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
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.
Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro
Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.
President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”
The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi.
European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.
Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.
European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation
On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.
At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.
The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.
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