Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own

no se vende

This article was first published in OpenGlobalRights (Open Democracy)

If Virginia Woolf needed a room of her own to write fiction (and much more), Paula needs a place to call home to live her life and to raise her kids. But ineffective policies are blocking her at every turn. Paula is just one of thousands of women who cannot escape the trap of insecure housing after going through an eviction in Spain.

More than 30,000 households were evicted from their rented homes last year alone, as in the previous one, and the one before. The number of households evicted from mortgaged properties does not fall far behind.

Going through an eviction is a traumatic experience for everyone, but Amnesty International has documented that women often experience it differently—and more frequently. Women are overrepresented in part-time jobs, find themselves at the lower end of the pay gap, and regularly bear domestic care duties. Single-parent families, which are predominantly headed by women (in more than eight out of ten cases), often live in rental accommodations. Official statistics show that these families also face higher than average rates of poverty, social exclusion and material deprivation.

Amnesty International interviewed 19 women and four men who either have gone through an eviction or are at risk of being evicted. At least seven of them complained that the judge had not enquired about their personal circumstances. “We did not get the chance to explain our situation to the judge,” said Ana. A female judge in Barcelona confirmed this problem, saying: “When we receive the eviction suit, we have absolutely no idea who lives there.”

Continue reading “Evicted rights in Spain: no room of one’s own”

Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.

This post was published first in Open Democracy.

London-Cable-Car-Emirates-Air-Line-1I have lived in England for nearly five years, mostly in London, but for personal reasons I have also become familiar with other parts of the country as well. I have always felt welcome here – for which I am grateful. I like England very much. I adore the preciseness of language, the humour, the diversity and buzz of the capital… I don’t even mind the weather! Ideally, I would like to stay for some time.

This is my caveat, which I believe to be necessary since I will argue that the European Union would be better off without the United Kingdom.

The UK has been part of the European Communities and then the EU for more than four decades. In the second half of this period it has enjoyed a special treatment granted by the other Member States. It did not adopt the Euro, it does not participate in Schengen, and it can pick and choose from within the areas of security, justice and police cooperation as it pleases. Even the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not fully applicable in the UK.

But, as is well known, David Cameron promised to get more leeway or leave. After intense talks behind closed doors, on 19 February the European Council discussed and agreed on a new settlement for the UK in the EU. Brits will be called to an in-or-out referendum scheduled for 23 June.

I say it is time to fly free – both for the UK and for the rest of the EU..

As a EU citizen (Spanish national) living in London, I urge you to vote for #Brexit. Continue reading “Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.”

Why does the Basque Country seem so quiet about independence nowadays?

This article was published first in Open Democracy.

Basque nationalism has never held more institutional power.

Together, the Basque moderate nationalist party (PNV) and the pro-independence left (Bildu, “Unite”) hold 60% of the vote and 64% of the seats (48/75) at the Parliament of the Basque Country. Navarre, which constitutes a separate administrative region but lies at the core of the Basque motherland in the nationalist narrative, is now ruled by a coalition comprised by a pro-Basque party (Geroa Bai, “Yes to the future”), Bildu and the rather small Spanish Izquierda Unida (“United Left”). Nationalism is in command in all three provincial governments, the three main Basque cities, Pamplona (Hemingway’s and other San Fermin lovers’ delight), and the vast majority of towns in the region.

Considering the nationalist surge in Catalonia and elsewhere in Europe (Scotland, Belgium, Corsica…), why does the Basque Country seem so quiet about independence? I believe this is due to three main factors, one institutional, one historical and a strategic one, and that there is a common thread through all three of them: the economic crisis. Bear with me. Let me explain. Continue reading “Why does the Basque Country seem so quiet about independence nowadays?”

Right to housing in Spain: What have the Romans ever done for us?

Should we say thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands? I must admit we were not sure how to start the report Evicted Rights: Right to Housing and Mortgage Evictions in Spain, published by Amnesty International – Spain on 23 June 2015 (see here in Spanish).download (1)According to judicial statistics, there have been nearly 600,000 foreclosure procedures since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. Luckily, not all of them have ended up in an eviction, neither do all affect first homes. So, if not all, how many then? If we check the data from the National Statistics Institute and the Bank of Spain, we will get some information about the number of households and first homes that have gone through a mortgage foreclosure since 2012. Yet, not even then we’ll have the full picture. It may seem strange, but to this day there are not yet official statistics about the number of people who have lost their home because they couldn’t keep paying back their debt to the bank.

