Head of state: King Juan Carlos I de Borbón
Head of government: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 44.6 million
Life expectancy: 80.5 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000

Torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials were widely reported. There was continued use of incommunicado detention. The armed Basque group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) continued its campaign of violence, claiming responsibility for killing four people. Efforts by the authorities to control migration in co-operation with the EU and certain African countries jeopardized the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers. A judicial investigation was opened and then closed into enforced disappearances during the 1936-39 civil war and the Franco dictatorship. On 12 December the government adopted its national action plan for human rights.

Torture and other ill-treatment

There were widespread allegations of widespread torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. In April the Constitutional Court reiterated the need for thorough and effective investigations into all such allegations. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism expressed concern that allegations of torture and other ill-treatment continued and did not systematically result in prompt and thorough independent investigations. Some political and legal authorities continued to argue that allegations of ill-treatment by detainees held on terrorism charges were part of a strategy to discredit the state.

  • The judicial investigation continued into the death of Osamuyia Akpitaye, a Nigerian national who died in 2007 when being forcibly expelled from Spain. The investigating judge had charged the police officers involved with a "misdemeanour". However, following an appeal by the Public Prosecutor and the victim's family, the investigating court was ordered to lay a more serious charge against the police officers. At the end of the year the case was still under investigation.

  • The investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of detainees at Les Corts autonomous Catalan police station in Barcelona continued to progress slowly. In one incident, concealed camera footage from March 2007 showed police officers beating, kicking and insulting a detained man. Five officers were suspended from duty following the opening of a criminal inquiry, but on 16 January they returned to active duty while awaiting the outcome of the investigations. In June the Public Prosecutor formally presented charges against the officers of falsifying police documents and minor assault. The Prosecutor requested a sentence of four and a half years' imprisonment for the charge of falsifying documents and 15 months' imprisonment and a fine for degrading treatment and assault. At the end of the year the trial date had still not been set.

  • Almost three years after Mohammed Fahsi was allegedly tortured while being held incommunicado in January 2006, no criminal investigation into the allegations had been opened. Both the General Council of the Judiciary and the Madrid Public Prosecutor were asked to investigate; both replied that there were no grounds to do so.

  • On 5 January, two suspected members of ETA were detained and held incommunicado by Civil Guards in Mondragón (Guipuzcoa). Both were reportedly ill-treated during arrest, with one subsequently admitted to San Sebastián hospital with two broken ribs and a punctured lung. An investigation into allegations of ill-treatment was opened immediately by Investigating Court No.1 of San Sebastián but had not concluded by the end of the year.


  • On 22 July Basel Ghalyoun was forcibly returned to Syria, despite concerns that he would be at risk of torture and arbitrary detention. On 17 July the Supreme Court had acquitted him of involvement in the 11 March 2004 bomb attack on commuter trains in Madrid, and he was released from prison. Upon his release he was immediately taken into police custody under an expulsion order, as his residence permit had expired while he was in prison. Neither he nor his lawyer had been aware of the expulsion order, and his lawyer was unable to submit an appeal against it before Basel Ghalyoun was expelled. He was arrested on arrival in Syria and held incommunicado at an undisclosed location.

  • On 31 December Murad Gasayev, a Russian citizen of Chechen origin, was extradited to Russia despite evidence that he would be at risk of an unfair trial and torture or other ill-treatment. The National Criminal Court approved the extradition request on the basis of "diplomatic assurances" from the Russian Public Prosecutor's office that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) would be allowed to visit Murad Gasayev in detention. The CPT informed the Spanish authorities that it would not accept this responsibility due to serious concerns over the reliability of such "diplomatic assurances". Despite this, the Spanish authorities extradited Murad Gasayev under the condition that the Spanish embassy in Moscow would be able to visit him.

Abuses by armed groups

ETA claimed responsibility for killing four people in 2008 and carrying out numerous bomb attacks. On 2 April the newspaper Gara published threats by ETA against members of the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, the Basque Nationalist Party and the public radio and television network in the Basque Country. Bomb attacks claimed by ETA on a Civil Guard barracks in May and at a military academy in September killed two officers.

  • On 7 March, two days before the national general elections, a former councillor from Spain's ruling Socialist Workers' Party was shot and killed in the Basque Country in an attack claimed by ETA. Isaías Carrasco was shot outside his home in Mondragón and declared dead in hospital.

  • On 3 December Ignacio Uría Mendizábal, joint owner of one of the construction companies involved in the high-speed train route connecting the Basque Country with Madrid, was shot dead. ETA claimed responsibility. In August, ETA had claimed responsibility for three bomb attacks on companies involved in the train construction works and issued threats against them.

