Events of 2008

Following the reelection of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as prime minister in March, the Spanish cabinet contained equal numbers of men and women for the first time, including a female minister of defense.

In September the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of four of the 21 people found guilty in 2007 in relation to the Madrid train bombings of 2004. It also convicted one Spanish man who had previously been acquitted of providing the explosives for the attack. In October the same court acquitted 14 of 20 men convicted in February for plotting a bomb attack on the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's counterterrorism court.

In addition to ongoing cases involving international terrorism, there were a number of attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA and arrests of alleged ETA members throughout 2008, as well as ongoing prosecutions of individuals and groups allegedly connected to ETA.

In May the UN special rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, issued a series of recommendations to the Spanish government, highlighting the need for the "complete eradication" of incommunicado detention and for a review of overly-broad terrorism offenses. These concerns were echoed by the Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations in October.

Scheinin also criticized the use of diplomatic assurances in an extradition case to Russia. In February the Audiencia Nacional had approved the extradition of Chechen Murat Ajmedovich Gasaev on the basis of diplomatic assurances from Russia that he would be treated humanely. At this writing Gasaev is still in detention pending a decision from the Council of Ministers on whether to go ahead with the extradition.

In May an Audiencia Nacional judge ordered the government to provide detailed information about stopovers of US military planes in Spain on their way to or from Guantanamo Bay between 2002 and 2007. The Ministry of Defense responded in September that US military flights to Guantanamo had passed through Spain but asserted that none carried passengers or cargo that could be "controversial." The judge requested further information.

An unrelated request by a different judge in the same court for the transfer of Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes from the UK to stand trial in Spain for terrorism offenses following their release from Guantanamo was dropped in March.

There continued to be a marked drop in arrivals by sea of irregular migrants – down 8 percent in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 and down 64 percent since 2006, according to Spain's Interior Mministry. In September-October 2008, however, Spanish authorities intercepted two boats off the Canary Islands containing a total of 329 irregular migrants, including children.

The Spanish Ombudsman confirmed reports of ill-treatment and criticized inadequate care facilities for unaccompanied migrant children in the Canary Islands. The Spanish government continued to push for the return of unaccompanied children to Senegal and Morocco without adequate safeguards. More than two dozen court decisions blocked children's repatriations because the repatriation decisions did not comply with Spanish or international law.

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