MADRID - Spain's security forces mistreat and torture immigrants and members of ethnic minorities with impunity, human rights watchdog Amnesty International stated in a new report issued in Madrid Tuesday.
''Men, women and children have been verbally abused, physically ill-treated, arbitrarily detained, and in some cases tortured,'' said the author of the report, Gillian Fleming, Amnesty International's researcher on Spain.
The London-based rights group documented an increase in the cases of abuse and torture from 1995 to 2002. The report cites 320 specific cases of race-related mistreatment against people from 17 countries, including Morocco, Colombia and Nigeria.
''The cases we have documented show a pattern of violation by law enforcement officers of the rights of members of ethnic minorities or persons of non-Spanish origin,'' said Fleming at the presentation of the report, titled ''Spain: Crisis of identity - race-related torture and ill-treatment by state agents.''
''Discrimination against these people, tolerated by the authorities, makes them especially vulnerable to torture and ill- treatment by state officials,'' she added.
''The discriminatory use of identity controls has given rise to the current situation whereby many people of foreign origin have suffered abuse and ill-treatment in Spain,'' stated the organization's press release.
The head of Amnesty International Spain, Eva Suárez-Llanos, stressed her organization's ''deep concern'' over the increasing reports of such cases.
In just a single year (1999), and in one single neighborhood in a city in the Basque country, in northern Spain, 47 cases of ill-treatment of detained foreigners were reported, according to the rights group.
The People's Defender of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country confirmed that information to IPS Tuesday, and added that the detentions in question occurred in the neighborhood of San Francisco, in the northeastern Spanish city of Bilbao.
From January 1999 to October 2000, at least 28 people died in custody of the militarized Civil Guard or the police, reported Amnesty International.
The rights group submitted its report to the ministries of the interior and justice, and requested interviews with officials in both ministries to discuss the problem and press for the adoption of the recommendations set forth in the study.
The governing Popular Party's (PP) spokesman in the congressional commission of justice and the interior, Ignacio Gil Lázaro, rejected the allegations, and said the security forces had a ''profoundly humanitarian sensibility'' towards immigrants.
Gil Lázaro said the report was ''lacking in rigor.''
He also argued that the reports of abuses by the Civil Guard did not fit in with that body's actions in the Straits of Gibraltar, where agents regularly save the lives of immigrants trying to reach Spain from Morocco in rickety boats.
He admitted, however, that ''there might be isolated cases, but they are limited to a very few occasions,'' and he staunchly refuted assertions that immigrants are unfairly targeted in Spain.
On the other hand, the security forces do act with special dedication ''to crack down on criminal rings that traffic in the pain of these people,'' he said, referring to organizations that illegally transport immigrants across international borders.
Amnesty International called on authorities in Spain ''to adopt a national strategy and plan of action to combat all forms of racism. This should include specific measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment and related manifestations in the administration of justice.''
At the launch of the report Tuesday, activists from Amnesty International Spain cited racist comments by ruling party and opposition parliamentary deputies in Spain.
For instance, Deputy Rafael Centeno of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) said in February that ''the 'moros' (moors) are for Morocco, which is where they belong.''
The pejorative term ''moros'' had also been used a few months earlier by PP Deputy Domingo Triguero, who described the rise in inflows of immigrants as ''an invasion of moros and morillos (little moors).''
The end of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the restoration of democracy in Spain in 1975, as well as the country's admission to the European Union in 1986, accompanied by strong economic growth, reverted the previous trend of emigration from Spain.
Many people of Spanish descent returned to the country of their forebears, and the influx of foreigners has climbed.
The number of foreigners residing legally in Spain and registered with the Interior Ministry totaled 198,042 in 1981, a number that had climbed to 938,783 in 2000 and to 1,109,060 by 2001. According to official estimates, there are also around 300,000 undocumented immigrants living in this country.
Copyright 2002 IPS