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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Spain

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Spain, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Spain is a democracy with a constitutional monarch. The Parliament consists of two chambers, the Congress of Deputies and the Senate.

The security forces are controlled by the Government; allegations of human rights abuse are generally investigated, and individuals found guilty are punished by law. Spanish security services also maintain anticorruption brigades which investigate allegations of governmental fraud or dishonesty. Since 1989 there has been a Special Advisor for Human Rights in the Ministry of Justice and Interior, charged with promoting humanitarian law and training senior members of law enforcement groups in human rights issues. Years-old charges of police abuse of detainees were still being investigated at year's end.

The economy is market-based, with primary reliance on private initiative, although there remain a number of public-sector enterprises in key areas. The economy has been in recession since 1992, but it grew by an estimated 1.7 percent in 1994. While the unemployment rate improved, at year's end official data indicated it remained well over 20 percent. Actual unemployment is lower than these data indicate, due to the extensive underground economy. Nonetheless, the rate is problematically high. The main causes of this are the entry of large numbers of people into the labor force (disproportionately affecting women and youth) and some labor laws that tend to impede job creation. Parliament in 1994 enacted a labor reform package to help create jobs.

The Constitution provides for the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, assembly, press, religion, movement, and suffrage, and the Government respects these provisions. The Basque Fatherland and Freedom Separatist Group (ETA) continued its longstanding terrorist campaign, committing killings and other abuses. The Government's efforts to bring terrorists to justice were marred by detainees' accusations of ill-treatment. In September 1993 two suspected ETA collaborators died while in police custody; the Government has not yet released the results of its investigation. A prisoner died under disputed circumstances while in solitary confinement. Other human rights problems included persistent de facto discrimination against Roma, reports of police mistreatment of detainees, and maladministration of Spain's judicial system as it copes with a huge backlog of cases (of all kinds of crime) and a severe shortage of justices.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known political killings by government forces, but the September 1993 incident in which two suspected ETA collaborators died while in police custody was still under investigation at the end of 1994, and in February a prisoner was found dead in a solitary-confinement cell.

Regarding the 1993 incident, one death was due to cardiac arrest, and the other to a fall from a second-story window. The Prime Minister pledged the Government would carry out an investigation, with total "transparency," until both deaths were fully explained. A prominent nongovernmental human rights organization launched its own investigation.

The Government considers the February prison "suicide" case closed. While medical evidence indicates the prisoner's death was the result of severe trauma to the head, there is no conclusive evidence as to whether this was caused by a severe beating by guards (as inmates allege) or by self-inflicted injuries (as authorities claim, saying he had a history of mental illness and self-beating). Local human rights organizations are divided on this question.

In July a former Civil Guard member and three other defendants charged with the 1992 race-motivated killing of a female Dominican illegal immigrant were convicted of the much-publicized crime. The ex-Guard member was sentenced to life imprisonment (see Section 5).

A detailed investigation by the judiciary completely exculpated the police in the case of an American citizen who died in 1992 after fleeing police in the Canary Islands; the family of the deceased, and their legal representative, accepted this outcome.

To avoid a possibly negative ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, in March the Government agreed to settle out of court a 1982 case involving a youth who was killed while in police custody in the Canary Islands. The European Commission of Human Rights ruled in favor of Spain against the charges of torture, and that there was no violation of the right to life. But it concluded that the father of the victim had been denied due process in seeking justice for the death of his son; the Government awarded him $47,000 (6 million pesetas).

There continued to be frequent terrorist incidents. During the first 10 months (latest data), 14 attacks attributed to the ETA resulted in 15 deaths and 39 injuries. As usual, the majority of those killed were members of security forces. However, in May the ETA planted bombs on beaches near San Sebastian, and the resulting explosions maimed three persons. The ETA carried out beatings and killings of suspected drug dealers and others it deemed "enemies of the Basque people"; at least three people are believed to have been killed for this reason during the year. Other actions by the ETA and its affiliates caused property damage in the Basque region.

