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The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) examines Spain. March 14, 2011

Posted by cristobalgomez in Uncategorized.
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Esteban Ibarra

The ECRI was founded in 1993 to strengthen the fight against all forms of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance in Europe. It was a mandate from the First Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the member states of the European Council, with the objective of combating the growing problems of racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance which threaten human rights and democratic values in Europe. This commission evaluates the efficiency of all existing national and international measures and promotes action in the local, national, and European spheres at a legislative and political level.

One aspect of the diverse activities the ECRI has developed to carry out its mandate is focusing its investigations “country by country,” studying in depth the situation in each one of the member states in order to collaborate with their governments through concrete and adequate proposals. Consequently, in 1999, the ECRI published its first report on Spain signaling as areas requiring maximum attention: the marginalization of the Gypsy community and the marginalization of immigrants, particularly Africans; the rapid and comprehensive application of the new regulations in the Penal Code to improve the protection offered by the law; the measures to combat Ultras and neo-Nazi activities; and the need to improve and reach a higher level of precision in the statistics of vulnerable groups and racist acts.

The ECRI’s second report was presented in 2003. In its executive summary, it indicated that Spain has adopted a series of measures to combat racism and intolerance, including criminal regulations and educational initiatives aimed at helping children at risk of social exclusion, particularly Gypsies and immigrants. Nevertheless, it indicated that the issues of racism and xenophobia continue to affect the two groups essentially, indicating that it could be produced, in part, by an inadequate application of the legislation in force to fight these phenomena and by the extended use in public debate of arguments and images which create a negative tone toward immigration and immigrants. The report points out worriedly that the racial dimension in crime has increased, including acts of violence, and that this should be recognized and studied statistically. The report calls the attention of the Spanish authorities to the existence of extremist organizations on the Internet, Ultras [right-wing extremists] groups in football stadiums, and the so-called Hate Music.

The third report, presented in 2006, highlighted that the Spanish authorities had shown their will to change from a policy of immigration laws to a policy of immigration and integration. This change of focus is reflected, for example, in the opening of a process of “normalization,”  which has permitted some 700,000 non-citizens working illegally in Spain to obtain work and residency permits. They are creating a State Council of the Roma, and debated a reform of the education system whose objective, among other things, is promoting equal opportunities for children who need special educational support, including many Roma/Gypsy children and children who are not Spanish-speaking. However, some recommendations put forth in the ECRI’s second report, such as the demand to move forward with legislation to fight racism — the application of regulations which establish racial motivation as an aggravating circumstance for example — had not been achieved. They had not established a specialized body and racial discrimination in diverse spheres continued to affect the everyday lives of people in ethnic minorities, including Gypsies, immigrants from North African and sub-Saharan Africa, and South Americans. These people are also particularly affected by the habitual police practice of ethnic profiling, which increases their likelihood of being the object of bad police conduct. The ECRI insisted in its third report that it continues to be necessary to recognize and fight appropriately against racial violence and xenophobia; to fight against racist organizations, including neo-Nazi and skinhead groups; to fight discrimination and labor exploitation of immigrants; and to give border police and police service employees (particularly in the Canary Islands, Ceuta, and Melilla) intensive training in human rights, non-discrimination, and refugee rights.

Finally there is the fourth report, presented in February 2011 and unexpectedly, the ECRI asked the Spanish authorities to comply with three specific recommendations which would be the object of monitoring and evaluation, beginning in, at most, two years. They demand that the authorities compile data on racist and discriminatory acts because there are no related official statistics; they recommend that the police and private security personnel, public prosecutors, forensic doctors, lawyers, and judges receive training in human rights oriented toward fighting racism; and they recommend revising the methods of admitting students to schools for an equitable distribution of Spanish students, immigrants, and Gypsies. Spain continues in a Chiaroscuro in the fight against racism and intolerance. Indeed, the ECRI recognized and praised the fact that Spain has invested human and financial resources in the fight against racism; that they have named special public prosecutors against hate crimes; and they created the Council for the Promotion of Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination of People based on Ethnic or Racial Origin, a body committed to helping victims and compiling data on reports; that they have created the State Commission against Violence, Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance in Sports; that school curricula include the topic “citizenship and human rights education” and the Holocaust; and that they push forward measures of integration of immigrants and improve the procedure of asylum. They have also approved another Plan of Action for the Development of the Gypsy Population for the 2010-2012 period, in addition to creating the National Gypsy Counsel and the Institute of Gypsy Culture.

Nevertheless, there was criticism, as the ECRI pointed out that they lack data on racism acts and about the application of criminal, civil, and administrative regulations in force; the Council for the Promotion of Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination of People based on Ethnic or Racial Origin is not an independent body and is not recognized by the public; the Constitutional Court has declared punishment for denial of the Holocaust unconstitutional; racism on the Internet continues to grow in Spain, where there exist a large number of neo-Nazi movements; in education there persists an unequal distribution of immigrant and Gypsy students and the existence of “ghetto” schools; there are contradictory regulations in regards to the practice of racial profiling and there is no independent commission in charge of investigating reports of bad police conduct; and the new law on the rights and freedoms of foreigners in Spain has opened to the door to the possibility of discriminatory restrictions, as it guarantees the right to housing benefits on an equal level with Spaniards only for “long-term” foreign residents, and in the rest of the cases leaves the decision to the discretion of the Autonomous Communities with competence in this field.

Moreover, the ECRI report points out that access to secondary education is restricted to legal immigrant residents and that “non-citizens” cannot vote or be candidates in elections at the local level. In the case of Muslims, the difficulties include obstacles to obtaining construction permits to build mosques and the fact that the right of Muslim students to receive religious instruction based on Islam is often not respected. The new law regulating the right to asylum, enacted in 2009, limits the right to solicit asylum to citizens of countries outside the European Community and stateless people. Finally, it points out the lack of social workers in internment centers, and in related to the treated unaccompanied immigrant minors receive, they have detected many deficiencies, including the absence of independent legal representation in repatriation procedures, lack of information about the right to asylum and to solicit residency in Spain, and the use of obsolete and unreliable methods to determine age.

In two years, the process will begin for provisional monitoring of the three more serious deficits pointed out: compilation and publication of data for racist attacks which as we have seen pointed out systematically, training of police and legal workers, and revision of access to education to avoid the segregation of immigrants and Gypsies. Hopefully all receive good grades.

Esteban Ibarra

President of Movement against Intolerance

 

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