Challenge to Racially Biased Police Stops Filed in Spain

A Spanish legal resident today filed a complaint before Spain’s Ministry of Interior alleging he was racially profiled by Spain’s National Police. The individual was stopped in Barcelona by a National Police officer under suspicion of being in the country illegally based upon his perceived skin color.

During the stop, the officer admitted that he would not stop a white person and said the reason for the stop was because “you are black and that’s it.”

The complaint was filed today before the Ministry of Interior with the support of SOS Racisme Catalunya and the Open Society Justice Initiative. The applicant has asked not to be publicly identified outside the administrative complaint procedure.

The complaint argues that stopping someone because of one’s perceived skin color (a practice known as “ethnic profiling”) violates the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in Spain’s Constitution and in numerous international treaties ratified by Spain.

Today’s complaint is the first legal challenge to ethnic profiling filed in Spain in 22 years. The previous case was filed by Rosalind Williams, a Spanish citizen who filed a similar complaint in 1992. In response to that case, Rosalind Wiliams v. Spain, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in 2009 that “the physical or ethnic characteristics of the persons targeted should not be considered as indicative of their possibly illegal situation in the country,” and that ethnic profiling is discriminatory and illegal. The ruling also condemned the previous 2001 ruling by Spain’s Constitutional Court in the same case, which said that racial or ethnic appearance alone could justify an immigration stop.

Despite the UN Human Rights Committee ruling, Spanish authorities have not taken effective measures to end ethnic profiling—as evinced by the complaint filed today.

The complaint highlights just one of the thousands of ethnically discriminatory police stops that take place every day in Spain. The practice has been documented and condemned by numerous experts, including the Spanish Ombudsperson’s office, numerous domestic human rights organizations, and international human rights bodies (including the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism). A recent national survey published by the University of Valencia showed that ethnic minorities are disproportionately stopped by the police compared to whites.

Alba Cuevas, director of SOS Racisme Catalunya, said: “Beyond the illegality of this practice, we have documented that identity stops of people of immigrant origin often lead to frequent cases of abuse by police officers. Additionally, these stops also foment and spread racism throughout society as well as criminalizing the individuals affected. There are more than enough reasons to end this illegal practice.”

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “Ethnic profiling by police violates basic principles of equality and has no place in an increasingly multiethnic country, such as Spain,” said “The complaint filed today is an important step in overturning this unfair practice.”

Because the practice is so widespread, the complaint filed today seeks a broader legal prohibition of ethnic profiling by police throughout Spain, as well as a remedy for this particular victim.