In September a lawyer for Castilian-speakers opposing Catalonia's Law of Language Normalization (see Section 5) received a letter-bomb that failed to detonate. No one claimed responsibility, and there have been no arrests.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance. The Basque industrialist whom the ETA kidnaped in 1993 was released later that year; authorities have not been able to determine whether any ransom was paid. (The Government forbids payment of ransom by families of kidnap victims, and in some cases it has frozen the family's assets.)

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such acts. Spain is a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture. Nonetheless, detainees charged with terrorism invariably assert they have been abused during detention, and similar charges are sometimes made by other detainees. In July a high-level investigation into the alleged abuse of six recently captured terrorists concluded that the claims were unfounded. ETA members in Uruguay unsuccessfully based their arguments against extradition on grounds they feared mistreatment in Spain.

Nonetheless, documented cases of abuses do exist. Individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and the media frequently have accused the Civil Guard of unprovoked brutality, particularly in the Basque region. The Spanish Association Against Torture asserted that the number of complaints of police brutality increased by 40 percent from 1992 to 1993. In November it asked the Minister of Justice and Interior to review the status of 335 security personnel who have been officially implicated in torture or abuse. The U.N. Human Rights Commission reported in February that there are eight unresolved cases of individuals abused while in custody during 1992-93. In November the U.N. Committee Against Torture agreed for the first time to review a case alleging mistreatment by Spanish security forces; an ETA terrorist sentenced to over 2,000 years in prison claimed he was tortured during his 1990 interrogation. In the military, various complaints of mistreatment of recruits surfaced in 1994, some of which led to proscutions of military officers.

In December 1993 the Supreme Court overturned the appeals of five former members of the Civil Guard convicted in 1990 of torturing the father of a suspected ETA member in 1981. The perpetrators received 6-month prison terms and 7 years on probation. Others implicated in the crime or its coverup received probation or reprimands.

In March a court sentenced five national police officers to 5 1/2 months in prison and 48 years on probation for torture and illegal detention of seven transients in 1982 and for perjury.

In July the Supreme Court overruled a lower court's decision that the statute of limitations had run out for charges against five policemen for torture in a 1982 incident. (One defendant had been convicted earlier of a different torture charge, yet was able to keep his job during the years of litigation on the 1982 incident, and was even promoted to commander.) All are now serving sentences.

In November two Civil Guard officers were convicted of torturing two female ETA suspects in 1984; the offenders were sentenced to 6 months in jail and 26 years on probation. Also in November, a Basque tribunal convicted three other officers of police brutality in a retrial (ordered by the Supreme Court) of a 1982 case in which the three had been found not guilty; each was sentenced to 2 months in jail and 2 months on suspension.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the authorities respect this provision. A suspect normally may not be held more than 72 hours without a hearing. The Penal Code permits holding a suspected terrorist 2 more days without a hearing. An asylum law passed in May permits the petitioner to be detained at the port of entry for up to 4 days without a hearing, but at year's end the legality of the law was under review by the courts (see Section 2.d.). Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial. This right is observed in practice. The judicial structure comprises territorial, provincial, regional, and municipal courts, with the Supreme Court at its apex. A Constitutional Court protects constitutional rights, but there is no clear distinction between its jurisdiction and that of the Supreme Court on some issues, nor is it clear which has ultimate authority. The European Court of Human Rights is the final arbiter in cases concerning human rights.

A severe backlog of pending cases--some 40,000 of all kinds (not only human rights)--and an acute shortage of judges have made plain the need to overhaul the judicial system. In September the Government submitted to Parliament bills covering judicial reform and establishment of a jury system.

Defendants have the right to be represented by an attorney (at state expense for the indigent). They routinely are released on bail unless the court has reason to believe the suspect may flee or be a threat to public safety. The law calls for an expeditious judicial hearing following arrest. Suspects may not be confined for more than 2 years before being brought to trial, unless a further delay is authorized by a judge, who may extend pretrial custody to 6 years. In practice, pretrial custody generally is less than a year. In cases of petty crime, suspects released on bail sometimes wait as long as 5 years for trial. As of July, 12,780 people were in jail awaiting trial--over one-fourth of the entire prison population, although this is down from 38 percent in 1990. Following conviction, defendants may appeal to the next higher court.

