US rights report zeros in on Spanish police abuse

State Department noted that 730 corruption investigations were open last year

Rise in xenophobic parties also noted

Mossos and demonstrators face off in Barcelona on the day of the general strike in March. / CARLES RIBAS

Police torture and abuse, racial discrimination and xenophobia, illegal arrests of migrants, and gender violence are the major human rights problems in Spain that are outlined in a new report released Thursday by the Obama administration in Washington.

Spain’s listing in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices compiled by the US State Department placed special focus on the mistreatment and excessive force used by police authorities during demonstrations held across the country last year to protest social, education and health cuts, including incidents that occurred during the 15-M movement rallies.

The 22-page document details excesses by police last May 27 in Barcelona when authorities tried to break up a 15-M protest. “Videos and photographs of the incident showed several police hitting male and female protestors with batons while they were sitting on the ground with their hands raised in the air. Lawyers for the protestors filed a complaint that the police ‘gravely’ violated the protestors’ fundamental rights. The operation resulted in 121 injuries, including 37 police.”

When it came to torture or mistreatment, the US State Department quoted 2010 statistics from the Coordinator for the Prevention of Torture, which claims that 552 complaints were filed that year. The NGO said that 222 complaints were filed against the National Police force, 79 against the Civil Guard, and 52 against the Catalan regional Mossos d’Esquadra. Still the number of complaints was down by 72 from the previous year.

The State Department also included public corruption as a rights violation against citizens. Washington said that the Spanish Attorney General’s Office had 730 open investigations last year – 264 cases involved the Socialist Party while 200 focused on the Popular Party (PP).

On racial discrimination, the report states there were still serious problems affecting the African and Gypsy communities. Following an April 2011 visit to Madrid, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, observed in his own report “that the economic downturn had a disproportionally severe impact” on Gypsies. The rate of employment in 2009 within the community declined by 35 percent, compared to the general population’s decline which was 18 percent.

The economic downturn had a disproportionally severe impact on Gypsies"

The State Department noted that Hammarberg was concerned that this situation “may endanger improvements the country has achieved” in helping the Gypsy communities.

Washington also observed that politicians known for their hardline stances against immigration had “gained ground” following Catalonia’s municipal elections last May. The report specifically points to the victory of PP Badalona mayor, Xavier García Albiol, who campaigned on an anti-immigrant stance, and the Platform for Catalonia (PxC), which increased its number of city council representatives in Catalonia from 17 to 67.

“As a result of a 2010 campaign flyer linking immigrants to crime that stated “We don’t want Roma,” Albiol was charged with inciting racist hate. As of year’s end, investigators were determining whether to send the case to trial.”

As in previous years, the report again focused on anti-Semitic incidents that took place in 2011, including graffiti on Jewish Temples, and the distribution in Barcelona of materials and literature justifying the Holocaust by the neo-Nazi party National European State. Of the 4,000 racist incidents reported, about 400 of them were anti-Semitic. More than 200 Spanish websites that promote hate were online in 2011.

Complaints by four police unions over orders given to the National Police “to identify as many possible illegal immigrants in Madrid” so that they can be expelled from the country were also detailed in the report. The unions said that “they were forced to arrest foreigners because they looked like foreigners and could be without papers.” The Interior Ministry, which has denied this, issued new directives this week to law enforcement bodies prohibiting such selective arrests.

When it came to domestic violence, the State Department said that 61 women – 21 of them foreign-born – were killed by their partners or ex-partners during 2011. The most vulnerable groups were migrants and women over the age of 56.

“During the year a survey by the Ministry of Equality found that 600,000 women reported being assaulted by their partners, although authorities registered only 130,000 domestic violence complaints during the year.”

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