A follow up study of allegations of ill-treatment/torture in incommunicado detainees in Spain. Failure of international preventive mechanisms

Torture. 2008;18(2):87-98.


Background: Proper documentation is an important factor in torture prevention, thus making systematic research studies necessary. According to international reports, torture/ill-treatment continues to exist in Spain in relation to Basque people arrested under anti-terrorist legislation (incommunicado detention). To improve the safeguards of these detainees, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has visited Spain and published recommendations. However, the Spanish Government has not implemented these recommendations. The primary aims of this study were to analyze the methods of torture claimed by Basque incommunicado detainees during 2000-2005 and to compare them with the findings of a previous study (1992-1993), as well as to evaluate the impact of the CPT recommendations. The influence of variables related to police ill-treatment were also studied.

Methods: This retrospective study is based on the testimonies given voluntarily by 112 Basques held incommunicado during 2000-2005. Testimonies were collected by a non-governmental organisation.

Findings: Threats (91 percent) and beatings (89 percent) were the most frequent alleged methods, followed by suffocation, deprivation methods, forced body position, undressing and physical exercises (percentage between 49 percent and 29 percent). The frequency of suffocation, electricity, visual input reduced and threats was lower in 2000-2005 than in the 1992-1993 period. Different patterns of torture related to each police force were detected. The group arrested by the Guardia Civil alleged more severe torture methods, while the detainees arrested by Ertzantza alleged less severe ill-treatment. The prevalence of sexual torture was higher for women than for men. The present data are in consonance with the findings described for international organisms after their visits to Spain.

Interpretation: These findings, in addition to other evidence, suggest that torture is still a serious problem in Spain in relation with Basque incommunicado detainees. This fact shows that national and international (mainly based on CPT visits) measures of control/prevention have failed. This study supports the importance of scientific statistical analysis in the documentation of human rights violations and its potential use in order to improve the forensic evaluation of torture victims.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression
  • Asphyxia / prevention & control
  • Electroshock
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Male
  • Police
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Offenses / prevention & control
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Spain
  • Torture / psychology
  • Torture / statistics & numerical data
  • Violence