Human rights groups and members of the press complain that accused human rights offenders have avoided penalization by prolonging the appeals process, and that sentences for convicted abusers are unduly light. (Both kinds of complaints are borne out by the 1994 court actions reported above in Section 1.c.)

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution protects the privacy of the home and correspondence. Under the Criminal Code, government authorities must obtain court approval before searching private property, wiretapping, or interfering with private correspondence. The antiterrorist law authorizes the Minister of the Interior to act prior to obtaining court approval "in cases of emergency." There have been no complaints of abuse of this authority. The Congress of Deputies passed legislation in 1992 broadening police authority to makes searches and detentions without a court order, mostly in antinarcotics operations, but in 1993 this law was ruled unconstitutional. During the 20 months it was in force, this law led to 340 raids and 940 arrests. Many damage claims have been filed against the Government.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these provisions. Opposition viewpoints, from political parties and other organizations, are freely aired and widely reflected in the media.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under the Constitution, all groups have the right of free assembly and association for political or other purposes. This right is fully respected and freely practiced.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this in practice. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, and its institutions receive official funding. Protestant and Jewish leaders have refused the Government's offer of financial support.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are free to travel within and outside the country, to emigrate, and to repatriate. The law on aliens permits detention for up to 40 days prior to deportation, but specifies it must not take place in a prison-like setting. Generally, the Government grants refugee status on the recommendation of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Suspecting that economic refugees are clogging the system with spurious requests for asylum, the Parliament passed a new law on asylum which took effect in September. This gives the Ministry of Justice and Interior more powers to handle asylum cases, but mandates that they be referred to the UNHCR for appeal. Asylum requests may be made only at the port of entry, where the applicant can be held for up to 4 days without judicial intervention. Time allowed to process the application can prolong the initial detention to 7 days. The new law also allows the applicant to stay in detention until the case is resolved; 1993 cases took 3 months on average. No provisions are made for detainees to have access to translators or lawyers. Enforcement of the new law has been held up pending a court ruling on its constitutionality.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: the Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Spain is a multiparty democracy with open elections in which all citizens 18 years of age and over have the right to vote in secret ballot for Parliament as well as for provincial and local bodies. At all levels of government, elections are held at least every 4 years.

Governmental power is shared between the central Government and 17 regional "autonomous communities," which are similar to U.S. states in function. The Basque and Catalan regions are governed by regional parties that reflect the desires of many there to give political expression to their linguistic and cultural identities. These parties provide democratic alternatives to separatist groups which advocate achieving independence through terrorist violence.

Women are increasing their participation in the political process. The number of female candidates increased in the 1993 national elections. However, under Spain's electoral system the percentage of votes for a party determines the number elected from that party's list of candidates; and because many women have been placed in the lower half of the list, the number elected has never reached 25 percent of those who attain office. In the Congress, 54 of the 350 deputies are women, while in the Senate women number 32 of 256 members. There are three female ministers. In March the ruling Socialist Party mandated a 25-percent quota for women to participate in all its political endeavors. Other parties have similar quotas, but none currently fulfills them.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of nongovernmental human rights groups are established in Spain, including the Human Rights Association of Spain, in Madrid, and the Human Rights Institute of Catalonia, in Barcelona. All operate freely without government interference.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens, and an independent Ombudsman actively investigates complaints of human rights abuses by the authorities.


While in recent years women have moved towards equality under the law, and entered the educational system and the work force in larger numbers, traditional attitudes continue to impose de facto discrimination. This varies considerably among the regions. Although one-third more women (mainly those under age 29) work outside the home than a decade ago, women make up only a third of the total work force. Growing numbers of women occupy senior governmental positions, among them the Ministers of Social Affairs, Health, and Culture, and about 30 percent of the number of judges (a profession that was closed to women before 1977). Also, women outnumber men in the legal, journalistic, and health care professions.

