan´s official meetings included those with President of the government, the Minister of Justice, the Secretaries of State for Migration, Interior and Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General, the President of the Criminal Chamber of the National Criminal Court, representatives of the General Council of the Judicial Power, and representatives of different political parties in the parliament.