KINGDOM OF SPAIN: Excessive use of force by National Police and Civil Guard in Catalonia

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5 Oct 2017
[International Secretariat]

Amnesty International has directly confirmed on the ground that members of the National Police force's Police Intervention Unit (UIP) and Civil Guard officers used excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators who were passively resisting in the streets and at the entrances to polling stations. The security forces were acting on the ruling of the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC), which ordered them to prevent the holding of a referendum. The Ministry of the Interior reports that the security forces intervened and shut down 92 polling stations. According to information from the Generalitat (the government of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia), there were a total of 2,315 polling stations, 400 of which were shut down by court order.

An Amnesty International delegation of five people has been monitoring the situation in Catalonia for several days, including the afternoon of Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October, and visited numerous polling stations throughout the weekend, gathering testimonies and statements.

According to figures provided by Catalonia’s Regional Ministry of Health at midday today, on Sunday 1 October, 893 people were attended at primary healthcare centres and hospitals for wounds, bruising or health issues resulting from the police action. Two people with serious injuries have been admitted to Sant Pau and Vall d’Hebron hospitals. According to Ministry of the Interior sources, 19 National Police officers and 14 Civil Guard officers sustained injuries. Various images also show demonstrators behaving violently towards Civil Guard and National Police officers.

The human rights organization has also documented dangerous and inappropriate use of riot control equipment such as rubber balls by National Police officers, for instance at the junction of Calle Sardenya and Calle Diputación, in Barcelona. Two Amnesty International observers witnessed a police charge by officers trying to clear the way after a group of demonstrators sat in the street to block the passage of police vans following a police intervention at Ramón Llull state school to remove the ballot boxes from the polling station.

After having been blocked by the demonstrators for almost half an hour, the officers forced them to move by beating them with their rubber truncheons.

Amnesty International recalls that the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials of the United Nations warn that rubber balls can cause serious injuries, especially if they impact the head, face or upper body. In order to comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality, and, more generally, to respect the right to life and personal integrity, law enforcement officials must not use this type of riot control equipment as a general crowd dispersal tool, but only to stop people behaving violently.

The organization has also received accounts and has seen images showing that officers used riot control equipment and excessive force against people who had gathered in the vicinity of certain schools, such as Escuela Mediterrània in the Barceloneta district of Barcelona. Images in the media show how, outside this polling station, police officers beat defenceless people who posed no apparent threat.

Finally, Amnesty International recalls that as long as the participants of a meeting or demonstration do not violently resist the police, officers should not use force. When demonstrators are merely passively resisting achievement of the police objective, only minimal force should be used and, in any case, should be proportional to the objective sought. In the opinion of the organization, footage of demonstrators being removed from Instituto Pau Claris secondary school on Passeig Lluís Companys in Barcelona shows how some of the people gathered there were violently beaten and shoved by police officers, even in cases where there did not appear to be any resistance.

“The National Police and Civil Guard were clearly obstructed in performing their duties at numerous polling stations, however, there is a great deal of information available showing that police officers used excessive and disproportionate force.

Amnesty International is calling on the Spanish authorities urgently launch a thorough, immediate and impartial investigation into the excessive and disproportionate use of force by members of the National Police and Civil Guard. Any use of force by law enforcement officials should be in compliance with international law and standards, and be subject to review. If the investigation concludes that excessive force was used, those responsible should be subjected to the appropriate criminal or disciplinary procedures. The misuse of force by law enforcement officers must be treated as a crime.

3 October 2017

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