The law mandates equal pay for equal work. In March the Constitutional Court ruled that 140 women employed at a cosmetics firm were paid less than their male colleagues, and awarded them back pay plus damages. Earlier, the United Left Party proposed legislation to overcome what it asserts is a 20 percent gap between the average salaries of women and of men.

Sexual abuse, violence, and harassment of women continued to be areas of concern. According to the nongovernmental (but largely government-funded) Commission for Investigation of Mistreatment of Women, 86 women were killed by male partners in 1993 (latest data). The Commission estimated that only 10 percent of the approximately 250,000 violent acts against women each year are reported to authorities, owing in part to the unsympathetic attitudes of some police and judicial personnel. Some rape cases in 1994 were decided on the degree of the victim's physical resistance. According to the Rape Victim's Assistance Association, 322 rapes and 409 sexual assaults were reported in 1993. A 1989 law prohibits harassment in the workplace, but very few cases have been brought to trial under this law.

Several levels of government provide assistance to battered women. A toll-free hot-line advises women where to go for government shelter or other aid if maltreated. The Government also runs educational programs seeking to change public attitudes that contribute to violence against women. The Women's Institute has charged that some judges show reluctance to get involved in cases of violence against a woman by a member of her family. Similarly, in smaller towns some police officers have been reluctant to accept complaints from battered women. Recognizing the latter problem, the Ministry of the Interior initiated a program in 1986 that created special sections within the national police to deal with violence against women, staffed by specially trained women officers.


The Ministries of Health and Social Affairs are responsible for the welfare of children, and have created a number of programs to aid needy children. Under the expected new Penal Code, children under age 18 are not considered responsible for their acts, and so cannot be sent to prison.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Roma, constituting about 3 percent of the population, continue to suffer de facto discrimination in housing, schools, and jobs. Legal mechanisms exist by which they may seek redress, and the Government has stated its commitment to securing equal treatment for them. In November the ex-mayor of Mancha Real and six others began serving their sentences for destroying seven Roma homes in May 1991 in retaliation for the murder of a non-Roma Spaniard; the ex-mayor was convicted of inciting the mob that attacked a Roma settlement, and in 1994 the Supreme Court extended his 1-year sentence to 5 years in prison.

Since 1991 the Madrid city government, in cooperation with the autonomous regional government, has been carrying out a program to relocate squatters--the great majority of whom are Roma--to housing projects within the region. Spain's largest Roma organization, Gypsy Presence, protests this, and complains that the city has put up fences and police checkpoints which make Roma communities resemble prison camps. In May 300 Roma were ordered to relocate to an open field; the group's complaints that that area lacks basic services have found support in nongovernment organizations and the press. The city government denies any anti-Roma bias in its actions. Six of the 17 Autonomous Communities use a language or dialect other than Castilian Spanish. The Constitution stipulates that citizens have the "duty to know" Castilian, which "is the official language of state," but it adds that other languages can also be official under regional statutes, and that the "different language variations of Spain are a cultural heritage which shall be...protected." Catalonia has passed a law whereby Catalan is to be taught in the region's schools and is to be used for official regional functions. In December the Constitutional Court ruled against a challenge to the constitutionality of this law, in a case brought by several Spanish-speakers in Catalonia who claim to be discriminated against in education and employment. Suits regarding specific applications of this law are still pending in various courts.

Spain's human rights groups and media continued to give increasing attention to the human rights of the growing numbers of illegal immigrants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa. Cases of police mistreatment were often reported. In March the Government announced it would increase deportations of non-Spanish citizens convicted of even minor crimes.

The most publicized incident against foreigners was the 1992 killing of a female illegal Dominican immigrant by an off-duty member of the Civil Guard. In July a Madrid court sentenced him to 126 years in jail and gave lesser prison terms to three co-defendants; the daughter of the victim was awarded an indemnity of $156,250 (20 million pesetas).

