Spain - Push-backs - Ceuta

Europe's Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims

Court decision in El Tarajal/Ceuta case: Investigations have to be reopened, survivors to be heard as witnesses

Spanish-Moroccan border at El Tarajal/Ceuta © Photo: Metromuster/Observatori DESC
Spanish-Moroccan border at El Tarajal/Ceuta © Photo: Metromuster/Observatori DESC

Spain - Push-backs - Ceuta

Europe's Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims

Court decision in El Tarajal/Ceuta case: Investigations have to be reopened, survivors to be heard as witnesses

At least 15 dead and many more injured: this is the outcome of a brutal push-back operation by the Spanish Guardia Civil – a paramilitary police force – at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the beach of El Tarajal. ECCHR is assisting survivors and witnesses of the events of 6 February 2014 in taking legal proceedings against the Guardia Civil, whose actions were in violation of both Spanish and European law.

The investigations against Guardia Civil officers have been closed three times: in October 2015, in January 2018 and in October 2019. ECCHR and its partner lawyer in Madrid, Gonzalo Boye, successfully appealed the first two closings. A decision on the third appeal is pending.

Case

Nathan (full name known to ECCHR) was 15 years old when he joined a group of around 400 refugees and migrants attempting to swim across the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on 6 February 2014. Members of the Guardia Civil responded with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas. At least 15 people were killed; many more were seriously injured. 23 people who reached the shoreline were summarily deported to Morocco without any examination of their asylum rights. The brutality displayed in Ceuta is symptomatic of the violent and unlawful practice of "push-backs" being carried out at the EU's frontiers in complete disregard of the rights of those seeking safety in Europe.

Only after the appearances of extensive video footage and eye-witness testimonies did the Spanish government admit that rubber bullets had been used. During the investigations authorities continued to maintain that the Guardia Civil fired only into the water and that none of the refugees were injured.

Context

It was more than a year after the deadly push-back when Spanish authorities decided to officially investigate 16 Guardia Civil officers allegedly involved in the incident. In October 2015, the Spanish judge decided to close the investigations. Due to flaws in the investigations, the Audencia Provincial (Regional Court) of Cádiz ordered that the proceedings be reopened, first in January 2017 and later in August 2018.

In March 2019, one of the survivors testified for the first time via video conference from Berlin. Later that year, another survivor was prevented from giving evidence due to technical problems at the Spanish court. In September 2019, the investigative judge ordered to prepare a hearing on gross negligence manslaughter and failure to provide assistance. However, a month later, following an appeal by the public prosecutor against the opening of this hearing, the proceedings were closed for the third time. Boye appealed this decision in November 2019.

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glossary

Push-backs are a set of state measures by which refugees and migrants are forced back over a border – generally immediately after they crossed it
Public international law is the system of laws governing relations between states and other subjects of international law.

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