Spain

‘It is imperative to address the phenomenon of ethnic profiling in the police and to eliminate it. Only by doing so can racism and xenophobia in a society be combated in the long term.’

Izza Leghtas, Amnesty International

In 2009, the UN Human Rights Committee decided in the case Rosalind Williams Lecraft v Spain that ethnic profiling is not permissible as a means of conducting police work.

The case came about as early as 1992, when a black Spanish woman, Rosalind Williams Lecraft, was stopped by police officers at a railway station and, on the basis of her skin colour, was subject to an identity check. Lecraft felt discriminated against and publicly denounced. She decided to put up a fight against the actions of the police. Her journey through the Spanish court system had taken nine years, when in 2001, the Constitutional Court ruled that the police were indeed permitted to make reference to physical and ethnic characteristics whilst exercising their powers. In so doing, it drew the conclusion that that ‘non-white’ people were more likely to be ‘not Spanish’, that is, foreigners. With the help of NGOs, Williams filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, making reference to, amongst other things, a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2009, the Human Rights Committee agreed with the complainant and rejected Spain’s argument. It ruled that an illegal residence status cannot be deduced from physical and ethnic characteristics. The Human Rights Committee did confirm that identity checks can indeed be a lawful means of protecting public safety and preventing and controlling illegal immigration; however, it stressed that forms of ethnic profiling are unlawful and incompatible with fight the against ethnic discrimination and racism. The Committee instructed Spain to change its laws to the effect that police officers would not carry out discriminatory identity checks. It mandated the country to issue a public apology to the victim. As a result, Rosalind Williams Lecraft received an apology in the name of the Spanish state in a face-to-face meeting with the foreign minister, and a further written apology from the interior minister; however, an appropriate public apology remains to take place. This case is noteworthy, as it is the first time that the Human Rights Committee has made a statement regarding ethnic profiling, thereby creating an international legal precedent.

A study published by Amnesty International in 2001 demonstrates that the Spanish police still perform discriminatory identity checks. A paradigm change has yet to take place.

© Büro zur Umsetzung von Gleichbehandlung e.V. 2011