UN Committee against Torture demands that Madrid investigates death of a Senegalese migrant caused by border guards

In a decision adopted at its 47th Session from 31st October to 25 November 2011, but made public only on 20th February 2012, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) upheld the complaint lodged by a Senegalese woman residing in Spain, Fatou SONKO, whose brother drowned off the coast of the Spanish enclave city of Ceuta on the night of 25/26 September 2007 after a Spanish coast guard unit punctured his float and ordered him to jump into the sea, together with three other sub-Saharans. (Communication No. 368/200) (Decisions of the CAT are made public only several months after they are adopted on account of its rather slow and bureaucratic procedures.)

The CAT considered that the facts of the case amounted to a violation of Articles 12 and 16 of the Convention and called on the Spanish State to carry out an adequate and impartial investigation into the incident, prosecute and condemn the persons responsible for the tragedy and grant full and adequate compensation to the victim’s family.

Article 12 obliges each Contracting State to “ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction.”


According to the survivors of the incident – two men and a woman – , the Spanish border guard unit consisting of two men intercepted their vessel as they were trying to enter Ceuta clandestinely. Each of the migrants was wearing a float and a neoprene…As they were off the beach, but still in waters too deep to stand up, the border guards ordered them to jump into sea, after puncturing their float of the three men, but not that of the woman.

As for Article 16, it obliges each State Party to “undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. (…).”

Spain was granted 90 days, as from the date of the transmission of the present CAT decision, which could have been last October or November, to inform the Committee of all measures taken in response to the observations made by the CAT in its adopted View.

According to the survivors of the incident – two men and a woman – , the Spanish border guard unit consisting of two men intercepted their vessel as they were trying to enter Ceuta clandestinely. Each of the migrant was wearing a float and a neoprene.

The border guards took the four migrants on board and headed for Moroccan territorial waters, near the beach of Bastiones.

As they were off the beach, but still in waters too deep to stand up, the border guards ordered them to jump into sea, after puncturing their float of the three men, but not that of the woman.

Lauding SONKO pleaded with the border guards, saying that he did not know how to swim and tried to cling on to the side of the vessel of the border guards who used force to push him away.

When it became obvious to the border guards that Mr SONKO was indeed in serious difficulties, one of the two border guards jumped into the sea to help him reach land.

Once on the beach, he tried desperately to revive Mr SONKO, but in vain. Mr SONKO was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

On 28 September 2007, a judge in Ceuta who was given responsibility for investigating the death of Mr SONKO decided to have the case shelved because he did not consider that he had the competence to rule on an incident that happened within Moroccan territory.

The full communication, only in Spanish, can be downloaded from: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/408/72/PDF/G1240872.pdf?OpenElement