Europe’s Treacherous Borders: Seeking Justice for Ceuta Victims
Spanish court orders reopening of investigations into brutal 2014 Ceuta police action
At least 15 people died and several more were injured in February 2014 during an operation by the Guardia Civil, Spain’s paramilitary police force, at the border between Morocco and the Spanish exclave of Ceuta. On 12 January 2017 the Audiencia Provincial regional court in Ceuta ordered the reopening of investigations into officials involved in the deadly push-backs.
The court found that insufficient witness evidence had been gathered and that the postmortems carried out were inadequate. The Court’s decision comes in response to a complaint submitted by a Madrid lawyer working with ECCHR against the closing of proceedings in October 2015.
Victims of fatal push back finally granted fundametal right to have rights
“The victims of Ceuta were people fleeing from war and desperate hardship. On reaching Europe’s borders they were illegally and brutally pushed back. The Spanish authorities have now finally granted them the fundamental right to enforce their rights,” says ECCHR cooperating lawyer Gonzalo Boye.
Violent realty of border protection: ECCHR supports survivors and witnesses of push-backs
They call it the “protection of the EU’s external borders”. But Nathan (full name known to ECCHR) has first-hand experience of what this really means. At ECCHR's event, Europe’s treacherous borders: justice for the Ceuta victims! in February 2015, he described the fatal push-back action carried out almost one year before in Ceuta.
15 dead, many injured - the push-back on 6 February 2014 in Ceuta
Nathan 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, Spain’s paramilitary police force, 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.
Spain reluctant to investigate fatal push-back
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.
Druing 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.
Events in Ceuta are symptomatic of the EU’s external border practices
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.
ECCHR's work on migration
ECCHR is assisting Nathan and 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. We are cooperating closely in these cases with our colleague Gonzalo Boye in Madrid and with Spanish NGO Obervatori DESC in Barcelona.
ECCHR staff members have spoken to refugees and migrants in Spain, Germany and Morocco who witnessed or, like Nathan, experienced first-hand the events.
Over the past years ECCHR has also been taking legal action on the practice of illegal push-backs in Melilla (Spain) and Idomeni (at the Greek-Macedonian border).