The Kingdom of Spain is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. The country has a bicameral parliament, known as the General Courts or National Assembly, consisting of the Congress of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house). The head of the largest political party or coalition in the Congress of Deputies usually is named to head the government as president of the Council of Ministers, the equivalent of prime minister. Observers considered national elections held in April 2019 and November 2019 to be free and fair.
Police forces include the national police and the paramilitary Civil Guard, both of which handle migration and border enforcement under the authority of the national Ministry of the Interior, as well as regional police under the authority of the Catalan and the Basque Country regional governments and municipal police throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses during the year.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses or engage in corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the event of the killing of an individual by security forces, the internal affairs division of the corresponding agency is responsible for investigating whether the killing was justifiable.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and laws prohibit such practices. There were reports of police mistreatment; courts dismissed some of the reports. The constitution provides for an ombudsman to investigate claims of police abuse, and the Office of the Ombudsman serves as the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. In 2019 the ombudsman received four complaints of police mistreatment and 68 complaints of verbal abuse. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
There were multiple reports of excess use of force by law enforcement during the government-decreed state of alarm from March 14 through June 20 enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Defend Those Who Defend reported it registered 70 cases of mistreatment of individuals by state security forces. The NGO Rights International Spain reported several cases of excessive use of force documented on video showing police slapping, shoving, or kicking individuals.
A video posted online in March by Amnesty International showed police officers in Bilbao shoving a young man of North African descent, hitting him with a baton, and later hitting and arresting his mother after she told the police he was suffering from poor mental health. The Basque regional government opened an internal investigation into the use of force in the incident. The investigation continued as of November. Neighbors who filmed the incident were fined for “unauthorized use of images of law enforcement officials” and “lack of respect for law enforcement officials,” which Amnesty International denounced as restricting the right to freedom of expression.
In addition to its concerns about the police’s “unlawful use of force in the enforcement of lockdown measures,” Amnesty International in June cited concerns about the “lack of prompt, impartial, and thorough investigations into allegations of unlawful use of force as well as about discriminatory police checks.” In June the government detailed in a parliamentary response that it had opened proceedings against two civil guards and four national police officers for irregular actions during the state of alarm and was investigating approximately 30 additional complaints.
There were some reports regarding prison and detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. NGOs reported extreme overcrowding at some temporary migrant detention centers due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the periodic visit of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to the country in September, the press reported the CPT alleged during the visit mistreatment of an inmate in the Estremera prison in Madrid. On September 9, the inmate was reportedly placed in an isolation cell after he became unruly. When he was released, a medical examination found bruises on his buttocks, legs, soles of his feet, and ankles that had not been present when he was reviewed by a doctor before being admitted to the isolation cell. Prison leadership opened an internal investigation, and the Ministry of the Interior referred the incident to the court.
The UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) reported in October 2019 that, during its 2017 visit, it found that authorities in detention centers and other places of confinement frequently resorted to “measures of mechanical restraint and other coercive means.” Subsequent to that visit, the Ministry of the Interior updated its protocols, restricting the use of mechanical confinement to very limited parameters. In his 2019 report, the ombudsman reported that the prison administration officials informed the ombudsman that the use of mechanical restraints decreased, with 189 instances from January to April of 2019 compared with 322 instances during the same period in 2018. The use of mechanical restraints gained renewed attention after a video of the July 2019 death of 18-year-old Ilias Tahiri in a juvenile detention center in Almeria was made public in June. The video showed six prison officials strapping Moroccan-born Tahiri face down to a bed with his hands bound behind his back while two officials knelt on his back until he stopped breathing. In October a judge reopened the investigation into Tahiri’s death, looking at possible charges of reckless homicide, after his family appealed the judge’s January ruling that his death was an accident.
In its report on prison conditions in Catalonia released on February 4, the CPT reported complaints in all four prisons it visited of physical abuse of prisoners by prison officials, including slaps, punches, and blows with batons. The report alleged Catalan regional police officers subjected some detainees to an unauthorized restraint called a “sandwich” (entailing restraint of ankles and being placed between two plastic mattresses joined by strips of Velcro). The CPT expressed concerns about the practices of tying agitated prisoners to beds with straps and of forced medication of immobilized prisoners, noting they can cause serious injuries. The CPT also noted admission procedures failed to consider gender-specific needs, including detection of sexual abuse or other gender-based violence inflicted prior to admission.