Counter-terror and security

Both the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism and the Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the definition of terrorism in some articles of the Spanish Criminal Code could include acts that do not appropriately fall under this category. They also repeated the long-standing calls on Spain to abolish legislation authorizing incommunicado detention of people held on terrorism-related charges. Following the example set by the Basque and Catalan autonomous police forces, the national authorities announced that video cameras would be installed in the cells at the National Criminal Court where detainees are held incommunicado, as a precaution against torture and other ill-treatment. However, their use is not compulsory and must be requested by the investigating judge in each case.

The judicial investigation by the National Criminal Court continued into suspected rendition flights by CIA-operated aircraft and US military planes which stopped at Spanish military airports or crossed Spanish airspace. The government submitted information to the investigation regarding several flights to or from Guantánamo Bay between 2002 and 2007. In December top secret official documents from January 2002 were leaked to the press. These confirmed that the Spanish authorities at the time had knowingly authorized the use of Spanish military bases during the transfer of detainees to Guantánamo Bay, at the request of the US authorities.

  • On 5 March, the National Criminal Court cancelled the European detention orders it had issued in December 2007 for Omar Deghayes and Jamil El Banna, and abandoned criminal proceedings against them. The two men had returned to the UK in December 2007 following several years in US custody at Guantánamo Bay. They were both wanted by the Spanish authorities on terrorism-related charges. The two men had returned to the UK in December 2007 following several years in US custody at Guantánamo Bay. The National Criminal Court ordered that proceedings against Omar Deghayes and Jamil El Banna be abandoned. It stated that, although the Spanish investigation was initiated before the men's detention in Guantánamo Bay, any information later revealed in court which had any connection to their detention in Guantánamo Bay would be inadmissible as evidence and could contaminate proceedings. The Court also concluded that given the ill-health of the accused, it would be inhumane to continue proceedings. The Court noted that both men had suffered torture and other ill-treatment while detained for a prolonged period of time outside the rule of law in Guantánamo Bay.

Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers

Large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers continued to risk their lives travelling to Spain along dangerous sea and land routes, suffering abuse from criminal networks and state security forces along the way. Readmission agreements between Spain and numerous countries in north and west Africa did not take human rights guarantees into account adequately. Intense pressure by Spain and other EU countries to prevent irregular migration was believed to have been the cause of mass detentions and expulsions of potential irregular migrants in Mauritania.

Violence against women and girls

Three years after the introduction of the law against gender-based violence, women who had suffered such abuse continued to face obstacles in accessing legal and medical assistance in some parts of Spain. Women with irregular migrant status faced particular difficulties. In 2008, according to government statistics, 70 women were killed by their partner or former partner; 34 of the women were foreign nationals.

  • Sylvina Bassanni and her boyfriend Andrés Marzal were killed by her estranged husband on 10 April. In September 2006 she had told a court that she feared for her life as he had frequently threatened to kill her. He repeatedly breached a restraining order but no action was taken against him. Sylvina Bassanni made 28 further requests to the court for protection and investigation measures, all of which went unanswered or were refused. Six days after her death, her lawyer received a letter from the court responding to her requests, some of them a year old, and stating that the Public Prosecutor had dropped its case against her husband.


Racist attacks by private individuals and cases of torture and other ill-treatment with a racist component committed by law enforcement officials continued to be reported. According to the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, Spain is one of just five member states that do not publish official data on complaints and criminal proceedings related to racist offences.

Enforced disappearances

The procedural guidelines and mapping of graves required by the Law on Historic Memory, introduced in December 2007, had still not been developed by the end of the year. In October, an investigating judge of the National Criminal Court opened an investigation into an estimated 114,266 enforced disappearances that occurred during the civil war and early years of the Franco dictatorship. The Public Prosecutor appealed against the opening of the investigation, calling for the application of the 1977 Amnesty Law which granted amnesty for all crimes with a political connection committed up to 1977. He also stated that the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes had expired.

On 2 December, the National Criminal Court said that it was not competent to investigate crimes of this type and the investigation was closed. However, the investigating judge ruled that local courts were competent to investigate such crimes when they had been committed in their territorial jurisdiction and on 26 December he sent information to a number of local courts for further investigation on suspected cases of enforced disappearances and the illegal removal of 30,960 children from their families.

Amnesty International visits

A high-level Amnesty International delegation visited Spain in June and Amnesty International delegates visited in October.

Amnesty International reports

  • Spain: Amnesty International calls for a thorough independent and impartial investigation to determine whether human rights were violated during the arrest of Igor Portu (8 January 2008)
  • Spain: No pardon for torture! Four police officers convicted of illegal detention and ill-treatment have pardons confirmed by Supreme Court (19 January 2008)
  • Spain: Briefing to the Human Rights Committee (1 June 2008)
  • Spain: Amnesty International condemns forcible return of Basel Ghalyoun to Syria (22 July 2008)
  • España: Ejercer la jurisdicción universal para acabar con la impunidad (in Spanish 16 October 2008)
  • Spain: Catalan autonomous government must take action against police officers convicted of torture (1 December 2008)
  • Spain: Amnesty International condemns killing of Ignacio Uría Mendizábal (3 December 2008)

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