CEAR press statement, Friday 16 February 2012: In response to the UN finding the Spanish State guilty for the death of the Senegalese Sonko

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"CEAR recalls the security forces' duty to guarantee the security of refugees and to enable their access to international protection

The victim came from a region of Senegal that is riven by a serious conflict and could have requested international protection if the Spanish officers had respected legal procedures.

29-year-old Laucling Sonko was made to jump into the sea on the night between 25 and 26 September 2007 by Guardia Civil [police force with military status] officers, alongside three other people who were potential asylum and international protection applicants like he was. After they were intercepted by a Guardia Civil patrol boat while they tried to swim into Ceuta [a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco], they were made to board and taken into Moroccan waters, where the officers pierced their lifejackets and made them jump into the sea. Sonko, who did not know how to swim, drowned.

The recent decision by the United Nations Committee against Torture on this case, which found the Spanish state guilty of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that humiliated personal dignity and endangered human life, highlights our state's lack of zeal in complying with national and international legality in the field of human rights and access to the right to seek asylum.

The members of the Guardia Civil contravened the procedure for refusing entry into the Spanish territory that is set by the Ley de Extranjería [Foreigners' Law], according to which they must take the person who they have caught before an asylum officer, allowing them to exercise their right to judicial protection, thus making it impossible for Sonko and his companions to have a chance of requesting international protection.

In these cases, the Guardia Civil has to guarantee the security of the people they have caught, as the officers are responsible for their physical integrity and have to enact a treatment that complies with international human rights norms. Nonetheless, the treatment received by Sonko entails an evident violation of article 16 of the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

According to the decision, the Spanish state contravened article 12 of the Convention against Torture by denying its competence to investigate the facts by deeming that they occurred in Moroccan territorial waters, overlooking [the fact] that Sonko was under the effective control of the Spanish authorities when the tragic denouement occured. In its ruling, the Committee against Torture recalls "that the duty to investigate evidence of ill-treatment has an absolute character in the Convention and it is the State's responsibility".

The impossibility of investigating the events by the Spanish justice system after it declared that it was not competent in this case led CEAR to resort to the UN Committee against Torture on behalf of the Sonko family.

In this situation, CEAR welcomes the decision by the United Nations Committee against Torture and it calls upon the Government to:

" oversee the effective compliance of national and international legality by the State's security forces;
" guarantee access to asylum procedures to foreigners who try to enter Spanish territory;
" promote the investigation of facts and prosecute and find those responsible guilty through the Fiscalía General del Estado [public prosecution service], thus enacting what has been instructed by the Committee against Torture;
" pay adequate compensation to Laucling Sonko's family and guarantee their right to full damages.

CEAR also wishes to denounce that this kind of events are a consequence of a migration policy that is obsessed with controlling the Spanish borders. These policies are prevailing over any considerations of a humanitarian kind and over respect for human rights for the sake of a supposed effectiveness in the fight against irregular immigration, and this is causing situations in which migrants and refugees are at risk and are vulnerable at our country's southern maritime and land borders."

"CEAR recuerda la obligación de las Fuerzas de Seguridad de garantizar la seguridad de las personas refugiadas y facilitar su acceso a la protección internacional" - unofficial translation by Statewatch

CEAR (Comité Español de Ayuda al Refugiado) website

The text of the decision by the UN Committee against Torture (27 January 2012, case doc. CAT/C/47/D/368/2008) 

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