Within the span of two days, two international bodies for the protection of human rights issued statements calling attention to the shortcomings in the struggle against racism.
On 26 February, the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a public statement following its official visit to Spain. The next day, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)—a body of the Council of Europe—published its fifth periodic report on Spain.
Both reports reproach the Spanish state for permitting its police forces to continue conducting identity checks in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner, based on people’s skin color or ethnic origin instead of on objective criteria related to a reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime.
These practices continue to take place in our country, despite the fact that the Citizen Security Law passed in 2015 established that identity checks must respect the principle of proportionality, equal treatment, and non-discrimination.
An 'endemic' problem
The ECRI is quite blunt in its report, stating that “racial profiling by law enforcement is an ongoing problem.” The UN’s Working Group in turn stated yesterday during its press conference that the issue of racial profiling against people of African descent is an “endemic” problem, whereby those people are assumed to be undocumented migrants and therefore stopped by the police “simply because of the color of their skin.”
According to the UN experts, this is because, among other reasons, “Spanish legislation lacks a specific prohibition of racial profiling and does not have clear criteria for law enforcement agents to conduct identity checks.”
One of the UN Working Group’s experts, Sabelo Gumezde, added that, according to current legislation, the victims of these discriminatory police practices have no means to denounce them.
According to Gumezde, “the dissuasive provisions of the Citizen Safety Law have ended up imposing self-censure, encouraging people not to denounce discriminatory acts, which means that those acts are not investigated, the perpetrators are not tried, and the victims obtain no reparations.”
The Working Group, which will present its final report on Spain before the UN’s Human Rights Council in September, shared some of the measures that Spain should adopt to eradicate those discriminatory law enforcement checks.
Specifically, they urge Spain to: establish an independent complaint mechanism to address this issue; implement the recommendations made by the Ombudsman’s Office to prevent racial profiling (among them, the use of identification forms); provide specialized training to law enforcement officers; and implement awareness-raising campaigns to change stereotypes against people of African descent.
These reports are part of a long list of admonishments made by international, European, and national institutions to the Spanish state due to the persistence of these discriminatory law enforcement actions—from the UN’s Human Rights Committee or the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the Ombudsman’s Office of Spain.
Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights recently admitted a lawsuit against the Spanish state by Zeshan Muhammad, a Pakistani citizen who was stopped and searched by the national police, according to the police officer, because he was “black, period.”
Time to do away with discriminatory practices
Liberties member Rights International Spain (RIS), an organization that very actively participated in the encounters held with civil society by both ECRI and the Working Group on People of African Descent, welcomed these two pronouncements and recognized that they are a victory of the anti-racist movement led by people who suffer these discriminatory acts.
Cristina de la Serna, a lawyer in charge of the non-discrimination area of RIS, has called on Spanish authorities to act: "The Ministry of the Interior has the roadmap to eradicate racial profiling in identity checks in Spain; it is up to it to do away with a discriminatory law enforcement practice that affects racialized people in Spain simply for not being white."