Spain court opens investigation into Cueta migrant drowning incident News
Spain court opens investigation into Cueta migrant drowning incident

[JURIST] A Spanish court on Thursday accused 16 civil guards of using excessive force against 15 sub-Saharan immigrants who drowned attempting to swim around a seawall between Ceuta and Morocco last February. A judge opened an investigation [El País report, in Spanish] into the circumstances surrounding their deaths and has called upon civil guards to testify as to their involvement. The Spanish government admitted that the guards used rubber bullets and smoke canisters on both the Spanish and Moroccan side of the wall and that the guards also wore riot gear. The Spanish government initially denied [El País report, in Spanish] these allegations, but video footage caused them to retract their denials saying that the use of such gear was due to the “group’s belligerent attitude.” There was a question of jurisdiction that impeded progress in the case, as a local court initially declined to hear the dispute. Next, the case was sent to Spain’s central criminal tribunal, because the deaths technically occurred on foreign territory. However, the national high court recently sent the case back to Ceuta. A hearing is scheduled for March 3.

This latest development in the Cueta drowning tragedy comes off the heels of mounting pressure for answers by the European Commission and human rights groups. Earlier this week Amnesty International [advocacy website] issued a statement [press release] condemning the Spanish government for their failure to investigate the deaths, calling it a “deplorable disregard for human life.” Last February Cecilia Malmström, the European Commission commissioner of trade [official profile] stated [El País report, in Spanish] that she “expect[ed] clarifications from the authorities” as to why rubber bullets and other riot gear was used to deter the immigrants. Her spokesperson added that “the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to look into the circumstances of this particular incident in Ceuta.”