Header image for news printout

Spain: UN expert urges action on improving human rights guarantees for minorities


GENEVA / MADRID (25 January 2019) – Spain must fully implement its laws to ensure that minorities can enjoy their human rights, says the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes.

“Spain has made enormous strides in the field of human rights since its transition to a democracy and has adopted a legislative framework guaranteeing many of the rights of linguistic minorities, Roma communities and migrants, as well as protecting women from gender-based violence,” said Mr. de Varennes presenting a statement at the end of an official visit to the country.

“Nonetheless, the level of discrimination against the Roma population remains a cause of concern, as does ethnic profiling of minorities and the non-enforcement of certain linguistic rights,” added the Special Rapporteur.

“Minority groups I met, including Roma, people of African descent and migrants, have vividly expressed how they remain distrustful and at times fearful of the police and even the judiciary,” he said.

Moreover, still too many Roma face significant socio-economic disadvantage and even exclusion, as well as discrimination and prejudice in areas such as education, housing and employment. The rates of school dropout, in particular of Roma girls, are extremely worrying as is the issue of de facto segregation in classrooms and schools.

“Educational segregation must be dealt with specifically by the different levels of Government and quality education must be provided to Roma children to ensure that they are truly given equal opportunities,” the expert underlined.

Mr. de Varennes also expressed concern over a reported gap between the recognized status of co-official languages and the extent of their actual use, as well as the implementation of related legislation. He noted that judges and law-enforcement officials, such as the national police, were generally not subjected to any requirement to know a co-official language even when based within an autonomous community.

“Linguistic minorities have a right to the use of their language in their interactions with state authorities and institutions where it is reasonable and justified, to an appropriate degree in proportion to their population, but this remains unfulfilled in a number of regions,” said the Special Rapporteur.

The official recognition of sign language in 2007 has reflected the considerable progress that has been made in the protection of the rights of the deaf community. It is fundamental to acknowledge that sign language is not merely a tool but a language in itself, he said.

Mr. de Varennes also expressed concern about a lack of disaggregated data on people’s ethnicity, religion or language, which he emphasized could be collected in a manner that respected the right to privacy.

During his 12-day mission, Mr. de Varennes met high-level officials, both at the national and regional level, as well as representatives of institutions working on various aspects affecting minorities and civil society in the capital Madrid and in Andalusia, the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia.

The Special Rapporteur will present a detailed report on his visit to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2020.


Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

UN Human Rights country page: Spain

For inquiries and media requests, please contact in Geneva (before and after the visit):Dorian Hall (+41 22 917 54 93 / dhall@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today.  #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page.