An Amnesty International report into the death of at least 37 people at the border fence between Morocco and Spain’s enclave of Melilla in June has found that Moroccan and Spanish authorities used “widespread force” contributing to their death.
The “abject failure” of the two countries to establish the truth and implement justice “smacks of a cover-up,” the rights watchdog said in the report which was published today.
The tragedy happened on 24 June when up to 2,000 refugees, mostly from Sudan, attempted to climb the high chain link fences making up the border.
At the time, several human rights groups and the African Union called for a probe into the use of excessive force, as footage circulated on Twitter showing Moroccan security forces hitting men with sticks as they lay on the ground.
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights said that some of the injured refugees were lying on the ground for hours without being tended to and that the level of violence used by the authorities was unprecedented.
Instead of investigating, Moroccan authorities prosecuted 65 migrants they said helped facilitate the crossings and accused them of starting fires and attacking security forces.
The African Union and the UN joined these rights groups in expressing shock and calling for an investigation into the deaths.
Six months on from the tragedy, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, says authorities still deny responsibility for the carnage.
“There is a growing mountain of evidence of serious and multiple human rights violations, including the unlawful death and ill-treatment of refugees and migrants and to this day the lack of information as to the identity of the deceased and the fate of the missing,” Callamard added.
“This smacks of a cover-up and racism, and rubs salt into already painful wounds. It is essential for both governments to ensure truth and justice for what happened that day in order to prevent it from happening again.”
By analysing eyewitness testimony, video footage and satellite imagery, Amnesty has found that the loss of life on 24 June was avoidable and that migrants in Melilla were increasingly being attacked by Moroccan security forces in the months leading up to the fatal crossing.
Many of the refugees who crossed that day were prompted to walk to the border after security forces burned their belongings but as they approached, police threw stones and tear gas at them. As they lay on the ground they were beaten, even as some of them were unresponsive.
Around 400 of them were put into a small walled area where they were then shot at by Moroccan police with tear gas. “The Spanish police sprayed us in the eyes,” Salih, a 27-year-old Sudanese man, told Amnesty. “While the Moroccan police threw stones at our heads.”
Authorities then stopped a Red Cross ambulance team from accessing the area, dozens were left under the sun for at least eight hours, whilst other injured people were forced back across the border.
Once in Moroccan jails, many were beaten, including with hammers, some of them until they passed away. Roughly 500 people were taken to remote parts of the country and dumped there, details the report.
Moroccan and Spanish police have not released CCTV footage of the incident or the number of people who have died, or the causes of their death.
“The unlawful force used in Melilla has left an indelible stain not just on the hands of the Moroccan and Spanish security forces, but also on the hands of all those pushing racist migration policies, predicated on the likelihood of harm and violence against those seeking to cross borders. Instead of fortifying borders, authorities must open safe and legal routes for people seeking safety in Europe,” said Callamard.
“The Moroccan and Spanish authorities must be transparent about the mandate and scope of any existing investigations and not only ensure that they are effectively carried out by cooperating with them fully, but also ensure that their mandate is expanded to include concerns about racism.”