African Descent & Human Rights Groups Call for an End to Institutional Racism in Spain

The initiative, launched by organizations based in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Almeria and Murcia, urges the Spanish government to meet the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent recommendations.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, 19 African descent organizations and five human rights organizations are asking the government to end police identification stops based on ethnic features. The call is being made through a letter addressed to the interior minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido Álvarez.

“Mr. Minister, people’s race, on its own, is not a valid criterion for police action. In order to meet its international duties on human rights, the Spanish State must end all practices having as a goal to criminalize part of the population due to their ethnic appearance”, says the letter. And it adds that “police should be an institution creating confidence, not fear."

Independent complaint mechanism

The recent visit of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent to Spain allowed the UN to assess the human rights situation of people of African Descent living in Spain, and to collect information on the ways racism, race discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia are connected to the intolerance they are facing.

Among the preliminary conclusions of their first official visit, from 19 to 26 February 2018, the working group declared that "being identified by ethnic profiling is the reality lived by African descent people in Spain just due to their skin color" and recommended Spain to penalize police who perform identifications based on racial profiling, as well as to carryout specific awareness-raising campaigns to change stereotypes against African descent people.

In this sense, and following UN recommendations, the organizations are asking for, among other measures, setting up a specific complaint mechanism independent from the police and training public servants about the banning of ethnic profiling in identification stops.

A chance to properly address ethnic profiling

Police controls based on ethnic profiling cause humiliation and damage to the dignity of people who are subjected to them. The reactions of part of the African descent community and other collectives targeted by this discriminatory practice, highlighted by the deaths of two Senegalese "manteros" (illegal street vendors) in the Lavapies neighborhood of Madrid last week, show the degree of unrest and mistrust existing towards the police. Measures demanded by the working group offer a chance to address this situation.

According to Esther Mamadou-Blanco, human rights expert and legal coordinator of the Implementation Team of the International Decade for People of African Descent in Spain, “arbitrary stops by the police perpetuate stereotypes linking black people to criminality […] furthermore, the Citizen Security Act has a dissuasive effect of people who want to report discriminatory attitudes from the law enforcement agencies.”