According to Amnesty International, the prosecutor's office is obstructing investigations by various courts into the violence perpetrated by Spain’s National Police and Guardia Civil during the 1-O [1 October] independendce referendum. In its report '1-O in Catalonia: Obstacles to the Investigation into the Excessive Use of Force', the human rights NGO argues that, instead of leading the investigation, the prosecutor's office’s actions "serve to downplay the charges" and "obstruct the proceedings" and that it even shows "a lack of interest in the process, which makes it difficult for the judicial authorities to get to the bottom of the facts". As a result, the NGO is calling on the public prosecutor's office to "radically change its attitude" and to conduct an "immediate, impartial and effective investigation".
Amnesty International reported that, having reviewed several cases, it has found an "excessive use of force" on the part of the two Spanish police forces and that "the public prosecutor's office is failing to carry out its duty in conducting investigations to uncover the facts". The ministry’s attitude, which AI’s director in Spain Esteban Beltrán called "worrying", is further compounded by "the lack of internal investigations by the Ministry of the Interior", plus the statements issued by the ministry to exonerate police officers for any culpability over an excessive use of force. Beltrán warned that "it jeopardizes the search for accountability for what happened and the uncovering of the facts".
Amnesty claims that the public prosecutors, who ought to combat such behaviour, instead seek to portray "the violence committed by the protesters" as a "crucial element that negates the need for judicial investigations into the excessive use of force". AI also points out that the prosecutor had objected to the fact that a court allowed those who were injured by the police from being involved in the case, arguing that since their injuries were minor, there was no need to start an investigation. The prosecutor intended for only those individuals who had received medical or surgical treatment to be offered the chance to take legal action.
Of the investigations into police brutality in eight Catalan courts, Amnesty International focused on three cases in particular. Two are in connection with the work carried out by Barcelona’s Court of Instruction number 7, based on 257 complaints against the police, including Roger Espanyol —who lost the sight in one eye due to a rubber bullet fired outside a polling station— and Alejandra Rayas –-who was hit in the eye by a truncheon, outside another polling place-–. Both victims are being represented by Irídia, the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, who collaborated with Amnesty International on the report. The third case corresponds to the proceedings of Girona’s Court of Instruction number 2 following 200 complaints against the police regarding the Guardia Civil's actions in Aiguaviva, where tear gas was used against people offering peaceful resistance.
Amnesty International claims that the Spanish police "made a dangerous, improper use of anti-riot gear, including kinetic impact projectiles such as rubber bullets, blank cartridges and chemical irritants". In a press release, AI stated that it has been concerned as to the use of such "equipment" in Spain for several years, since "although it is not designed to be lethal, it is highly inaccurate" and it can result in "serious injuries or even death". For this reason Beltrán also called for rubber bullets to be banned throughout Spain.
Although Amnesty International does not hold back in its criticisms of police excesses, it also states that the National Police and the Guardia Civil were only acting "in order to comply with a court order" issued by the High Court of Justice of Catalonia, to prevent the referendum from going ahead and that "on occasions", the police officers were "clearly obstructed" from going about their duties. AI stated that it has seen images that "show protesters exhibiting violent behaviour against police officers", such as a chair being thrown at a Guardia Civil officer in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada.
Amnesty International’s Demands
AI has called on the authorities to take steps to ensure that effective investigations are carried out into the excessive use of force by the police and that victims receive compensation. They are calling for five specific measures to be taken:
- That the public prosecutor's office "radically changes its attitude" and complements the judicial proceedings currently underway with an "immediate, impartial and effective investigation", in keeping with its duties as outlined in its statute.
- That the Interior Ministry conducts "internal investigations" to decide who is to blame for the police brutality and to "identify underlying organizational factors" –such as the chain of command, rules of engagement and training– to ensure that such "violations of human rights are not repeated".
- That the Ministry of the Interior "fully cooperates with the justice system" by rapidly providing all the information requested by the investigations.
- That while investigations into the events continue, the Ministry of the Interior suspends from active duty "all civil servants charged with upholding the law who are the subject of disciplinary or criminal investigations for ill-treatment".
- That the Ministry of the Interior refrains from using rubber bullets in Spain, as they lack accuracy and they carry a high risk of hitting vulnerable parts of the body, such as the eyes. Amnesty has joined the campaign led by several groups, including Irídia, calling for such a ban.