MINELRES: Groundbreaking Lawsuit Challenges Racial Profiling by Police
Mon Sep 18 17:54:14 2006
Original sender: Justice Initiative <email@example.com>
Open Society Justice Initiative
Women's Link Wordlwide
For immediate release
Indira X. Goris + 1 212 548 0600 (Open Society Justice Initiative, New
Viviana Waisman + 34 91 185 1904 (Women's Link Worldwide, Spain)
GROUNDBREAKING LAWSUIT CHALLENGES RACIAL PROFILING BY POLICE
Geneva, September 12, 2006
In the first-ever legal challenge to racial profiling filed with an
international human rights tribunal, a coalition of advocacy groups
today submitted an application to the United Nations Human Rights
Committee, seeking to halt racial profiling by police.
The application challenges a ruling by the Spanish Constitutional Court
which held that police could target blacks for identity checks because
racial appearance is a proxy for immigration status. Racial profiling is
a growing problem in many European countries, including Spain, and the
application asks the Committee to rule that race may not be used as a
criterion in police stops.
The case, Rosalind Williams Lecraft v. Spain, concerns an
African-American woman of naturalized Spanish citizenship who was
stopped and asked for identity documents by a National Police officer in
the Valladolid train station in 1992. When Williams asked why she, and
not the Caucasian family members accompanying her, had been stopped, the
officer, pointing at Williams, explained that he had been told to
identify persons who "looked like her," adding, "many of them are
"This case is important because racial and religious minorities are
increasingly being subjected to police stops and scrutiny," said James
A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
"We are asking the Human Rights Committee to make clear that racial
profiling is unlawful."
Williams is being represented before the Human Rights Committee by the
Open Society Justice Initiative, Women's Link Worldwide, and SOS
Racismo-Madrid. In appealing to the Committee, Williams is arguing that
the police action breached her rights to non-discrimination and freedom
of movement, as enshrined in Articles 2, 12(1) and 26 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In 2001, the Spanish Constitutional Court condoned the police practice
of relying on specific physical or racial characteristics as "reasonable
indicators of the non-national origin of the person who possesses them."
The Court reasoned that racial criteria are "merely indicative of the
greater probability that the interested party was not Spanish." The
Court's endorsement lent legitimacy to a pervasive, discriminatory
policy of racial profiling in Spain that has been widely documented by
"Discriminatory police stops are not just wrong—they're bad policy,"
observed Viviana Waisman, executive director of Women's Link Worldwide.
"They are an invitation to police abuse and often put especially
vulnerable populations, such as minority women, in dangerous
The racial profiling suffered by Williams was not an isolated event.
Rather, it is emblematic of a larger pattern of racial profiling and
discriminatory conduct by Spanish law enforcement officers. A recent
report on racial profiling in Spain, Ethnic Profiling in Spain:
Investigations and Recommendations, written as part of a larger Open
Society Justice Initiative project on ethnic profiling in Europe,
demonstrates that Williams's experience is common among racial and
ethnic minorities in Spain. The report (available at
www.justiceinitiative.org/db/resource2?res_id=103400) documents the
pervasiveness of racial profiling by law enforcement in Spain, including
repeated stops and searches of ethnic minorities without explanation and
the use of racist language by police officers.
As Spain attracts a growing population of immigrants from Africa, Latin
America, and elsewhere, the use of race as a basis for immigration
control not only violates fundamental rights; it is also irrational and
counter-productive to the many efforts Spain is undertaking to welcome
and integrate its growing immigrant and ethnic minority population.
Further information on these cases is available at
www.justiceinitiative.org and www.womenslinkworldwide.org.
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The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open
Society Institute, pursues law reform activities grounded in the
protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal
capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines
litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination
of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas:
national criminal justice, international justice, freedom of information
and expression, and equality and citizenship. Its offices are in Abuja,
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Women’s Link Worldwide is an international organization working to
promote the implementation of international human rights law and the use
of international tribunals and strategic litigation to advance women’s
rights. As a clearinghouse of legal precedent and strategies from
national and international courts, Women’s Link is a resource for
advocates and organizations dedicated to furthering women’s rights
through legal avenues. Women’s Link attorneys also undertake legal
advocacy projects designed to promote human rights norms.
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