ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

Spain / Aminath Layana Ahmed

While the COVID-19 situation seemed to be spreading like wildfire, the government has managed to control the situation and is now in the process if easing its’ strict lockdown measures. During the lockdown, however, the government has exercised excessive power and control, in breach of internationally accepted standards. It has also violated basic human rights of its migrant workers, making them vulnerable to both direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19.



With a population of 46.7 million in 2018, Spain is governed in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The president of the government Pedro Sánchez has the executive power while the Council of Ministers is formed by the president.

Spain’s per capita GDP in 2018 was $30,370, out of which 8.9% was expenditure on health. The estimated per capita annual expenditure on health  was $3,322.

Spanish National Healthcare system guarantees universal health coverage, and access to all Spanish nationals, whilst only 10% of the population uses private health care services to avoid the long waiting lines in the public health sector.

The highly decentralized nation has 17 Autonomous Communities that are in charge of particular regions. The Health Alert and Emergency Coordination Centre provides a mechanism for coordination between the national and regional governments.

As of 2017, there were 3.9 doctors, 5.7 nurses and 3 beds per 1,000 inhabitants.  As there is a shortage of ventilators, the government is currently seeking out for various ways to bring more ventilators, including seeking help from neighbouring countries and 3D printing.


Civil and political rights

Due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in Spain, the government imposed a strict lockdown on 14th March 2020, allowing people to go outside only for essentials such as food and medicine, walk a pet and take care of dependents.

The Spanish government eased the 7-weeks strict lockdown while making it mandatory to wear masks in public transport. After six weeks into lockdown, children in Spain were allowed outdoor activity each day, with physical distancing practiced, and 1km away from their homes.

Migrant workers in Spain have been left in dire conditions amid the pandemic. While the government has been applauded for releasing people from immigration detention centres  as it authorized temporary hiring thousands of immigrants to tackle the shortfall of farm workers, the newly employed are forced to live in unhygienic environments and harsh conditions.

The national lockdown has also raised concerns over rise in domestic violence particularly towards women who are now forced to stay home with their abusers. As a result, children are more exposed to trauma.

While women fear aggressors inside the house, they also fear the virus outside. In response, government started an encouraging campaign to report such incidents. The government has guaranteed a safe alternative living arrangement for victims of violence, while simultaneously launching the ‘Mascarilla-19’ campaign, to help women against gender-based violence.

As part of enforcing the lockdown, the local police and other governmental agencies have been working together. As such, the police have used drones to send out messages to restrict movements, while the military has deployed agricultural drones to spray disinfectants to combat the virus. In addition, there have been reports of police officers using excessive force on citizens to enforce the lockdown.

While various violent acts of police officers have circulated on social media, other questionable measures have also surfaced. For instance, police officers are often seen in common areas of buildings, even though the law prohibits this.

The authorities have also used tractors to fumigate the Spanish beaches, to protect children prior to the day they were allowed outdoor activities. As environmentalists expressed outrage at this unnecessary measure, the regional government is now considering fining the local authority for it.


Social and economic rights

Unemployment rate increased by 9.4% from February to March and is estimated to reach 20.8%. Artistic and recreational activities, for example, have dropped by 11.2%.

Spain also saw an immediate economic impact as GDP declined by 5.2% in the first quarter of 2020. The tourism sector contributes to 12% of GDP and 13% of the country’s jobs, and Spaniards are unsure if the job market will start lifting following lockdown.

People in manufacturing and construction industries are now allowed to go back to work with the ease of the lockdown although some workers worry about health safety.

To fight the economic fallout of the coronavirus, the Prime Minister announced a relief package of €200 billion, which includes allowing workers to reduce workday by 100% to take care of dependants.

Moreover, the Economic Ministry also has approved a moratorium on social security contributions by self-employed workers and some small- and medium sized businesses.