FECL 19 (October 1993):


Serious accusations of maltreatment of detainees against the Spanish police force, Guardia Civil are causing unrest in the Basque country. Amnesty International and other Human Rights organisations have demanded for an unsparing enquiry of the affair. The Minister of the Interior, Josť Luis Corcuera admits "unpardonable neglect" of individual officers, but vigorously rejects accusations of torture.

The unrest in the basque country was provoked by a series of mysterious cases of sudden death and torture of members or sympathisers of the basque autonomist movement ETA under police detention. On occasion of police raids against a terrorist commando allegedly on the way of being set up, several dozens of persons had been arrested in the provinces of Guipuzcoa and Alava. All but one detainee later complained about maltreatment under interrogation by members of the Guardia Civil and the National Police. On 24 September Xabier Galparsoro, aged 27, was fatally injured in what the police said was an attempt to escape through a window facing a glass-roofed interior court and situated on the third floor of the criminal police office of Bilbao. Galparsoro died 48 hours later, on 26 September, without awaking from coma. The same day, Miren Gurutze Yanci, a 31 year old women was transferred from Bilbao to the Guardia Civil-barracks of Tres Cantos near Madrid. In the following night she demanded for medical aid because of strong pain in the chest, but the prison doctor in charge did not bother to see the patient and only prescibed anodynes by phone. When Ms. Gurutze's condition further deteriorated, members of the prison guard brought her to the local ambulance station, where her death caused by perisystole was ascertained. Just one day later, on 27 September, the daily "El Pais" reported the case of another women detainee, Maria Josť Lizzaribar, whose body showed no less than 22 effusions of blood after five days under custody of the Guardia Civil.

The incidents above at once provoked a massive uproar in the camp of the Basque autonomists resulting in a series of protest actions. Amnesty International's demand for an unsparing enquiry of the affair drew immediate response from Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales who promised a thorough examination of the accusations.

For his part, Juan Antonio Belloch, the new Minister of Justice, declared that he would not be able to further grant the responsible bodies loyalty and protection, as long as the last shadow of a doubt on the police's role in the incidents remained. Before his appointment as a minister last July, Belloch was among the most consequent and outspoken human rights activists among Spanish jurists and magistrates. Among other things, he was prominently involved in a public campaigns against the GAL death squads and for the liberation of one of the masterminds of the 1974 "Carnation revolution" in Protugal, The former colonel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho.

Strong pressure from the public - and, for the first time, even from his own party ranks - induced Interior Minister Josť Luis Corcuera to appear before the parliamentary committee in charge already on 28 September. Corcuera admitted "unpardonable neglect" of individual officers and promised a disciplinary prosecution. However, pointing at provisional findings of the autopsy of the two dead detainees, he sharply rejected accusations of torture. According to the autopsies the two persons died of "natural death causes without external influence".

The Minister underlined that the autopsies had been carried out in presence of medical doctors and lawyers entrusted by the families concerned. In the case of the allegedly tortured Maria Josť Lizzaribar, the effusions of blood were caused by a chronical disease that led to the rupture of blood-vessels even at the slightest touch, the Interior Minister said, and added that Ms. Lizzaribar presented the effusions of blood already upon her arrest.

For the time being, both members of the opposition and the media seem to be satisfied with Minister Corcuera's explanations. In the Basque country, however, there is still a lot of talking about the "black hand" of the torturers and criticism is being voiced. Thus, Juan Maria Bandres, a Member of the European Parliament, says that incidents as the above are unworthy of a constitutional democracy. In Mr. Bandres' view the mere fact, that deaths as Galparsorso's and Gurutze's still occur in Spanish detention centres, constitutes an anachronism that could not simply be done away with by pointing at an enchainment of unfortunate circumstances or maladroitness of the personal in charge.

Alexander Gschwind (Madrid)