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Will #Spain remain deaf to repeated calls at the #UN in Geneva for ending the abuse of pretrial detention?



On 22 January 2020, Spain’s human rights situation will be scrutinized by the UN in Geneva within the framework of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (UPR). In its report on the stakeholders’ contributions, the High Commissioner for Human Rights echoes the issues raised by different NGOs, associations, coalitions and individuals regarding the abuse of pretrial imprisonment in Spain such as: excessive duration, the system of secrecy of the pretrial investigation (secreto de sumario), the arbitrary inclusion of prisoners in remand in the Fichero de Internos de Especial Seguimiento (FIES) regime and incommunicado detention – writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Spain’s deafness and blindness

During the first UPR cycle in 2010, the UK, Slovenia, Germany and the Netherlands had already asked Spain in advance about these issues.

On 22 February 2010, the UN Human Rights Committee then indicated that “Spain should provide, within one year, relevant information on the implementation of its recommendations in paragraphs 13 (national mechanism for the prevention of torture), 15 (length of pretrial detention) and 16 (matters of detention and expulsion of foreigners). No response has been received.” (Source: A/HRC/WG.6/8/ESP/2).

Over the last ten years, Spain has turned a deaf ear to pressing concerns voiced by the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Europe and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Punishment (CPT), which problematized the FIES prison regime, also known as the Registry of Specially Monitored Prisoners.

Now, a decade later, a group of Spanish lawyers (CAPS) stressed in their joint submission to the UN (JS5, paragraph 4) that “There is also no record of Spain responding to the concerns expressed concerning the regime of secrecy during the pretrial investigation.”

Even more worrisome is the lack of adequate implementation of recommendations accepted by Spain during its previous UPR cycle in 2015, as denounced by Fair Trials and noted by the High Commissioner in its report (paragraph 28).

Now the UN once again draws the attention of all the delegations at Geneva to the numerous voices from civil society calling for Spain to: establish clear and exceptional legal criteria for applying pretrial detention; to provide for alternative measures and to ensure their use in practice; to cease using the FIES classification for non-dangerous cases; to abolish “secreto de sumario” in the context of pretrial detention; to investigate all cases of torture and ill-treatment in conformity with international standards; and to ensure that the presumption of innocence is maintained for pretrial detainees (paragraph 31).

The submissions by the various stakeholders demonstrate that these issues not only arise in the much-publicized case of the pretrial detention of several Catalonian politicians (that were recently tried and convicted to lengthy prison sentences), but also in the prosecution of ordinary economic or financial crimes. The CAPS submission describes four cases in which the Spanish judiciary abused charges of "money laundering" to mandate unjust lengthy pretrial imprisonment, so as to “soak” (in the jargon of the Spanish judicial police) people under investigation and obtain confessions.

Here is an excerpt from one of those cases:

On 23 May 2017, Sandro Rosell was arrested for allegedly creating a criminal organisation and laundering about 20 million EUR from illegal commissions through a financial transaction between two football clubs. Rosell remained in pretrial detention without bail for 21 months. He appealed for release on bail more than twenty times, once offering all of his assets (35 million EUR) as a guarantee that he would appear at the hearing. His requests were all rejected. The prosecution called for a six-year prison sentence. On 24 April 2019, the National Court ruled that he was not guilty and acquitted him of all charges. However, the National Court denied that Rosell’s pretrial imprisonment had been abusive or unjustified, and so he was not entitled to financial compensation. The judgment was confirmed by the Appeal Division of the National Court on 3 July 2019.

Along the same lines, CAPS also presented the pending Kokorev case in its submission:

“On 7 and 8 September 2015, three members of the same family, Vladimir Kokorev, his wife Yulia and son Igor, were detained for money laundering under an international arrest warrant issued by a Criminal Investigation Court in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.”

“In Panama, they voluntarily accepted extradition and were released on bail. In Spain, the judge sent them to prison without the possibility of bail, where they remained for more than two years, for most of this time with the pretrial investigation conducted in absolute secrecy. They were included in the FIES-V registry reserved for terrorist suspects, even though they had no criminal record. They began to be released without bail as the appeal court considered that their continued imprisonment could represent an anticipated punishment.”

The Kokorev case – with which HRWF is very familiar – epitomizes the tendency of the Spanish authorities to turn a blind eye to apparent judicial abuse.

