Case 46

Fourteen migrants dead at Ceuta’s border after police rubber-bullet shooting


Almost 200 Sub-Saharan African migrants, refugees and asylum seekers tried on February 6th, 2014 to cross the Spanish water border in Ceuta, a town located on the north coast of Africa bordering with Morocco. Even that the most usual method used by many migrants is trying to jump the fence, that day migrants tried to desperately reach the European soil by the sea, swimming around Tarajal seawall. Spanish Guardia Civil was surprised by this movement and decided to shoot swimming migrants with rubber bullets and tear gas, provoking chaos throughout swimmers as they couldn’t see and breathe. Fourteen of them died. Also 23 migrants reached Spanish shores but were expelled summarily to Morocco.

A police representative at first denied the use of anti-riot equipment. Spanish government delegation to Ceuta also proclaimed: “It wasn’t needed Spanish Police to intervene, all was about Moroccan authorities”. NGO Caminando Fronteras said many survivors suffered rubber bullets contusions and even showed medical reports. These testimonies said that Spanish Guardia Civil shoot them either from the breakwater and from two patrol boats. “Firstly, they shoot to the air, but when they realised we were crossing the border, they shoot to our bodies. I firstly received a rubber bullet in my back and secondly in my jaw”, said one migrant. Other witnesses even said Guardia Civil even hit those migrants who reached breakwater rocks to prevent any entry 

 Check the report from the NGO “Caminando Fronteras”


The outcome

Guardia Civil firstly denied any use of anti-riot stuff. Even Spain’s Interior ministry released their own video showing CCTV footage of the crowds gathering at the border before attempting to cross and then showing the migrants throwing stones at the border fence, omitting any footage of the shots being fired. Before many NGOs complaints against this fake video and the finally public airing of the shootings, then the Interior Ministry changed official version and admitted firing rubber bullets, but no directly to swimmers. Interior ministry, Mr. Jorge Fernández Díaz, said the rubber bullets were fired “in the direction” of the migrants, and just as proportionalmeasures in response to the belligerent behaviour of the group”. Mr Fernández said it was “not proved” there were a direct connection throughout rubber bullet shootings and deaths, and even said these deaths occurred in Moroccan waters. Interior minister finally said border Police will not fire rubber bullets again as a dissuasive method to deter swimmer migrants and explained the seawall separating Spanish and Moroccan waters at the Ceuta border would be lengthened.

 The European Comission demanded explanations from Spain, clearly linking Police activity and deads. Home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, said on Twitter she was “very concerned about Spanish border police using rubber bullets to deter migrants in Ceuta. I expect clarifications from the authorities”

A criminal investigation was launched by the Guardia Civil Command of Ceuta, the same command that led the operation, concluding there were no responsibilities. Spanish parties PSOE and Izquierda Plural claimed for an investigative Congressional commission, but ruling party -Partido Popular- vetoed that petition.

Several NGOs also presented a complaint before the Attorney General on Febrary 10th, 2014, and 16 Guardia Civil police officers were accused a year after. In February 2015, Amnesty International said Spanish authorities’ failure to properly investigate the case “highlights the deplorable disregard for human life at Spain’s borders with Morocco” 

In April 2015, Malaga’s Provincial Court dropped accusation against Melilla’s Guardia Civil main officer for summary deportations. And, in October 2015, Ceuta’s instruction judge sentenced that Guardia Civil police officers used anti-riot material just as “dissuasive tools” and denied any possible misuse. Deaths were attributed to nobody. So, investigation was dropped.

 In January 2017 Provincial Court ordered new instruction procedures, but in February Spanish Embassy in Cameroon denied visas to relatives of migrants drowned. Finally, on June 26th, 2018, instruction judge dismissed the case for the second time, arguing it was not proved bullets were shoot in Spanish waters.

Then, on August 31th, 2018, Provincial Court re-ordered new instruction procedures, claiming local judge didn’t looked enough for witnesses and finally two of them could give testimony before a judge on April 2th, 2019. More than five years after the shooting.

 The case is still under investigation.

Violated laws

Spanish police officers used an excessive use of force, as swimmers were completely unarmed. It is still unclear if deaths are directly caused by Civil Guard’s shooting or not.

Civil Guard also violated international human rights norms binding Spain as summarily returned to Morocco 23 migrants who reached European shores without a chance to apply for asylum or to appeal the expulsion. International Amnesty denounced: “There is no question that the individuals concerned were expelled from Spanish territory. This summary return is a direct breach of Spanish, European and international obligations. It wasnt the first, nor was it the last. Expulsions have regularly continued throughout the past year”.

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