Physical Conditions: The COVID-19 pandemic put considerable stress on the temporary internment centers for foreigners (CETIs) in Ceuta and Melilla, which housed irregular migrants pending their repatriation who crossed the border fence from Morocco. A CETI in Melilla was at nearly double its capacity as of September, prompting local authorities temporarily to house migrants at the city’s bullring alongside the homeless and Moroccan nationals unable to repatriate after Morocco closed its borders in March. (See section 2.f. for more information).
The CPT’s February report on its visit to Catalonia noted Catalan regional police detention centers lacked access to natural light and outdoor space for exercise and had inadequate artificial lighting, poor ventilation, and insufficient access to drinking water and personal hygiene products.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the Office of the Ombudsman, which is also the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, the CPT, and the SPT, in accordance with their standard operating procedures. In 2019 the ombudsman made 106 visits to places where individuals were deprived of their liberty to assess conditions of confinement. During the year the ombudsman conducted primarily virtual visits to prisons and detention centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPT made a scheduled periodic visit to the country on September 13 to 28. A report of its findings was not public at year’s end.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
The law permits police to apprehend suspects for probable cause or with a warrant based on sufficient evidence as determined by a judge. With certain exceptions police may not hold a suspect for more than 72 hours without a hearing. In certain rare instances involving acts of terrorism, the law allows authorities, with the authorization of a judge, to detain persons for up to five days prior to arraignment. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. These rights were respected. The country has a functioning bail system, and the courts released defendants on bail unless they believed the defendants might flee or be a threat to public safety. If a potential criminal sentence is less than three years, the judge may decide to set bail or release the accused on his own recognizance. If the potential sentence is more than three years, the judge must set bail. The law provides detainees the right to consult a lawyer of their choice. If the detainee is indigent, the government appoints legal counsel.
The law allows incommunicado detention when there is a threat to the detainee’s life or physical integrity, or a need to avoid compromising criminal proceedings. Under the law incommunicado detention can only be applied by judicial order and is limited to 10 days’ duration. In certain rare instances involving acts of terrorism, a judge may order incommunicado or solitary detention for the entire duration of police custody. The law stipulates that terrorism suspects held incommunicado have the right to an attorney and medical care, but it does not allow them either to choose an attorney or to see a physician of their choice. The court-appointed lawyer is present during police and judicial proceedings, but detainees do not have the right to confer in private with the lawyer.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice. If the defendant is indigent, the government provides an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government policy is to provide free interpretation as necessary from the moment the defendant is charged through all appeals, although there were reports that translations of charges and interpretation throughout trials were not always provided. During the trial defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, and they have the right of appeal.
On March 8, the UN special rapporteur for minority issues expressed concerns about the restrictions and criminal charges against Catalan politicians and civil society activists involved in the October 2017 “referendum.” The special rapporteur called on the government to abide by its legal obligations to protect the human rights of minorities, including the Catalan minority, especially regarding the freedoms of expression; peaceful assembly, association; and participation in public life. The ombudsman rejected the categorization of the Catalan-speaking population as a minority. The special rapporteur agreed with conclusions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the extended detentions and subsequent convictions of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the two civil society activists convicted in the case, as well as the other Catalan political leaders in prison, were to intimidate them because of their political views.
On May 13, Amnesty International criticized the Supreme Court’s interpretation of sedition as “excessively broad” and alleged it resulted in the “criminalization of acts of protest.” On November 3, it reiterated its call for the government to release Sanchez and Cuixart.
In July the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reiterated its previous recommendation to release seven of the nine Catalan proindependence prisoners convicted of sedition by the Supreme Court for their role in the October 2017 “referendum” on Catalan independence. Representatives of several Catalan national political parties called those convicted “political prisoners,” but neither the government nor any international human rights NGO supported this claim.
Individuals or organizations may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation. The complainant may also pursue an administrative resolution. Persons may appeal court decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after they exhaust all avenues of appeal in national courts.
The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has no immovable property restitution laws because, as the European Shoah Legacy Institute notes, private and communal property were not seized from Spanish Jewish communities during the Holocaust. The government participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and is a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics. Some Jewish groups say that the government has not sufficiently investigated the movement of Nazi-looted art works through the country or sufficiently researched existing art collections in Spain to ascertain whether they include works of Nazi-looted art. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain reported there were no existing or prior cases of compensation or restitution in the country stemming from the Holocaust. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution prohibits such actions. On October 22, a court in Barcelona agreed to investigate a complaint filed by Catalan regional parliament president Roger Torrent and regional parliamentarian Ernest Maragall that their cell phones were surveilled in 2019 using a software program developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. Amnesty International called on the government to publish information about any contracts it has with digital surveillance companies.