The investigations started in 2004, reached the courts in 2009, and have so far been extended to February 2020. No trial is expected before 2024 – more than two decades after investigations began.

The defense counsels have repeatedly denounced the lack of judicial supervision of the investigators, which has resulted in rubber-stamping of dubious police work. This includes the use of fabricated evidence against the Kokorevs to justify their pretrial detention. The Spanish judges have, in turn, flatly refused to examine the evidence against the police and to review their work until the Kokorevs’ trial is underway.


Spain has its back against the wall concerning the systematic abuse of pretrial imprisonment, combining lengthy detentions with special regimes, such as the secreto de sumario or FIES. It cannot pretend to be a Rule of Law democracy as long as it continues turning a blind eye to reports published by international human rights organizations and institutions. Too many cases of the denial of justice have accumulated in the last decade. The time has come for Madrid to act.




EU prepares for budget impasse and an inventive workaround on Next Generation EU 



A senior European Commission official outlined the measures the EU would need to take should the EU fail to reach an agreement on the multi-annual 2021 - 2027 budget (MFF) and recovery package next week. 

The deal on the budget and the New Generation EU package was agreed after several days of negotiations in the summer. However, Poland and Hungary are threatening to veto the deal because of the agreement the German Presidency has reached with the European Parliament on rule of law conditionality.  

Time is running out and in order for the budget to be operational on 1 January, there would need to be an agreement between the Parliament and Council by Monday (7 December) on the budget for the first year of the seven-year budget, this would also require the agreement of heads of government at next week’s European Council (10-11 December) to the full budget package. In this scenario, it would then be rubber-stamped in a further conciliation (11 December) and placed before the European Parliament’s plenary (14-17 December) to be signed off.

The budget, but not as we know it

If the heads of government fail to reach an agreement next week it will automatically trigger the“provisional twelfths” (Article 315 TFEU) approach, which was last used in 1988. It is a mechanism that guarantees some degree of continuity and will be based on the current MFF. As the legal basis for some programmes expires at the end of the year, those programmes will not receive any further payment commitments. This includes major funding programmes, such as Cohesion Policy, the European research programme (Horizon Europe) and many more. It does not include pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy, humanitarian aid and the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Rebates will also vanish as there won’t be a replacement decision on own resources in this scenario. 

The new annual budget would also have to take into account that the EU’s overall funds will be lower due to the failure to reach an agreement on own resources and lower GNI caused by the pandemic and Brexit. This could amount to as much as 25 to 30 billion euro.

Next Generation EU

Next Generation EU, which is discrete from and additional to the multi-annual budget, could be agreed upon by different means. The senior official ruled out the use of an inter-governmental conference and separate treaty as it would take too much time and would place the debt burden on individual states, rather than allowing the EU to hold the debt in its name. However, the Commission does think that a “Community-based solution” allowed under the current treaties would be possible. This could allow enhanced cooperation between a coalition of the willing, and would need a clear link to the EU’s treaties, for example, it could be allowed through the possibility in the treaty of channeling financial assistance to member states experiencing severe difficulties, caused by exceptional occurrences (Article 122), but the senior official eluded to other options.

The possibility of circumventing some of the damage caused by Poland, Hungary and possibly Slovenia’s veto could help to focus minds as an important week approaches.

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Digital economy

New EU rules: Digitalisation to improve access to justice



Cross-border videoconferencing and safer and easier document exchange: learn how new EU rules for digitalising justice will benefit people and firms. On 23 November, Parliament adopted two proposals aimed at modernizing justice systems in the EU, which will help to decrease delays, increase legal certainty and make access to justice cheaper and easier.

New regulations will implement several digital solutions for cross-border taking of evidence and service of documents with the aim of making cooperation between national courts in different EU countries more efficient.

Endorsing distance communication technologies will lower costs and help evidence to be taken quicker. For example, to hear a person in a cross-border proceeding, videoconferencing can be used instead of requiring a physical presence.

A decentralized IT system that brings together national systems will be established so that documents can be exchanged electronically in a faster and more secure way. The new rules include additional provisions to protect data and privacy when documents are transmitted and evidence is being taken.

The regulations help simplify procedures and offer legal certainty to people and businesses, which will encourage them to engage in international transactions, thereby not only strengthening democracy but also the EU's  internal market.

