Full text of the press statement delivered by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, M. Mutuma Ruteere on 28 January 2013 in Madrid, Spain

28 January 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I undertook a visit to Spain from 21 to 28 January 2013, which is the first visit of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance to Spain. During my visit, I held meetings in Madrid, Melilla, Ceuta, Almeria, and Barcelona. I have met with representatives from the Spanish Government, at the national, regional, provincial and local levels, the legislative, judicial branches, security forces, the national Ombudsman, the regional ombudsman of Andalucía and Cataluña, United Nations entities, and non-governmental organizations as well as community members and other groups and individuals working in the field of racism.

Regrettably, I did not meet with Ministers even though I had requested for meetings at that level. However I would like to thank the Government of Spain for the invitation and for the insightful and rich discussions. I am also grateful to the autonomous communities of Spain and to the different State agencies for their cooperation. Finally I am indebted to my interlocutors from civil society including NGOs who have been very helpful to my visit. 

Spain has made important progress in addressing the problem of racism and xenophobia and it is important that the country builds on this progress in confronting the continuing challenges and emerging problems related to the economic problems in the country. Indeed Spain has a strong legal framework against discrimination which includes among others the Spanish Constitution and several other pieces of legislation. I am also aware of important policies to combat racism, such as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Other Related Intolerance. There are also credible institutions in the fight against racism including the Council for the Promotion of Equal Treatment of All persons without Discrimination on Grounds of Racial or Ethnic Origin, the national Ombudsman, the regional Ombudsmen, and the Spanish Observatory of Racism, and Xenophobia. Special Prosecutors against discrimination hate crimes and cyber crimes have also been appointed which in my view is a very good practice. I also welcome the support extended to the victims of racism through the Network of assistance to the victims of discrimination involving various NGOs. I note that studies that provide important insights into progress in addressing racial discrimination and xenophobia have been undertaken by independent research institutions. I commend the Government for the mapping of discrimination exercise that is being undertaken. I also commend the excellent work done by the municipality police force of Fuenlabrada in Madrid in terms of promoting cultural diversity and reporting racist incidents, ensuring accountability of police forces with regard to racism, and building relations between the police and communities. The efforts of this police force are an example of a good practice that can be emulated by other jurisdictions. I also appreciate the valuable efforts made by the police forces Mossos D Esquadra of Barcelona on issues related to my mandate.

Commendable progress has also been made in the integration of Roma in Spain. A number of positive initiatives have been recently developed in this regard, including the 2012-2020 National Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma, the setting up of the State Council for the Roma Population, and the Institute for Roma Culture. Regional initiatives for the Roma are also being implemented such as the 2009-2013 Action plan for the Roma population in Cataluña.

I encourage Spain to increase the efforts carried out for the Roma as some of them continue to face significant challenges in the enjoyment of their rights including in the fields of housing, and access to employment which became more and more difficult in this time of economic crisis. Furthermore there is still a high drop-out rates among Roma children in the educational system, and a de facto segregation of Roma children in schools largely underpinned by their families’ difficult social and economic conditions. Special attention should also be paid to non Spanish Roma people who are still marginalized and facing hostility from the population in some places, including those from Portugal, Romania, and other countries.

The economic crisis has resulted in the rolling back of gains in human rights of migrants who face a higher rate of unemployment and are confronted with serious housing challenges. In particular, the legislation that has restricted their access to health care is a regrettable development.

Furthermore there is an emerging de facto segregation of migrant neighborhoods in Spain that the authorities should duly address. This de facto segregation leads to the de facto segregation of migrants children in schools.  

The detention of irregular migrants, including women, in Aliens Internment Centres (CIEs) pose a number of human rights challenges that need to be addressed by Spain. The adoption of regulations on the management of these centres as required by the law is yet to be implemented . This means that currently there is no objective criteria on issues of access to health and legal assistance to those interned.

Various interlocutors have also raised concern over the living conditions in some of the centers including cases of mistreatment.  In this regard I recommend that a system for regular access into these centers by independent actors including human rights NGOs be established. I also note with concern that in some situations individuals subjected to immigration removals who have committed criminal offences are also detained in the Centers together with individuals who are held for administrative migration offences.

The situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Ceuta and Melilla deserve increasing attention. During my visit I visited temporary reception centers (CETIs) for irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla. The challenge of the overcrowding of such centers was raised by several interlocutors. Asylum seekers in particular are faced with long delays in the processing of their asylum requests. There is also a different approach to asylum in the Spanish mainland and in Ceuta and Melilla that has led to a situation where individuals in these two cities do not always apply for asylum or withdraw their application in order to seek asylum in the mainland, sometimes risking their life by irregularly crossing the Gibraltar strait. Spain should continue to pay special attention to the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable migrants including unaccompanied minors and women who found themselves trafficked for sexual exploitation.

My travel to Almeria led me to the conclusion that there is an urgent need to address the human rights situation of migrants working in the agricultural area. Indeed the conditions of many irregular migrants working in greenhouses are shocking. They lack basic infrastructures and services including sanitation, potable water and adequate health care services. Respect for the dignity and human rights of these irregular migrants should be a high priority for Spain while paying particular attention to the increased vulnerability of migrant women who work and live in these greenhouses and are exposed to violence, including sexual violence and de facto prostitution. I also urge Spain to find a long term human rights solution to the working and living conditions of migrants based in the area of Poblenov in Barcelona, where they live in inhumane and degrading conditions.

There is also a need to urgently address the situation of forced evictions in the areas of Cañada Real and Puerta de Hierro in Madrid, and to find immediate and long term solutions to the problems of adequate housing and access to services in these places.

These situations are simply unacceptable and Spain should find a comprehensive solution for these victims. In this regard adequate information, genuine consultation and effective participation of the victims are important.

The emergence of hate speech and xenophobic discourse among politicians and political leaders was also brought to my attention during the visit. This phenomenon should be tackled at all levels, including national, regional, provincial and local. Political leaders have a responsibility to strongly denounce such discourse, including when it comes from within their own ranks, and I call upon Spain to strengthen mechanisms for dealing with such utterances. Stigmatization of certain groups including migrants and the propagation of racial prejudice and negative stereotypes by the media has also been reported. More needs to be done in order to prevent the negative portrayal of migrants in the media, including their criminalization.

While I welcome efforts taken by Spain to address the problem of racism in sports, I am concerned that racial hostility and abuse in sports remain a problem. Measures to address this challenge should be strengthened including the enhancement of penalties.

The problem of identity checks by the police targeting particular ethnic groups, including minorities and migrants was brought to my attention and has been acknowledged as a problem by the State. I was informed of ongoing training programs to sensitize the police on discrimination. However, addressing the problems of racial profiling requires much more than the training of police officers. Awareness campaigns are required to inform individuals of their rights and particularly those groups likely to be profiled. Ethnic and cultural diversity within the security forces is also key. There are good practices on police -community relations in some parts of Spain that can be expanded to other areas.  The oversight over police misconduct particularly with regard to racial discrimination and ethnic profiling through internal disciplinary procedure should be complemented by an independent civilian mechanism.

Without ethnically disaggregated data, it remains difficult to assess progress in addressing discrimination and exclusion. It is essential that the state invests more in independent studies to assess progress in the absence of ethnically disaggregated data.

The Government should also ensure the effective implementation of the existing laws in line with its international human rights obligation.

I also recommend the adoption of a comprehensive legislation on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. In addition the Council for the Promotion of Equal Treatment should be strengthened, particularly in the areas of independence, and solid competences including the capacity to represent victims of racial discrimination before the Court, and increased resources.

It is crucial that Spain makes the agenda of combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance a priority. In particular, there is a need for a clear and more visible political leadership in combating racism and xenophobia. The struggle against racism cannot be effective unless it is led by the most senior political leadership. The technical processes in various ministries and independent agencies are not sufficient in the absence of such political leadership.

Furthermore while the economic crisis has put pressure on the Government and severely affected the Spanish society, the economic crisis should not become the reason for rolling back progress in the fight against racism and xenophobia.

Indeed there is already an ongoing dynamic that the Government should seriously take into consideration in order to avoid a deterioration of the situation with regard to racism in Spain. Besides the loss of financial support to groups working on the issues of racism and xenophobia, the situation has also led to incidents of scapegoating of some vulnerable groups such as migrants and asylum seekers as being the cause of the economic hardships. As events elsewhere have demonstrated, blaming vulnerable groups for the economic crisis can create a climate of racial hostility and violence against such groups.

I thank you.