The authorities’ violent response to people’s attempts to cross the border between Melilla and Morocco resulted in deaths, torture and unlawful expulsions. Spyware was used to target Catalan politicians and members of civil society. Violence against women persisted. A bill to remove some barriers to abortion came before parliament. A problematic bill that criminalizes aspects of sex work was tabled. The government approved a landmark bill on gender self-determination. The authorities did not protect adequately the rights to health and housing. Concerns continued about the use of electroshock equipment by police. Vaguely formulated offences were misused to curb freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. New legislation was a positive step in fighting impunity for violations perpetrated during the Civil War and dictatorship. Measures to tackle the climate crisis remained inadequate.
A police officer was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for providing false evidence against certain Catalan politicians. The conviction was connected to ongoing, broader criminal investigations into the activities of a secret network, called the “patriotic police”, suspected of fabricating evidence to undermine the political group Podemos and leaders of the Catalan pro-independence movement.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
The authorities gravely violated refugees’ and migrants’ rights at borders.
On 24 June, the Spanish and Moroccan authorities used unlawful force and acts which may amount to torture and other ill-treatment to repress an attempt by a large group of people, all Black men from Sub-Saharan Africa, to enter and seek protection in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. At least 37 people died and over 470 were illegally expelled. In October, UN experts condemned the continuing lack of accountability for the deaths and the dehumanization of African migrants at Europe’s borders.1
In March, the authorities forcibly returned an Algerian national to Algeria without assessing the risks to his safety there. Mohamed Benhalina, a former military official and whistle-blower, was imprisoned upon arrival in Algeria and informed that he had been sentenced to death in his absence. Spanish authorities had rejected his asylum application because of his alleged involvement in activities “contrary to national security or which may be harmful for Spain’s relationship with other countries”.
The authorities granted temporary protection, under the EU Temporary Protection Directive, to 156,000 Ukrainian refugees. The government set up dedicated reception centres in Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Malaga to ensure a coordinated and rapid response to the refugees’ needs.
Right to privacy
There was concern about the use in Spain of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which was used to target the mobile phones of prominent Catalan politicians, journalists, lawyers and their families. In May, the Director General of the National Intelligence Centre admitted that several pro-independence Catalan politicians had been spied on. The government also confirmed that the official phones of the President, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Defence were infected with Pegasus spyware; in May the High Court began an investigation. Unrelated investigations by Catalan courts into the targeting of Catalan politicians and members of civil society remained stalled.
Sexual and gender-based violence
Violence against women persisted, with 49 women killed by their partners or ex-partners during the year. Since 2013, when records began, 48 children had been killed in the context of gender-based violence against their mothers, including two in 2022.
In a positive development, the Ministry of Equality began collecting data about violence against women perpetrated by individuals other than their partners and ex-partners.
The Law on Comprehensive Protection of Sexual Freedom, which amended the Criminal Code redefining the offence of sexual violence based on lack of consent, came into force in October.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In December, Congress passed a bill to amend the law on sexual and reproductive rights to remove the requirement of parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds to have an abortion, together with other barriers to accessing a timely abortion, such as mandatory counselling and reflection periods.
A bill to amend the Criminal Code to criminalize aspects of sex work, including clients and third parties, that would impact sex workers’ rights and their safety was pending in parliament at the end of the year.
LGBTI people’s rights
In June, the government approved a landmark bill that recognizes people’s right to gender self-determination, allowing transgender people to obtain legal recognition of their gender and change their gender markers on identity documents without the need for hormonal treatment or a medical report; this includes children aged 12 and over. In December, Congress passed the bill, with the Senate expected to approve it in early 2023.
Right to health
National and regional governments allocated insufficient resources to protect the right to health. The national budget for primary healthcare was 14% of the total public healthcare budget, far from the WHO recommended level of at least 25%. The Autonomous Communities’ total healthcare budget was only 4.5% higher than in 2021, less than half of the increase in healthcare spending between 2019 and 2020. Aragón and Castilla La Mancha actually reduced their healthcare budgets compared with 2021.
The new Mental Health National Strategy 2022-2026, approved in December 2021 after a 15-year long hiatus, started to be implemented.
The authorities did not investigate adequately the deaths of older people in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. About 90% of prosecutors’ investigations were closed, despite the General Public Prosecutor acknowledging that there had been human rights violations in care homes.
The majority of regional truth commissions tasked with looking into the treatment of older people in care homes were closed down without clear explanation and the authorities failed to establish a national truth commission to hold those responsible for the care home deaths to account.
Right to housing
Thousands of families were denied their right to adequate housing. Between January and September there were 29,285 evictions. In June, the government renewed the suspension of evictions of economically vulnerable people until 31 December. While welcome, the measure was insufficient to protect from homelessness thousands of people not in this category.
The rising cost of energy affected thousands of families, with 14.3% of the population unable to afford to keep their homes at an adequate temperature, compared to 10.9% in 2020. In the neighbourhood of Cañada Real, in Madrid, 4,500 people, including 1,800 children, continued to live without access to electricity after being disconnected in 2020, despite the Ombudsman recommending that the connection be re-established.
Excessive use of force
Concerns remained over the adequacy of training and protocols for the use of “less lethal” weapons by various police forces in the country. The Ministry of the Interior extended the inclusion of electroshock equipment as standard equipment for the National Security Police and Civil Guard and also for the regional police forces in the Basque Country and Catalonia.
By the end of the year, no suspects had been charged in relation to the death, in November 2021, of a man in Barcelona who was electroshocked by regional police several times, including after he had been restrained.
People seriously injured by foam bullets fired by police during demonstrations risked being denied justice as prosecutors planned to close criminal investigations due to a lack of cooperation by police.
At the end of the year, criminal investigations into the unlawful use of force by police in the context of the protests of October 2017 in Catalonia were still ongoing.
Freedom of expression and assembly
The authorities continued to misuse the Public Security Act to limit the freedom of expression of demonstrators and journalists. Data on enforcement of the law showed an increase in the number of fines imposed for vaguely defined administrative offences, such as “showing disrespect towards a law enforcement official” or “disobedience or resistance to the authorities or their agents”.
Parliament began amending the Criminal Code to repeal the crimes of “insults to the Crown” and “insults to the institution”, also misused to limit freedom of expression.
In October, the Democratic Memory Act entered into force, replacing the 2007 Historical Memory Law. Under the new law the search for victims of enforced disappearance during the Civil War and dictatorship is the responsibility of the state and judgments passed by military, civil and special courts on political grounds are annulled. However, the act does not allow for crimes under international law committed during the same period to be pursued.
The 1968 Law on Classified Secrets, passed during the dictatorship, remained an obstacle to access to justice.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
The Carlos III Health Institute estimated that between January and October there were 5,829 deaths attributable to high temperatures. In the same period, fires destroyed 259,491.42 hectares of land, three times more than in the same period in 2021. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory estimated a gross emission of 288.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021, which constituted a 5.1% increase over the previous year.