EU Parliament set to investigate human rights abuses in Basque country

MEP delegation heading to north eastern Spanish region to look into mistreatment allegations.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

29 Jan 2016

The European Parliament is sending a delegation of cross-party MEPs to the Basque country, to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against political prisoners.

Europe's so-called 'longest war', the armed Basque separatist conflict claimed thousands of lives between 1959 and 2011 as Spanish and French authorities battled against the Basque nationalist paramilitary group, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna).

Hundreds of individuals linked to ETA were imprisoned during the conflict. In an effort to make it harder for them to communicate with the group, they were often locked up far away from their homes. Many were convicted of taking part in terrorist activities, others of murder.


Many are held in prisons across Spain, France and Portugal, far from their homeland in north eastern Spain. Prisoners' family groups argue that having their relatives imprisoned so far away from the Basque region is as much a punishment for them as much as it is for those incarcerated.

Gabi Zimmer, the head of Parliament's delegation, said, "We know from background discussions with family members that this has become an incredible burden. Sometimes prisoners are housed several hundreds of kilometres from their home villages, bringing a financial, mental and physical burden just to maintain contact."

Zimmer, Chair of parliament's GUE/NGL group also said that, "there are many reasons to believe that the Spanish judicial and penal systems are abusing and violating the rights of prisoners and their relatives."

She added that MEPs wanted to examine the "real conditions" in which those that are incarcerated live, and that they, "want to learn about what's going on. We have received information that many prisoners are subject to difficult mental conditions. From a humanitarian point of view, the Spanish government must act."

However, she was quick to stress that, "we are not interfering with Spain's internal issues, we are there to look at this specific humanitarian case to ensure everything is being undertaken to guarantee the rights of prisoners and their family members."

Josep-Maria Terricabras, a Vice-Chair of Parliament's Greens/EFA group and an MEP for the nearby Catalan region, pointed out that, "The Basque conflict reached a milestone when ETA decided to stop killing and give up armed conflict. This was momentous, but we feel that based on the information we have received, not much has happened since this landmark event."

He also underlined that "the European Parliament has always been committed to human rights, no matter where, and that is why it's very good to bear in mind that we don't just stand for human rights in countries outside the EU, we are also committed to human rights within the Union."

Mark Demesmaeker, a member of Parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, echoed Terricabras' sentiments, saying, "human rights is [the focal point] of this mission. There has to be coherence between our external and internal policy."

The delegation, also made up of GUE/NGL group members Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson and Malin Björk, will head to the Basque country 14-17 February, where MEPs will meet with civil society, human rights campaigners, unions, prisoners' families as well as the regional Parliament.

Irish Republican Sinn Féin deputies Boylan and Anderson are expected to bring their experience and understanding of the recent Northern Irish separatist 'troubles'.

The delegation say they will present a public and open report of their findings to the European Parliament.


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