Spain: Interior Minister must end to the use of rubber bullets
Amnesty International has verified through cases it has documented that the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) is not fulfilling its obligation to pursue investigations into excessive use of force on 1 October by state security forces, specifically members of a special tactical unit of the National Police and the Civil Guard.
In a report presented today, 1-O en Cataluña: Obstáculos para la investigación del uso excesivo de la fuerza (1 October in Catalonia: Obstacles in the investigation of excessive use of force), Amnesty International shows that, faced with the efforts of various courts to establish the truth of what happened, the PPO is taking steps that obstruct the proceedings and encourage the disqualification of complaints. The PPO has even shown a lack of interest in the process, complicating the efforts of judicial authorities to clarify what happened.
For example, the PPO tried to present acts of violence by demonstrators as fundamental evidence that should preclude investigations into excessive use of force, presenting videos showing the participation of protesters in incidents with security forces.
Similarly, the PPO opposed the offer made by Regional Court J17 to injured parties that they could appear for the proceedings. The PPO claimed that due to the minor nature of the injuries, no investigation of the events was warranted unless an affected person made an official complaint. For those who did not make an official complaint, the PPO urged the court to limit its offer to injured people who required medical treatment or surgery, but not include those who only required one-off medical attention.
“The lack of Interior Ministry internal investigations into to the abuses committed on October 1, along with the PPO’s worrying attitude and its declarations that their agents are free of responsibility for excessive use of force, put at risk the chance to achieve accountability for what happened as well as clarification of the facts,” said Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain.
Open investigations in eight Catalan courts are investigating various complaints. Amnesty International is monitoring particularly closely the investigations into the three cases it specifically documented, as well as the investigations before Regional Court 7 of Barcelona that cover 257 complaints (among them the cases of Roger Español and Alejandra Rayas), and of the investigation before Regional Court 2 of Girona that covers 200 complaints (among them those relating to the incidents at Aiguaviva).
Excessive use of force on 1 October
Even if security forces did act to follow a legal order from the Supreme Court of Catalonia, which ordered them to stop the referendum, Amnesty International was able to verify that law enforcement agents made use of dangerous and inappropriate anti-riot materials, among them kinetic impact munitions such as rubber bullets, blanks and abrasive chemical agents.
For years Amnesty International has expressed its concern over the use of these anti-riot materials in different parts of Spain. Though they are designed to be non-lethal, they are very imprecise, which means that they can cause serious injury and even death when used at short distances.
“The rubber bullets which are being used in Spain should be banned for being highly imprecise and not having protocols for their use that meet international standards, which prohibit, among other things, that they be used to disperse a crowd,” said Esteban Beltrán.
Amnesty International documented the case of Roger Español, who lost an eye due to the impact of a rubber ball fired by the National Police at the intersection of Sardenya Street and Diputació Street. Another case of excessive use of force involving inappropriate use of abrasive chemical agents took place in the area of Aiguaviva, Girona, where a Civil Guard agent used a hand-held incapacitant spray on people passively and peacefully resisting a police operation to seize ballot boxes.
Amnesty International also confirmed excessive use of force against people who sought to vote in the referendum and did not pose any threat to law enforcement. Such is the case of Alejandra Rayas, who was waiting peacefully to vote in front of the Mediterranean School in Barcelona when a National Police officer struck her in the face and the neck for no apparent reason.
Conversely, the actions of security forces were at times clearly interfered with. According to data from the Interior Ministry, on 9 March 2018, 58 National Police officers and 37 Civil Guard agents were injured as a consequence of such impediments. Amnesty International has seen images that show violent behavior against law enforcement by some protesters. The events at the Sant Joan de Vilatorrada voting centre in Barcelona are an example. A member of the Civil Guard was injured when a chair was thrown at him.
Amnesty International’s Petitions
Authorities must adopt measures to guarantee that effective investigations take place into cases of excessive use of force. Authorities must also ensure that victims of human rights violations committed by the police on 1 October receive immediate and adequate restitution including indemnities, and that this is not contingent on whether individual law enforcement agents are convicted, or on whether the victims have presented a civil complaint in court.
· The Public Prosecutor’s Office must radically change its attitude, adopt a proactive role in the ongoing judicial proceedings, and pursue open investigations, especially those related to the serious cases of 1 October. As the statutes that govern the actions of the PPO state, the PPO must pursue an immediate, impartial and effective investigation when there are reasonable grounds to believe that mistreatment has occurred, even when there is no express complaint. The PPO must also ensure procedural protection for victims and the protection of eyewitnesses and expert witnesses.
· The Interior Ministry must carry out internal investigations to determine responsibility and identify underlying structural factors, such as law enforcement chains of command or procedural and training norms. It must also identify the administrative, disciplinary, or other measures that must be taken to guarantee that these human rights violations do not happen again.
· The Interior Ministry must proceed with the recall of the rubber bullets currently used in Spain and suspend their use, because their technical characteristics make them highly imprecise and create a high risk of indeterminately striking vulnerable parts of the body (especially the eyes) and even make them prone to striking people not targeted by the shooter.