Spanish authorities must show leadership in the fight against racism and xenophobia in the country, an independent United Nations expert said today, adding that, against a backdrop of pervasive unemployment, the Government must ensure vulnerable groups such as immigrants are not blamed for the nation’s economic woes.
“It is crucial that Spain makes the agenda of combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance a priority,” said the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere, at the end of his visit to the country. “In particular, there is a need for a clear and more visible political leadership in combating racism and xenophobia.”
Mr. Ruteere acknowledged that the economic crisis has put pressure on the Government and on the severely-affected Spanish society, but stressed that this should not be a reason to backtrack on significant progress achieved in addressing racism and xenophobia.
“There is already an ongoing dynamic that the Government should seriously take into consideration in order to avoid a deterioration of the situation with regard to racism in Spain,” he said.
In particular, Mr. Ruteere warned that incidents of scapegoating vulnerable groups such as migrants and asylum-seekers as the cause of economic hardships can create a climate of racial hostility and violence against these groups.
“Stigmatization of certain groups, including migrants, and the propagation of racial prejudice and negative stereotypes by the media has also been reported. More needs to be done in order to prevent the negative portrayal of migrants in the media, including their criminalization,” he said.
Mr. Ruteere said that during his visit, the emergence of hate speech and xenophobic discourse among politicians and political leaders was brought to his attention, and he underlined that political leaders have a responsibility to strongly denounce such discourse, including when it comes from within their own ranks.
Regarding the situation of the Roma people, he noted that some of them continue to face significant challenges when it comes to gaining access to housing and employment. The economic crisis has only worsened their conditions, further marginalizing them and making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.
“Special attention should also be paid to non-Spanish Roma people who are still marginalized and facing hostility from the population in some places, including those from Portugal, Romania, and other countries,” Mr. Ruteere said.
The Special Rapporteur also called for increased attention to the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Ceuta and Melilla, where asylum-seekers face long delays in the processing of their asylum requests, and for the rights of migrants working in agricultural areas of the country, especially women, who face sexual violence and prostitution.
The expert also called for a long-term solution to the working and living conditions of migrants based in the area of Poblenov in Barcelona, where they live in inhumane and degrading conditions, and the situation of forced evictions in the areas of Cañada Real and Puerta de Hierro in Madrid.
“These situations are simply unacceptable and Spain should find a comprehensive solution for these victims. In this regard, adequate information, genuine consultation and effective participation of the victims are important.”
During his eight-day visit, Mr. Ruteere held meetings with representatives from the Government, at the national, regional, provincial and local levels, as well security forces, civil society organizations and community members working in the field of racism.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. Mr. Ruteere is scheduled to present a report to the Council on his visit to Spain in June.