14 March 2000
Morning


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning concluded its consideration of the fourteenth periodic report of Spain and commended the Government for its efforts to improve the situation of Gypsies and immigrants in the country.

The Committee will issue its final written observations and recommendations on the report of Spain towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 24 March. An 8-member Spanish delegation was on hand to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee experts.

The Spanish delegation was composed of officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Public Administration; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Education and Culture; and the Permanent Mission of Spain at Geneva.

Taking part in the discussion were Committee experts Brun-Otto Bryde, Mario Jorge Yutsis, Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, Agha Shahi, Regis de Gouttes and Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill.

Spain is among the 155 States parties to the Convention and as such it must submit periodic reports to the Committee on the efforts made by the Government to implement the provisions of the treaty.

Also this morning, the Committee briefly considered the fourteenth periodic report of Tonga in the absence of a Government delegation from that country. Committee Chairperson, Michael E. Sherifis, announced that the Government had said that it was not able to send a delegation to present its report.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will take up the report of Rwanda.

Discussion

In response to a number of questions raised by Committee experts during the previous meeting, the members of the Spanish delegation said that it was undeniable that there had been cases of ill-treatment of foreigners by law-enforcing agents. Nevertheless, in cases that had taken place recently, the Supreme Court had handed out sentences against three policemen who badly treated two Peruvians. Another case of police ill-treatment of Hungarians ended in the law-enforcing agents being severely reprimanded by the court. In 1998, another court had reprimanded a car dealer for refusing to sale a car to a black person.

Between 1998 and 1999, roughly 100 cases of racial and xenophobic acts had been committed and their perpetrators had been penalized in application of the new penal code, the delegation continued to say. A former president of a racist association was also brought to court for the possession of material which denied the existence of the holocaust.

With regard to the situation of the Roma/Gypsy population in Spain, the delegation said their number varied from 600,000 to 650,000. Most of the Gypsies lived in the autonomous communities of Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia, as well as in the major cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada and Zaragova. The Government of Spain was treating that segment of the population in a very favourable manner. So far, social, economic and educational programmes had been tailored to respond to the specific needs of the Gypsies.

The delegation continued to say that a high percentage of the members of the Gypsy community had been affected by unfavourable social conditions in comparison to the rest of the Spanish population. The number of Gypsies had also increased in recent years with the arrival of other Gypsies from Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria. The Government had increased its efforts to deal with the social and educational problems of the Gypsies with the collaboration of non-governmental organizations.

The Gypsy Development Programme designed to promote the rights of Gypsies had made a huge impact on their educational, social and economic situation, the delegation said. With regard to education, the implementation of the programme had resulted in the increase of school attendance by Gypsy children. Their access to jobs and other social benefits had been remarkably facilitated. However, Gypsy women's access to education remained a challenge for the Government, the delegation added.

The Spanish authorities had continued to seek other ways to advance the cause of Gypsies in the society, the delegation said. In 1999, a parliamentary sub-committee had been set up to carry out an overview of the implementation of the various projects aimed at enhancing the social status of Spanish Gypsies. In addition, during the last two years, 45 employment programmes had been implemented involving 9,000 Gypsies.

Spain was no more a country of transit to the rest of Europe as it had been in the past. It was now a host to a number of immigrants and refugees who came from different regions of the world, the delegation said. However, the Spanish authorities had been faced with documentation problems in dealing with new arrivals. About 100,000 persons had benefited from the 1995 law aimed at normalizing the situation of illegal immigrants. With regard to the Muslim population, they were Spanish nationals and were not treated differently than the rest of the population.

Racially motivated discrimination at work places had been reported by the International Labour Office (ILO) and it had been confirmed by other studies carried out by the Government, the delegation said. Discrimination in work places and in employment were not isolated phenomenon. However, there were a number of legal provisions which protected the rights and freedoms of foreigners working in Spain. In addition, the law condemned any behaviour of racial bias and discouraged acts of discrimination on the ground of race, colour or national origin.

To ensure that the El Ejido incident, in which local residents attacked Moroccan immigrants, was not repeated, the Government had taken measures to develop the social and cultural conditions of the region. Although Spain had a low percentage of immigration, the distribution across the country was not homogenous. The concentration of the Moroccan immigrants in El Ejido region had created a potential social and cultural conflict.

In response to the urgent need for housing for the victims of the conflict in El Ejido, the Government had created 42 temporary housing units so that 418 Moroccans whose houses were burnt could be lodged, the delegation said.

With regard to linguistic conflicts, which were alluded to by some Committee members, the delegation said that there had been possible xenophobic and violent attitudes against people who spoke different languages in some of the autonomous communities. Language requirements for education in the 17 autonomous communities were decided by the local authorities, the delegation added.

YURI A. RECHETOV, the Committee expert who served as country rapporteur to the report of Spain, said Spain's declared reservation on article 14 of the Convention was contradictory in nature. Article 14 provides the State's recognition of the Committee's competence to receive communications from persons claiming that their rights under the Convention have been violated by their respective States parties.

Mr. Rechetov requested the delegation to provide in its next report a detailed description of legal cases involving discrimination and other incidents of ill-treatment motivated by racial bias.

The measures taken by the Government with regard to Gypsies was positive, Mr. Rechetov said. In addition, the steps adopted to normalize the situation of illegal immigrants was also satisfactory.

The vast involvement of non-governmental organizations in social activities in Spain was a good sign and some of the problems could be solved through actions carried out by those organizations. He said that it was in the interest of Spain that there was no linguistic conflict in the regions.

Report of Tonga

The fourteenth periodic report of Tonga (document CERD/C/362/Add.3) carries the Government's comments on the previous concluding observations of the Committee on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. In response to the Committee's observations and recommendations, the Government annexed relevant articles of the Constitution and laws of Tonga to the report. The 11-page report did not contain the current measures adopted by the Government to further implement the provisions of the Convention.

LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ, the Committee expert who served as country rapporteur to the report of Tonga, said that Tonga's periodic reports had been submitted on time. He said that there were no amendments to the Constitution or to other laws in order to guarantee non-discrimination. On the other hand, the Convention was implicitly implemented by the State party. Tonga was not promoting racial discrimination, because of its homogenous society, with only 3.7 per cent non-Tongese living in the country.

Mr. Valencia Rodriguez said that although Tonga had no specific law prohibiting racial discrimination, there had been no racially-motivated cases reported. Marriages involving non-Tongese persons had to be approved by the authorities, which at times resulted in negative responses. The Government was therefore requested to improve the situation and leave the choice to individuals. Tongese women were also relegated to inferior positions in the society.


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