Report to U.N. Details Pervasive Ethnic Profiling in Spain

Spanish police are guilty of focusing identity checks and stops on people who “do not look Spanish,” according to a statement by an international human rights law group to the U.N’s top expert on racism and discrimination.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has told Mutuma Rutureere, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, that Spanish police “routinely rely on physical or racial characteristics when conducting identity checks in the course of ordinary law enforcement and as part of immigration control.”

Mr. Rutereere has been on an official visit to Spain this week that will result in an assessment of the country’s progress in eliminating racism and racial discrimination in line with its obligations under international law.

A submission to Mr Rutereere from the Justice Initiative highlights Spain’s failure to respond effectively to a 2009 ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in the case of Rosalind Williams v. Spain, which stated that  physical and ethnic characteristics cannot be used by the police to justify singing them out for identity checks.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative said: “Four years ago the UN Human Rights Committee ruling in the case of Rosalind Williams made it clear that the practice of ethnic profiling by Spanish police constitutes illegal discrimination; it is time for the government and the national police authorities to take concrete steps to eliminate these racist practices.”

The Justice Initiative also notes that:

  • In 2011 alone, the Spanish National Police carried out 8,773,862 identity checks. In conducting these checks, the police officers have targeted people based upon their ethnic characteristics.
  • Although the General Directorate of Police Directive (Circular 2/2012) stated that police should avoid indiscriminate actions based solely on ethnic criteria, police officers continue to rely upon ethnic and racial profiling when conducting identity checks, as documented by the Brigadas Vecinales de Observación de Derechos Humanos. The Spanish government has failed to implement effective measures to prevent ethnic profiling and continues to violate the human rights of ethnic minorities.
  • Spain is a multiethnic country, with more than 12% of the population being of foreign descent. As a result, ethnic profiling increasingly stigmatizes and marginalizes a large and important part of Spanish society

Among its recommendations, the Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on Spain to:

  • Amend the laws governing police activities to prohibit explicitly the use of physical or ethnic characteristics to target persons for control – and to establish clear criteria for initiating and conducting controls based upon reasonable suspicion.
  • Introduce “stop forms” to record all police stops and guarantee the rights of the people stopped.
  • Ensure police officers receive effective training in human rights protections.
  • Take initiatives to improve police-community relationships and build trust.
  • Ensure the hiring and promotion of ethnic minorities within the police department.

During his official visit, the Special Rapporteur has met with a broad range of civil society organizations and representatives of the Spanish government. He is expected to present his findings and recommendations in a public report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2013.

The Open Society Justice Initiative, part of the Open Society Foundations, uses law to protect and empower people around the world. Justice Initiative’s work on eliminating discrimination includes research, litigation and capacity-building aimed at ending ethnic profiling by police in the U.S. and Europe.