Tech & Rights

UN: Spanish Police Violating Rights of People of African Descent in Pandemic

The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has expressed concern about systemic racism during the coronavirus pandemic and has urged governments to end police impunity.

by Rights International Spain
Yackoley Kokou Johnson, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, chairing the debate on racism during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council. Source: UNTV

The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has released the results of its research COVID-19, systemic racism and global protests. The document includes the findings of UN experts on police violence during the pandemic and reveals, among other things, the lack of official data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and the "inhumane" detention conditions migrants and asylum seekers are subjected to. The Group concludes that "neglecting race has led to critical failures" in the response to Covid-19.

Spain: second most cited country by UN experts

For the first time since the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002, Spain is among the most cited countries by the United Nations for violence against people of African descent, behind only the United States. The dossier includes the concerns and recommendations contained in the report "The COVID-19 Health crisis: racism and xenophobia during the state of alarm", prepared by the Team for the International Decade for People of African Descent in Spain and Rights International Spain (RIS). The report shows how the health crisis has meant a step backwards in the fight against racial discrimination in Spain.

Domestic and care workers

The Working Group has cited the report to point out the situation of domestic workers, many of whom have lacked the necessary personal protective equipment and safety guarantees to help people infected by COVID-19, thus exposing themselves to a high risk of infection. In addition, as many of them do not have employment contracts or their administrative situation is irregular, they have had to avoid police checkpoints during confinement, because they couldn't prove they were in fact going to work, risking detention, deprivation of liberty or contagion.

Police brutality

The UN experts also pointed out the increase in police violence against people of African descent. According to document, 70% people of African descent detained by Spanish police reported abuse or brutality. It has also been claimed that officers are particularly insensitive when dealing with people with mental disorders, often using violence against them. Many of the people stopped by police said they now avoid going out in the street, even for basics such as food or medicines, out of fear of the police.

In some cases, episodes of police violence have been recorded, and this was later used to justify the arrest of witnesses of such violence. While several Spanish law enforcement entities have been involved in incidents of this type, the National Police are considered one of the worst offenders. According to the Group, the restrictions imposed were used "as a pretext to apply the law disproportionately and to use violence against people of African descent".

Failure to include an ethnic-racial perspective

The UN document also reveals "clear racial disparities" in the application of COVID-19 related restrictions and states that the harm suffered by people of African descent has been exacerbated because their condition has not been taken into account when addressing the impact of the pandemic: "policymakers are minimizing the needs of and risks to people of African descent in the current crisis". In this context, it is noted that "some states have politicized the current public health emergency to evade their human rights obligations".

The Group concludes that "widespread protests have illustrated how people of African descent and others recognize their lack of visibility, and the disregard and police violence of which they are victims of in their own communities" and that "racial disparities suggest that the precarity that many people of African descent experience, particularly in intersectional populations, will increase".

In Spain, since the end of the state of alarm no measures have been taken to address these issues and correct the problems and violations denounced. It is vital that the authorities take into account the specific needs of racially diverse people and integrate them into the measures to be adopted. In these uncertain times, with possible future confinements, we fear a scenario of more inequality, more brutality and more discrimination.