The two proposals update existing EU regulations on service of documents and taking of evidence to ensure they make the mosrt of modern digital solutions.

They are part of the EU's efforts to help digitise justice systems. While in some countries, digital solutions have already proved effective, cross-border judicial proceedings still take place mostly on paper. EU aims to improve cooperation at EU level to help people and businesses and preserve the ability of law enforcement to protect people effectively.

The COVID-19 crisis has created many problems for the judicial system: there have been delays of in-person hearings and of cross-border serving of judicial documents; inabilities to obtain in-person legal aid; and the expiry of deadlines due to delays. At the same time, the rising number of insolvency cases and layoffs due to the pandemic make the courts’ work even more critical.

The proposals enter into force 20 days following their publication in the EU's official journal.

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Coronavirus: Commission presents 'Staying safe from COVID-19 during winter' strategy



Today (2 December), the Commission adopted a strategy for a sustainably managing the pandemic over the coming winter months, a period that can bring a risk of increased transmission of the virus owing to specific circumstances such as indoor gatherings. The strategy recommends continued vigilance and caution throughout the winter period and into 2021 when the roll out of safe and effective vaccines will occur.

The Commission will then provide further guidance on a gradual and coordinated lifting of containment measures. A coordinated EU wide approach is key to provide clarity to people and avoid a resurgence of the virus linked to the end of year holidays. Any relaxation of measures should take into account the evolution of the epidemiological situation and sufficient capacity for testing, contact tracing and treating patients.

Promoting the European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “In these extremely difficult times, guidance to Member States to promote a common approach to the winter season and in particular on how to manage the end of the year period, is of vital importance. We need to curtail future outbreaks of infection in the EU. It is only through such a sustained management of the pandemic, that we will avoid new lockdowns and severe restrictions and overcome together.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Every 17 seconds a person loses their life due to COVID-19 in Europe. The situation may be stabilizing, but it remains delicate. Like everything else this year, end of the year festivities will be different. We cannot jeopardise the efforts made by us all in the recent weeks and months. This year, saving lives must come before celebrations. But with vaccines on the horizon, there is also hope. All member states must now be ready to start vaccination campaigns and roll-out vaccines as quickly as possible once a safe and effective vaccine is available.”

Recommended control measures

The staying safe from COVID-19 during winter strategy recommends measures to keep the pandemic under control until vaccines are widely available.

It focuses on:

Physical distancing and limiting social contacts, key for the winter months including the holiday period. Measures should be targeted and based on the local epidemiological situation to limit their social and economic impact and increase their acceptance by people.

Testing and contact tracing, essential for detecting clusters and breaking transmission. Most member states now have national contact tracing apps. The European Federated Gateway Server (EFGS) enables cross-border tracing.

Safe travel, with a possible increase in travel over the end-of-year holidays requiring a coordinated approach. Transport infrastructure must be prepared and quarantine requirements, which may take place when the epidemiological situation in the region of origin is worse than the destination, clearly communicated.

Healthcare capacity and personnel: Business continuity plans for healthcare settings should be put in place to make sure COVID-19 outbreaks can be managed, and access to other treatments maintained. Joint procurement can address shortages of medical equipment. Pandemic fatigue and mental health are natural responses to the current situation. Member states should follow the World Health Organisation European Region's guidance on reinvigorating public support to address pandemic fatigue. Psychosocial support should be stepped up too.

National vaccination strategies.

The Commission stands ready to support member states where necessary in the deployment of vaccines as per their deployment and vaccination plans. A common EU approach to vaccination certificates is likely to reinforce the public health response in Member States and the trust of citizens in the vaccination effort.


Today's strategy builds on previous recommendations such as the April European road map on the careful phasing out of containment measures, the July Communication on short-term preparedness and the October Communication on additional COVID-19 response measures. The first wave of the pandemic in Europe was successfully contained through strict measures, but relaxing them too fast over the summer led to a resurgence in autumn.

As long as a safe and effective vaccine is not available and a large part of the population not immunised, EU member Sstates must continue their efforts to mitigate the pandemic by following a coordinated approach as called for by the European Council.

Further recommendations will be presented in early 2021, to design a comprehensive COVID-19 control framework based on the knowledge and experience so far and the latest available scientific guidelines.

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