Spain - Push-Backs - Ceuta

Europe's Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims

Four years of impunity: Spanish judge refuses to hear survivors and to fully investigate lethal push-back at Ceuta border

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

Spain - Push-Backs - Ceuta

Europe's Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims

Four years of impunity: Spanish judge refuses to hear survivors and to fully investigate lethal push-back at Ceuta border

At least 15 people died and several more were injured on 6 February 2014 during 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 other 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. On 28 January 2018, the local judge in charge of investigating the fatal push-back closed the case against officers of the Guardia Civil for the second time. ECCHR's partner lawyer, Gonzalo Boye from Madrid, immediately appealed this decision.

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.

Context

Only after the appearances of extensive video footage and eye-witness testimonies did the Spanish government admit that rubber bullets had been used. And it took more than a year until a judge decided to officially investigate 16 Guardia Civil officers allegedly involved in the incident. During the initial investigations authorities continued to maintain that the Guardia Civil fired only into the water and that none of the refugees were injured. But in accounts given to media and human rights organizations in Spain, survivors have made clear that the shots were aimed specifically at refugees and their life preservers. Many of the refugees had been wearing floatation devices as they were not able to swim. The regional court had quashed a decision in January 2017, explicitly ordering the identification, location and hearing of direct victims and witnesses. Subsequently two victims now residing in Germany informed the judge of their willingness to testify. However the judge hindered their participation in the investigation by closing it without hearing them. The court further found that the postmortems carried out were inadequate. The decision came in response to a complaint submitted by a Madrid lawyer working with ECCHR against the closing of proceedings in October 2015.

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glossary

Push-backs are unlawful state acts by which refugees and migrants are physically forced back over the border they just crossed.
Public international law is the system of laws governing relations between states and other subjects of international law.

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