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Spanish police used “excessive and disproportionate” force on Sunday, says Amnesty International

The human rights NGO calls for an urgent, “thorough, and immediate” investigation


04 October 2017 04:48 PM


ACN | Rachel Bathgate

Amnesty International qualified the Spanish police action against peaceful voters on October 1 as “excessive and disproportionate force” “Members of the National Police force’s Police Intervention Unity (UIP) and Civil Guard officers used excessive and disproportionate force against demonstrators who were passively resisting,” wrote the human rights NGO in a press release published on October 3.

Consequently, the NGO calls on Spanish authorities to “urgently launch a thorough, immediate and impartial investigation into the excessive and disproportionate use of force by members of the National Police and Civil Guard.”

“The misuse of force by law enforcement officers must be treated as a crime,” they state.

A delegation of five people was present

A “delegation of five people” has monitored the situation in Catalonia, reads the report, “including the afternoon of Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October.” Additionally, while visiting “numerous” polling stations, the group also gathered “testimonies and statements.” 

Unnecessary use of force under international law

The press release provides data on those injured: 19 National Police officers and 14 Civil Guard officers injured, according to Spain’s Ministry of Interior. Meanwhile, 893 people were wounded, according to Catalonia’s Regional Ministry of Health.

In several cases, “the actions of National Police and Civil Guard officers involved excessive and unnecessary use of force, and the dangerous use of riot control equipment, injuring hundreds of peaceful protesters,” said the director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program, John Dalhuisen.

The NGO elaborates that “under international law,” law enforcement “must only use force when strictly necessary to perform the duties entrusted to them.” 

  • “The misuse of force by law enforcement officers must be treated as a crime”

    Amnesty International 

Dangerous and inappropriate use of riot control equipment

Two individuals from Amnesty’s delegation were present when officers utilized “dangerous and inappropriate use of riot control equipment,” such as “rubber balls.” At one polling station in Barcelona, the NGO’s representatives witnessed National Police officers forcing protesters to move by “beating them with their rubber truncheons,” while others “fired blank cartridges.”

The officers also “fired rubber balls at demonstrators who were running after them” as they withdrew, according to testimonies gathered by the group. At least two people were wounded, the report states, one in the leg and the other in the eye, the latter of which remains in the hospital.

“To respect the right to life and integrity,” Amnesty International writes, these methods must not be used “as general crowd dispersal,” according to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials of the United Nations. The human rights organization further reminds that because rubber balls lack accuracy, they must never be fired at the ground or without a target, lest they rebound and impact the upper body or head. This, at the “risk of death or serious injury,” states the NGO.

Defenseless people

Amnesty International further addresses the reports and images received also documenting use of “excessive force,” such as beating “defenseless people who posed no apparent threat.” To this, the NGO states that conduct is contrary to the UN’s Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which stipulates that truncheons and such devices should only be used where “absolutely necessary,” and avoiding striking vital body parts.  

It should never happen again

Ultimately “as long as the participants of a meeting or demonstration do not violently resist the police, officers should not use force,” states Amnesty International.

Moreover, “those acts should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. These kinds of incidents should never happen again,” stated Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International in Spain.


  • A man holds out his arm to protect a woman from  the Spanish riot police (by Jordi Play)

  • A man holds out his arm to protect a woman from the Spanish riot police (by Jordi Play)