UN expert praises Spain’s role on terrorism but calls for legal reforms
Spain has played an important role in the global fight against international terrorism by promoting human rights, but it should reform some of the ways it handles terrorism suspects domestically, according to a United Nations expert on human rights.
Concluding a week-long visit to Spain, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism today described Spain’s “active role” in safeguarding the human rights of suspects as a “best practice,” and called on the Government to maintain that role.
However, Martin Scheinin also called for a series of domestic legal reforms and expressed his concern at allegations of torture and ill-treatment by suspects held in Spanish jails.
Mr. Scheinin said he was mindful of the tragic incidents that have had “devastating effects in Spain,” citing the bomb attacks in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and the recent violent attacks by the Basque group ETA.
He praised Spanish authorities for not calling for the suspension of international human rights law in respect of counter-terrorism measures, and underlined the importance of an “unconditional commitment by all authorities to the principle that terrorism must be combated within the framework of the law, including human rights law.”
At the same time Mr. Scheinin expressed “his concern over the fact that allegations of torture or other forms of ill-treatment continue to be made by terrorism suspects and do not systematically result in rapid and thorough independent investigations.” He added that Spanish penitentiary authorities had also admitted that there had been “incidents of inappropriate treatment of Muslim detainees, including disrespect for their religious beliefs and practices.” The Special Rapporteur welcomed the willingness of the Government to initiate human rights training within the prison system.
Mr. Scheinin also called for the end of the practice of incommunicado detention of terrorism suspects and requested that the Spanish Government consider trying terrorism crimes in ordinary courts, instead of in a single specialized court called the Audiencia Nacional, as at present. He warned that parts of the Spanish Penal Code relating to terrorism were “broad and vague,” and carried the risk of a “slippery slope” which would lead to crimes being classified as terrorism and result in suspects being held incommunicado and facing aggravated penalties.
He said that many aspects of the trial relating to the March 2004 Madrid bombings could serve as best practices for a criminal trial of a major act of international terrorism. However, he said that defence lawyers had been unable to give assistance to their clients during years of pre-trial detention because of the secrecy of the investigation and a lack of logistical support.
Mr. Scheinin said the Spanish authorities had confirmed to him that terrorism suspects had passed through Spain under the “extraordinary rendition” programme conducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency – in which some prisoners were allegedly transported to countries which had a known record of using torture. The Rapporteur welcomed an investigation into the reports and called extraordinary rendition a human rights violation.
Mr. Scheinin also welcomed the decision by the Audiencia Nacional to dismiss charges against two detainees who were brought to Spain from the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, saying that “any information obtained at Guantánamo interrogations is inadmissible as evidence in any type of judicial proceedings.”