In May 2005 parliament approved the opening of a
dialogue between the government and those "who abandon violence". This was followed in March 2006 by the announcement of a "permanent ceasefire" by the Basque armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). Tensions surrounding the dialogue process increased after an outbreak of violence in the Basque region in September and the theft of some 350 pistols from a French arms depot at the end of October. On 30 December a bomb exploded in the car park at Madrid Barajas airport, killing two people. An hour before the explosion ETA telephoned a warning about the bomb. The government subsequently announced that the
dialogue was over.
The Spanish Parliament and the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Andalucía all approved modifications to their regional statutes of autonomy, granting greater powers of self-government. In July the government presented a bill to parliament relating to the recognition of human rights abuses suffered during the 1936-1939 civil war and the ensuing dictatorship.
Migration and asylum
The situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Spain remained a matter of grave concern. Undocumented migrants continued to be issued with expulsion orders and left with no means of support or of regularizing their status. Figures available from the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission for the first six months of the year recorded 2,504 asylum requests, of which 2,165 were rejected or declared inadmissible.
Migration routes appeared to change, with over 31,245 asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants from west Africa arriving in the Canary Islands during the year. Regional government authorities used makeshift reception centres to house them, and the severe overcrowding aggravated poor conditions in pre-existing centres. The arrivals included several hundred unaccompanied minors, far exceeding the region's reception capacity for minors and endangering their fundamental rights. Overcrowding in immigration centres led to tension and violence.
The arrival of large numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants in the Canary Islands put extreme pressure on asylum determination procedures there, already identified as inadequate. There were concerns about the restricted access to legal and interpreting assistance and the accelerated returns process. In September, the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Canary Islands began a series of inspections into the conditions in immigration detention centres on the islands, following complaints by police trade unions that they did not comply with basic standards of hygiene due to overcrowding.
Investigations into the deaths of at least 13 migrants in September and October 2005 at the border in Ceuta and Melilla have still not identified or punished those responsible. In July 2006, three more migrants died as they attempted to cross the border at Melilla. Spanish police fired rubber bullets as a warning and the migrants were shot at with live ammunition by Moroccan forces, causing them to fall from the six-metre-high fence. Three days later, the government approved 10.5 million euros in aid to Morocco for border control measures, without tying these to human rights clauses or demanding an explanation for the deaths at the border in 2005 and 2006. Under a pre-existing returns agreement, migrants continued to be sent back to Morocco when it could be proved they had departed from that country. There were insufficient legal and protection guarantees accompanying these measures, putting such migrants at risk of ill-treatment.
Spain was one of the countries participating in a joint sea patrol mission by various European Union (EU) countries and co-ordinated by Frontex, the EU external border control agency. This operation was intended to intercept migrants' boats at sea and return them to the country of origin. This raised serious concerns regarding the respect of fundamental rights such as the right to seek asylum, the right to leave one's own country, and the right not to be returned to a country where one would be at risk of human rights violations.
Police ill-treatment and impunity
There continued to be reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, aggravated by a lack of systematic and independent investigations into such incidents. According to a study published by SOS Racismo, a national anti-racism organization, state law enforcement officers were responsible for one in three reported incidents of racist violence.
In April, Spain ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, which it had signed in 2005. Despite this, Spain maintained practices which the UN Special Rapporteur on torture condemned for increasing the risk of ill-treatment and torture, such as the use of incommunicado detention.
• In January, police officers were involved in the violent break-up of a traditional street party in the town of Arenys de Mar in Catalonia, in the north-east of the country. The party was interrupted by the Mossos d'Esquadra, a contingent from the Catalonian autonomous police force. According to reports, they used violence in attempting to disperse the gathering, beating people on the head and body with batons, and charging at the group, resulting in injuries to several people. Joan Munich, one of the revellers, received at least one blow to the head and fell to the ground, temporarily losing consciousness. When he regained consciousness he was arrested and later convicted of assaulting a police officer, and given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine. Two of his companions were convicted for disobeying a police order and fined. All three appealed but were unsuccessful. Seven other men present at the incident filed complaints against the police but these cases also failed.
• In June, a woman was punched in the face by a national police officer when she attempted to intervene in the apparently violent arrest of a stranger outside a bar in Barcelona. According to reports, she was then arrested and taken to the police station, where she was pushed into a cell by four police officers and beaten all over her head and body. As she lay on the cell floor she was kicked in the head while handcuffed behind her back. A police doctor who examined her in detention recorded only minor bruising, but a medical report obtained by the woman after her release noted multiple bruising on her head, face, arms, legs and back. In August she was fined for resisting arrest.
• In February, eight of the nine police officers involved in the ill-treatment and death in custody of Juan Martínez Galdeano in July 2005 were suspended from duty. Charges against one of the officers were dropped and the others were charged with serious assault, injury and negligent manslaughter. The Office of the Public Prosecutor of Almería requested a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment for the senior officer present and eight years' imprisonment for the others. According to the autopsy and later medical reports, Juan Martínez Galdeano's death was caused by a combination of the violent beating and restraint techniques used on him by the police officers and an adverse reaction to cocaine that he had consumed.
Violence against women
Violence against women continued to be a serious problem. Eighty-six women died in 2006 as a result of domestic violence, 68 of whom were killed by their partners or former partners.
Since the coming into force of the law on gender-based violence in January 2005, complaints regarding such crimes increased by 18 per cent. However, the new courts dedicated to dealing with such cases had insufficient resources to deal with the number of cases received. More than 20 per cent of the protection orders requested by victims were rejected by the judicial authorities. Rehabilitation programmes for those convicted of domestic violence did not meet demand and 1,700 convicted abusers were waiting for a place on such a programme. There was a continuing lack of crisis centres for victims in many regions.
'War on terror'
In July, the Supreme Court quashed the sentence of Hamed Ahmed, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee, and ordered his immediate release. After returning to Spain from Guantánamo Bay, where he had been a prisoner since 2002, he was convicted by the Spanish National High Court in October 2005 of membership of a terrorist organization and was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. The Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo Bay constituted a legal limbo without guarantees or control, and therefore all evidence originating from it must be declared completely null and void. As a result, there was no evidence against Hamed Ahmed except his own statement, which the Supreme Court found contained no incriminating evidence.
AI country reports/visits
• Spain: More rights, but the obstacles remain
(AI Index: EUR 41/006/2006)
• Spain and Morocco: Failure to protect the rights of migrants - Ceuta and Melilla one year on (AI Index: EUR 41/009/2006)
AI delegates visited the Canary Islands in June to investigate alleged violations of the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants arriving in the islands.