SPAIN: Authorities must de-escalate tensions and guarantee the right to public assembly

In response to the mobilizations and demonstrations occurring in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced 12 Catalan political leaders and activists, Amnesty International calls urgently on all authorities to take every necessary measure to support peaceful assembly and allow all people to freely and safely express their beliefs.

“The mobilizations have been exceptionally peaceful, and though there have been certain acts of violence that have put certain people at risk, security forces must act with moderation. Authorities must do everything possible not to contribute to the escalation of tensions in the streets and must respond proportionally at all times to possible outbreaks of violence,” said Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain. “We are conscious of the challenges faced by security forces, but excessive use of force and the inappropriate use of anti-riot weaponry by the police is never justified.”

The mobilizations have been exceptionally peaceful, and though there have been certain acts of violence that have put certain people at risk, security forces must act with moderation
Esteban Beltrán

An Amnesty International team has been on the ground monitoring the situation since the demonstrations began on 14 October and has documented various cases of excessive use of force. 

Excessive use of force and inappropriate use of anti-riot equipment and munitions

Amnesty International has observed various cases of excessive use of force, including inappropriate and unjustified use of batons and other defensive equipment against people who posed no risk, including journalists and people who have already been subdued by security forces who even so continued to be beaten in the head and upper body.

In these situations with so many people demonstrating in the street, the priority of the authorities must be to reduce tensions and allow any person who wishes to peacefully express his or her beliefs to do so safely
Marie Struthers

According to information provided by the Generalitat Department of Health, 394 people have been treated by emergency services, including 139 members of the security forces.

“In these situations with so many people demonstrating in the street, the priority of the authorities must be to reduce tensions and allow any person who wishes to peacefully express his or her beliefs to do so safely,” said Marie Struthers, Director of Amnesty International Europe.

Amnesty International has documented cases of rubber or “foam” bullets being fired at short range to disperse crowds and being used in partially enclosed spaces like parking lots and the area around the Barcelona airport.

As a consequence, two people were seriously injured on 14 October at the El Prat Airport. According to information provided by the hospital where they were treated, a 22-year-old man lost his eye after being shot by a rubber or “foam” bullet-like object. The other was shot in the testicles with the same and required surgery.

“It is very concerning the way anti-riot munitions are being used during these demonstrations. It is essential that all security forces show total adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality in the use of force so that they respond to acts of violence appropriately and so that they thereby allow peaceful protesters to continue to demonstrate,” said Marie Struthers, Director of Amnesty International Europe.

According to international standards on the use of force, rubber or “foam” bullets must never be used against peaceful protesters or in situations in which bystanders may be injured. Due to the high risk of serious injuries, these projectiles must not be used to disperse crowds. Instead, they must be used only to stop individuals engaged in violence when fire can be directed exclusively against those specific individuals. The use of these projectiles against crowds, their indiscriminate use, and their indirect use through ricochets must be prohibited.

It is essential that all security forces show total adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality in the use of force so that they respond to acts of violence appropriately and so that they thereby allow peaceful protesters to continue to demonstrate
Marie Struthers

Amnesty International has also confirmed on the ground the use of a police practice colloquially known as the “carousel,” which entails advancing police vans toward a crowd to disperse it. Amnesty International considers this an extremely dangerous maneuver that can harm bystanders and those who are peacefully demonstrating.

“Authorities must ensure that the decision to disperse crowds is made as a last resort when all other less restrictive means have proven ineffective. Any order to disperse must be expressed clearly and give people sufficient time to retreat voluntarily. The force used must always be proportional to the resistance encountered. If the use of force is necessary, security forces must avoid injuring people who are only passively resisting,” said Amnesty International Catalonia Coordinator Adriana Ribas.