People with Disabilities

Since 1982 a law on assistance for disabled citizens has been in effect which aims at ensuring fair access to public employment, preventing discrimination, and improving physical accessibility to public facilities and transportation. Such accessibility has not yet improved much in many areas. In 1993 the autonomous community in Madrid passed a law requiring all new construction there to be adapted to the needs of the handicapped.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers, except those in the military services, judges, magistrates, and prosecutors, are freely entitled to form or join unions of their own choosing. All that is required for organizing a union is that more than two workers register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Spain has over 200 registered trade unions, and one not legally registered (because the Constitutional Court ruled in 1986 it was ineligible, as it represents military personnel).

Under the Constitution, trade unions are free to choose their representatives, determine their policies, represent their members' interests, and strike. They are not restricted or harassed by the Government, and are independent of political parties. A strike in nonessential services is legal if its sponsors give 5 days' notice. Any striking union must respect minimum-service requirements negotiated with the respective employer. The right to strike has been interpreted by the Constitutional Court to include general strikes called to protest government policy; in January there was a 1-day nationwide strike by a group of unions to protest proposed labor-market reform legislation. Strikes occur frequently, but most are brief. Data for 1993 (latest available) show a sharp downturn in strike activity, presumably reflecting Spain's economic recession.

Unions are free to form or join federations and to affiliate with international bodies, and do so without hindrance.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

A 1980 statute undergirds the right to organize and bargain collectively. Trade union and collective bargaining rights were extended in 1986 to all workers in the public sector, except the military services. Public-sector collective bargaining in 1990 was broadened to include salaries and employment levels, but the Government retained the right to set these if negotiations failed. Collective bargaining agreements are widespread in both the public and private sectors; in the latter they cover 60 percent of workers, notwithstanding that only about 10 percent of them are union members.

The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Discrimination cases have priority in the labor courts. Legislation in 1990 gave unions a role in controlling temporary work contracts to prevent abuses of these and of terminations of employment. Nonetheless, the unions contend employers are discriminating in many cases by refusing to renew the temporary employment contract of a worker who has engaged in union organizing; more than a third of all employees in Spain are under temporary contracts. In June the Parliament passed legislation that greatly limits the types of workers who may be employed under temporary contracts.

The same legislation abolishes some work rules dating back to the Franco dictatorship decades ago, and leaves it to the collective bargaining process to come up with replacements.

Labor regulations and practices in free trade zones and export processing zones are the same as in the rest of the country. Union membership in these zones is reportedly higher than the average throughout the economy.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is outlawed in Spain and is not practiced. The legislation is effectively enforced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The statutory minimum age for employment is 16 years. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is primarily responsible for enforcement. The minimum age is effectively enforced in major industries and in the service sector. It is more difficult to control on small farms and in family-owned businesses. Legislation prohibiting child labor is effectively enforced in the special economic zones. The law also prohibits the employment of persons under age 18 at night, for overtime work, or in sectors considered hazardous.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage for workers over age 18 is considered sufficient for a decent standard of living for workers and their families. The daily minimum wage was $15.77 (2,019 pesetas); for those aged 16 or 17 it was $10.42 (1,334 pesetas). These rates are revised every year in line with the Consumer Price Index and are effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The law sets a 40-hour workweek with an unbroken rest period of 36 hours after each 40 hours worked. Workers enjoy 12 paid holidays a year and a month's paid vacation. Worktime limits are effectively enforced.

Government mechanisms exist for enforcing working conditions and occupational health and safety rules, but bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome and inefficient. Safety and health legislation is being revised to conform to European Union directives. The National Institute of Safety and Health within the Ministry of Labor has technical responsibility for developing labor standards, but the Inspectorate of Labor has responsibility for enforcing the legislation through judicial action when infractions are found. Workers have legal protection for filing complaints about hazardous conditions.

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