Investigation into death of 15 migrants on Ceuta beach dropped

16 Civil Guard officers were under scrutiny for actions at El Tarajal border in Spanish exclave

The Civil Guard recovers a body on El Tarajal beach in Ceuta in February 2014.
The Civil Guard recovers a body on El Tarajal beach in Ceuta in February 2014.R. D. Regragui (EFE)

A judge in Ceuta has dismissed the case against 16 Civil Guard officers in connection with the drowning death of 15 immigrants as they attempted to illegally reach Spanish soil on February 6, 2014.

A captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant and other members of the Spanish law enforcement agency were under scrutiny over their use of rubber bullets to contain a group of several hundred migrants trying to reach European shores by swimming around a seawall at the Tarajal border crossing, located between the Spanish exclave city of Ceuta and Morocco.

The judge has dropped the case because the officers acted according to the law and because the circumstances “legitimized the use of riot equipment”

Fifteen individuals drowned in the mêlée, and Spanish authorities admitted that border police had fired rubber bullets “in the direction” of the migrants, but justified the decision based on the group’s “belligerent attitude.”

The incident drew criticism from human rights groups and the European Commission demanded explanations from Spain.

Five of the bodies were found in Spanish waters, while the other 10 were picked up in Moroccan jurisdiction. During the inquiry, examining magistrate María del Carmen Serván asked authorities in Rabat for their autopsies on three occasions, but received no reply.

But now, the judge has decided to drop the case because the Civil Guard officers acted according to the law and because the circumstances at Tarajal beach “legitimized the use of riot equipment,” local daily El Faro de Ceuta reported.

More information
A year on, still no answers over Ceuta migrant drowning tragedy
Brussels: Spain must explain use of rubber bullets in migrant tragedy
Minister admits use of rubber bullets in Ceuta immigrant tragedy

In her written decision, the judge states that officers were “forced to use it” in the exercise of their border protection duties.

“There is no evidence that could lead to the affirmation that the officers made inadequate use of the riot gear, particularly since there is no protocol regulating its use in a water-based environment,” writes the judge.

Regarding the crowd of people who attempted to make the crossing that day, Judge Serván writes that “they accepted the risks of illegally entering Spanish territory by sea, swimming at night in a crowd of people, dressing in large amounts of clothes, and ignoring the deterrence actions by Moroccan and Civil Guard law enforcement.”

This provisional writ considers that the officers, who were facing charges of homicide and negligence, cannot be held criminally liable for the events of that day.

In February, a year after the migrant deaths, the Ceuta magistrate had attempted to pass the case over to the Spanish High Court in Madrid, but the latter sent it back to her courthouse.

English version by Susana Urra.

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