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Tarajal beach, Ceuta, Spain: Still waiting for justice

The Tarajal beach in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, was the scene of a tragic incident three years ago when military police shot at migrants trying to enter Spain. The incident was commemorated last week (8 February) with a documentary film in the European Parliament hosted by the Greens-EFA, one of the political groups in the Parliament.

The film aims at drawing attention to how the Spanish judiciary has dealt with the incident and raising the public opinion about EU’s migration policy.

The border between Ceuta and Morocco is effectively EU’s external border and heavily fortified, with a strong presence of the Spanish Guardia Civil, a military police charged with police duties. Early morning on February, 6, 2014, about 200 sub-Saharan migrants tried to enter Ceuta, located at the African side of the straits of Gibraltar, by swimming the small distance from Morocco to Spanish territory.

This morning the migrants were met by the military police using anti-riot equipment against them in the water such as tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. According to official figures the shooting left 15 people dead, in both Spanish and Moroccans waters. Some managed to make it to the Spanish shore but were returned to Morocco.

“We never thought that the film would be shown in the European Parliament,” said a representative of Observatori DESC, a Spanish NGO located in Barcelona that together with other human rights organisations brought charges against Guardia Civil.

The film is based on interviews with survivors, police spokespersons, migration experts, lawyers and local inhabitants. What emerges from the film is that the rules for using anti-riot equipment were unclear and probably violated. The Spanish interior minister who has resigned since then is shown speaking in the Spanish parliament or to the press denying that the police did anything wrong.

The incident was apparently never investigated by an independent Spanish body tasked to investigate alleged police violence. A trial took place in Ceuta – a town dominated by police presence – but the case was closed. According to the judge, “The migrants died because they placed themselves in danger”.

After an appeal the case was reopened last month but again in Ceuta. The organizers of the film event in the European Parliament are a bit more optimistic that justice will be served this time – if not, they will turn to the European Court of Human Rights.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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