UN Report: Spain Needs to do More to Fight Racial Discrimination

Spain has accepted 80 recommendations proposed during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council aimed at fighting racial discrimination but it still needs to do more.

In January 2020, Spain underwent the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Every five years the UPR evaluates progress member states are making on fundamental guarantees and produces a series of recommendations for the state under review. Spain received 275 recommendations proposed by 110 states.

In July 2020, during the 44th session of the Human Rights Council, Cristóbal González-Aller Jurado the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations, reported on the recommendations accepted by the government and the measures that it will take to implement them. Of the 275 recommendations, 252 were fully accepted, 13 will be partially implemented and 10 were rejected.

Response to systemic racism is insufficient

Of the 252 recommendations accepted by Spain, at least 30% are aimed at implementing measures to guarantee the compliance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of minority groups, including migrants, Roma, refugees and people of African descent, with special focus on ending police stops based on ethnic and racial profiling.

Many of the accepted measures are already being implemented and so the government does not consider it is necessary to redesign them. However, in recent years several organizations have reported that police stops based on racial profiling, harassment, racist attacks and hate speech remain a problem throughout the country.

The report The COVID-19 Health Crisis: Racism and Xenophobia During the State of Alarm in Spain, prepared by the Team of the International Decade of People of African Descent in Spain and Rights International Spain (RIS), includes more than 70 racist incidents and institutional discriminatory practices that occurred between 15 March and 2 May 2020, which reveal how the health crisis has been a setback in the fight against racial discrimination, regardless of the protocols of action and anti-racist measures already in place.

For this reason, the Bill for Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination that the government will soon submit to Parliament will only be comprehensive if it includes, in addition to the preventive approach and the regime of infractions and sanctions, a common criterion on the definition of race-related crimes and incidents and structural reforms that can effectively correct the shortcomings of the Spanish system in the fight against racial discrimination. It should also introduce statistical data on the ethno-racial composition of the population in order to evaluate the extent of racism, as well as the revision of textbooks and educational material to ensure that they reflect historical facts about slavery, the African slave trade and colonialism.

However, even though a lot of the recommendations have been accepted, Spain's response to the UPR leaves out extremely important issues such as revising the Law on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in order to make it more respectful of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. This implies maintaining unequal rights for different racial groups for the next five years.

Government failing to protect migrant workers

Among the recommendations that were rejected, it is worth noting in a time of global health crisis, Spain's refusal to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which protects the rights of migrant workers regardless of their administrative situation.

The grave rights violations suffered by seasonal migrant workers have been denounced by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent in August 2018 and Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, during his visit to Spain in February 2020.

Nonetheless, the government still refuses to ratify the most far-reaching international treaty on migration and human rights at a time when many seasonal workers are suffering violent attacks due to rumors that they are the cause of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Alternatives to migratory detention rejected

Spain has also rejected the possibility of eliminating all forms of detention of migrants and asylum seekers. Several international bodies have declared that the deprivation of liberty for someone who has not committed a crime is inhumane and against human rights. Likewise, various studies and initiatives in other European countries demonstrate that there are successful alternatives to migratory detention.

Despite this, the Spanish government will continue to detain migrants whose administrative situation is irregular, ignoring both the recommendations of the Human Rights Council's special procedures as well as the demands of civil society and thus perpetuating a migration policy based on structural racism.

About the authors of this piece:

*Isabelle Mamadou is an expert on human rights of populations of African descent.

*Esther Mamadou is an expert in human rights and forced migration.