Seven reasons why Spain is failing on human rights

From police brutality, failure to meet refugee relocation quotas, and eroding the right to freedom speech, Spain still has a long way to go on human rights, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Seven reasons why Spain is failing on human rights
A protest against domestic violence. Photo: AFP

The campaign organization released on Wednesday its annual human rights report for 2016-17,  delivering the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in 159 countries around the world.

These are the seven areas of concern identified in Spain.

1. Freedom of expression and assembly

Spaniards have been protesting as the country's new “gag law” comes into force. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

Throughout 2016, the repressive “gag law” was used to place “unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information and public assembly” according to the report..

It was a year that saw two puppeteers imprisoned for five days for performing a street play which included the sign “Up with Eta” in reference to the Basque separatist terrorist group. They were investigated for “glorifying terrorism and incitement to hatred” but the charges were later dropped.

2. Torture and other ill-treatment

New cases of torture and other ill-treatment, including excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, were reported throughout the year, stated the report. 

The report highlighted the case of Ester Quintana, the protestor who lost an eye after being hit with a rubber bullet by the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force during a demonstration in Barcelona. The trial, which took place last May, ended with the acquittal of the officers involved as the court was unable to establish which one had fired the bullet.

3. Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Migrants at the fence separating the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco. Photo: AFP

Spain was slammed for the inadequate reception system for asylum-seekers, with too few places at reception centres and not enough assistance for those housed outside them. Spain was also criticised for its failure to implement the Asylum Act, six years after its entry into force and the enormous backlog of asylum applications – registered at 29,845 cases by August.

The report also slammed authorities for the collective expulsion of migrants who climbed the border fences from Morocco into the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta and allowed them to be beaten by Moroccan officers who entered into the territory between the fences.

READ MORE: Refugees welcome in Spain. So where are they?

Despite Spain pledging to take in 1,449 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, Spain only accepted 289 individuals – all Syrian refugees –  by the end of December.

Likewise, only 363 refugees were resettled to Spain from overcrowded camps in Italy and Greece by December, a far cry from the commitment to take in 15,888 people.

4. Impunity

Archive photo from the Spanish Civil War: AFP

Spain was criticised for failing to investigate crimes carried out during the Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

It was noted that Spain is continuing to refuse to cooperate with the Argentine judiciary to investigate crimes, such as enforced disappearance and torture, under international law.

5. Discrimination – Migrants’ Health

Spain was called out once again for failing to offer protection to some of the most vulnerable social groups. The report blamed austerity measures for restricting health care for undocumented migrants, removing health cards from 748,835 people and potentially putting their lives at risk. It said women had been particularly effected, with barriers placed on access to services related to sexual and reproductive health.

6. Right to housing

An eviction in Seville. Photo: Gogo Lobato/AFP.

Evictions have been a major flashpoint in Spain since the economy crashed in 2008, and the housing crisis continued during 2016 with 19,714 forced mortgage evictions and 25,688 evictions for nonpayment of rent.

“Householders facing repossession claims continued to lack adequate legal remedies to enforce the protection of their right to housing before courts,” said the report.

7. Violence against women

Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Spain's Ministry of Health reported that 44 women were killed by current or former partners during 2016 – a reduction on the 56 killed in similar circumstances the year before but enough to continue being concerned about “the effectiveness of prosecutions and the adequacy of victim protection measures.”

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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.