However, combining different sources, we can confidently say that since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted or are at risk of being evicted due to over-indebtedness and high unemployment (around 23%). Figures are overwhelming, but not as much as the testimonies of Ainhoa, Maritza, Sara, Francisco and 41 more people who shared their stories with Amnesty International. They are human rights defenders; they claim their own rights, and the rights of their relatives, friends and colleagues, of all of us, really. Continue reading “Right to housing in Spain: What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Against the criminalisation of foreign fighters with the discourse of terrorism

chartoftheday_2658_Where_Syrias_Foreign_Fighters_Come_From_nLast week, interior ministers of the 15 countries sitting at the UN Security Council met to discuss foreign fighters. They did so as part of the follow-up of Resolution 2178 (2014), which defines foreign fighters as people who travel or attempt to travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, and other individuals who travel or attempt to travel from their territories to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training”.

This is hardly a new phenomenon, but foreign fighters are getting more and more attention in relation to Syria and Iraq. The number of foreign fighters in both countries could exceed 20,000, and according to the Director of Europol, between 3,000 and 5,000 of them would come from EU countries.

In Resolution 2178, as well as previous ones since 2001, the Security Council urges states to adopt legislative and criminal measures to prevent terrorism and bring suspects to justice.

With the intention to operationalise the mandate of the Security Council, the Council of Europe is working on a draft protocol to the 2005 European Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. This text criminalises the action of joining a group and “participating” in its activities “for the purpose of committing or contributing to the commission” of terrorist offenses (Article 2), “receiving training for terrorism” (Article 3), “travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism” (Article 4), “funding travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism” (Article 5), or “organising or otherwise facilitating travelling” for that purpose (Article 6).

As noted by Scheinin, the formulation of these provisions relies on the intent (“purpose”) of the person to participate or contribute towards the commission of a terrorist offence.

The draft protocol, therefore, does not call for the criminalisation of travelling to conflict zones, and individual countries have not modified their criminal legislation to punish travelling per se. The subjective element of intent is required.

However, a variety of measures are already being taken in relation to foreign fighters, ranging from passport confiscation (Germany), attempts to bar foreign fighters from acquiring national citizenship (Austria), stripping known foreign fighters of access to social services (Belgium), or revoking naturalised nationality (UK and Netherlands) (see reports here, here and here).

So far, these measures are targeting Islamic foreign fighters travelling to conflict areas with a religious motivation. However, there is no reason why these measures could not be potentially applied to other conflicts. For example, Spanish authorities recently detained eight nationals that had fought in Ukraine on the pro-Russian side. Apparently their actions may have infringed Spain’s neutrality, and therefore compromise the country’s “peace or independence”. Continue reading “Against the criminalisation of foreign fighters with the discourse of terrorism”

What human rights norms do Western European countries promote? #TimeToAct

jolie and hagueWilliam Hague and Angelina Jolie are hosting a global summit in London to put an end to sexual violence in conflict (follow #TimeToAct). In June 2013, Madrid hosted the 5th world conference on (against) death penalty. It was organised by an abolitionist group (ECPM), and sponsored by the Governments of Spain, France, Switzerland and Norway.

Western European countries promote international human rights norms. The summits of London and Madrid are just two examples of what and how they do it. Now, the questions are: Why do they do it? And, related to this, what kind of norms do they promote?

According to Finnemore and Sikkink’s famous model of international norm diffusion, states play a major role in this process when they choose to embrace certain norms, understood as “standards for the appropriate behavior of states”. Finnemore and Sikkink are of the opinion that states promote human rights norms “for reasons that relate to their identities as members of the international society”. In other words, states promote norms because they consider them legitimate.

I hold a different opinion. Continue reading “What human rights norms do Western European countries promote? #TimeToAct”

The future of the “Parot doctrine” and the one thing that Spain can teach the UK

echrThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued today its judgment of the case Del Río Prada v. Spain. By 15 votes to 2, the Court held that Spain has violated Article 7 (no punishment without law) of the European Convention of Human Rights, and has unanimously concluded that since July 2008 Ms. del Río’s detention has not been lawful, in violation of Article 5.1 of the Convention. Consequently, the Court has ordered Spain to ensure the release of the applicant as soon as possible.

This case had generated very high expectations in Spain because Ms. del Río had been convicted for a number of terrorist attacks, including several killings. In February 2006, the Supreme Court departed from its previous interpretation of the Spanish penitentiary legislation and adopted a new criterion (known as “Parot doctrine”, due to the name of the first ETA member it was applied to) based on which the release of ETA prisoners sentenced for crimes committed before 1995 (when the current Criminal Code was adopted) would be delayed for some time. Since 2006, the Parot doctrine has also been applied to non-ETA major perpetrators. The rationale of the Strasbourg Court’s decision is that the applicant could not have foreseen either that the Supreme Court would change its case-law or that this change would affect her. Continue reading “The future of the “Parot doctrine” and the one thing that Spain can teach the UK”