29th February 2024
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Amnesty slams Spain & Morocco for ‘multiple human rights violations, a cover-up & racism’

Amnesty International said on Tuesday that a failure by Morocco and Spain to properly investigate the deaths of 37 migrants at the border of Spanish enclave city of Melilla in northwest Africa in June ‘smacks of a cover-up and racism’.

The human rights organisation said in a report presented in Madrid that there is a ‘growing mountain of evidence of multiple human rights violations, including the unlawful death and ill-treatment of refugees and migrants’.

The organisation accused Madrid and Rabat of ‘excessive use of force’ and an ‘abject failure’ to provide the truth about what occurred.

The deaths occurred when some 2,000 migrants stormed the Melilla border fence from the Moroccan side on 24 June. At least 23 died, although rights groups say the number was higher. Spain denies its police units used inappropriate force and says there were no deaths on Spanish spoil. Morocco has been mostly silent on the issue. ALSO READ: Spanish government under fire after BBC report on migrant deaths at border.

‘Authorities on both sides have failed to ensure effective and transparent investigations in order to establish the truth about what happened that day,’ Amnesty said in its statement. ‘Families and expert organisations searching for the missing have been repeatedly impeded by Moroccan authorities.’

Amnesty said 37 migrants were killed and 77 others were still missing.

‘The methods used by Moroccan and Spanish authorities at the border crossing known as ‘Barrio Chino’ contributed to the deaths of at least 37 people and to injuries to dozens more,’ Amnesty said.

Prior to the Amnesty report, videos published in a joint investigation by NGO Lighthouse, Spain’s El País newspaper and other media organisations, including the BBC, showed the gruesome events of the storming.

Hundreds of men, some wielding sticks and other items, climbed over the fence from Morocco and were corralled into a border crossing area. When they managed to break through the gate to the Spanish side, it appears a stampede led to the crushing of many.

Moroccan police launched tear gas and beat men with batons, even when some were prone on the ground. Spanish guards surrounded a group that managed to get through before apparently sending them back.

The clash ended with African men, clearly injured or even dead, piled on top of one another while Moroccan police in riot gear looked on. Many were reportedly refugees from Sudan.

‘Some of the actions by Spanish and Moroccan officials … may amount to breaches of the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment,’ Amnesty said.

These included ‘beating people who were already restrained or unresponsive due to injury, denying emergency medical assistance to those injured, repeated use of tear gas against people who have no way of escape and are in a confined space’.

‘At this dismal six-month anniversary [since 24 June], the Spanish and Moroccan authorities continue to deny any responsibility for the carnage at Melilla,’ said Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard.

‘There is a growing mountain of evidence of serious and multiple human rights violations … This smacks of a cover-up and racism.’

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska maintained that the Spanish response by police was ‘appropriate’ to handle a group of around 1,700 migrants who used clubs, sticks, axes and saws to violently force their way across.

‘I know of no country that would accept a violent attack on its frontier,’ Grande-Marlaska said last month.

The Amnesty report says the events of that day were predictable and loss of life avoidable. It says both Moroccan and Spanish authorities failed to provide prompt and adequate medical assistance to the injured.

The metal border fence surrounds Melilla, a town of 85,000 separated from Spain’s mainland by the Strait of Gibraltar. Melilla and its sister enclave of Ceuta have become crossing points for African migrants prepared to risk their lives to flee war and poverty.

Spain’s state prosecutors and Ombudsman’s office have both opened probes into the Melilla incident. Human rights watchdog Council of Europe has also voiced concern.

Click here to read the full report from Amnesty International.

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