Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ECHR condemns Spain for failing to investigate racist and sexist acts of violence by police

Yesterday, the Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights reached its unanimous decision in the Case of B.S. v. Spain, which concerned Beauty Solomon, a woman of Nigerian origin who was racially abused and assaulted by the police on the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca, Spain. (The Chamber judgment, in French, is available here.)
The case was brought by Women’s Link Worldwide, as described in this press release.  

I am personally delighted that this NGO was able to obtain justice for Beauty. During my time as staff attorney there, I worked on this case alongside lead attorney Paloma Soria Montañez (left) and other Women’s Link lawyers, including Glenys De Jesús Checo and the Executive Director of the organization, Viviana Waisman.
The facts of the case pertain from 2005, when Beauty, a legal resident of Spain, was stopped on a number of occasions by police officers carrying out identity checks. While purporting to carry out these checks, the officers struck her with a baton and shouted discriminatory and racist insults at her. Beauty complained to an investigating judge about a number of incidents involving the same police officers. She argued that these officers targeted her because of her race, as they did not ask other sex workers for their documentation.
After exhausting domestic remedies, Beauty took her case to Strasbourg.
The press release of the European Court (below right), also available here, states:

'In her complaints of 21 and 25 July 2005 B.S. had mentioned racist comments allegedly made by the police officers. She had also accused them of not stopping women with a “European phenotype” who pursued the same activity as she did. The courts dealing with her case had not investigated these allegedly racist attitudes. The Court considered that the domestic courts had not taken into account B.S.’s special vulnerability inherent in her situation as an African woman working as a prostitute. The authorities had not taken all possible measures to ascertain whether or not a discriminatory attitude might have played a role in the events.'
In addition to the violation of European Convention on Human Rights Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 3, the Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) for the lack of an effective investigation and also a violation. It awarded Beauty 30,000 euros in nonpecuniary damages.
The decision of the Court is hugely important, as it draws attention to the precarious situation of migrant sex workers in Spain.

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