Separatist group Basque Homeland & Liberty (ETA) said in an April 16 communique that it has not abandoned its goal of an independent Basque state along the French-Spanish border despite giving up its arms. The statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara said disarmament "wasn't going to be a bargaining chip, but rather a way to show the intransigence of the [Spanish and French] states and to further the independence movement." It added that the separatist group has entered a phase in which it would take "decisions from among all its members for moving forward." The statement comes two weeks after ETA gave French authorities a list of eight arms caches at locations in the Pyrenees, said to represent the last of the group's weapons. A citizen International Verification Commission served as a liaison between ETA and the authorities.
Hearings began in Spain on April 10 regarding potential war crimes committed by President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. The case is a result of a Spanish national's brother being abducted and tortured in Damascus before being executed in 2013. The family claims that the brother was not part of an opposition group and just a truck driver making a delivery. The family was able to identify the body after a forensic photographer smuggled the photos out of Syria. The photographer may testify in the case next month. The investigation involved nine of Assad's closest aides but not Assad himself due to his immunity. Spain is the first to hold a criminal investigation of potential war crimes into Syria, as Russia has blocked referral of the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court.
Spain's top court on March 27 agreed to investigate claims by a Spanish woman who alleges her brother was tortured and murdered by Bashar al-Assad's security forces. According to the woman, who is identified only as AH for security reasons, her brother was executed in 2013 at a detention facility in Damascus. Spanish High Court Judge Eloy Velasco has asked Syrian authorities to appoint legal representation in Spain for the nine security officers implicated in the torture and murder of the litigtant's brother. The case is the first criminal complaint accepted against President al-Assad's security forces by a European court. The lawyers for AH contend that Spanish courts have jurisdiction over the complaint due to the woman's status as a Spanish citizen. Velasco determined that the complaint has standing in Spain's courts under international norms that consider family members of those who have "disappeared" as a result of international crimes to be equally considered victims of those crimes.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
The Constitutional Court of Spain on Dec. 2 declared unconstitutional (PDF) a resolution by the Parliament of Catalonia that proposed a plan for the region's independence from Spain by 2017. The resolution was approved by Catalonian lawmakers in November, and stated that parliament would take the "necessary steps" to effect the separation from Spain in a peaceful and democratic manner and in a way that would empower citizens. The court held that the resolution violated Articles 1.1, 1.2 , 2, 9.1 and 168 of the Constitution and Articles 1 and 2.4 of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. The resolution states that the separation of Catalanonia from Spain is not subject to the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
Judge Jose de la Mata of Spain's Audiencia Nacional on Nov. 12 ordered the Civil Guard and police forces to notify him if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any of six of his former officials set foot on Spanish soil, as their visit could re-open a case filed against them in the country. The judge put the case on hold in June 2014 after Spain reformed its Universal Justice doctrine. The case was opened by the Audenica, following the 2010 Israeli raid on the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza on a humanitarian mission. The list of Israeli officials also includes former defense minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, former strategic affairs minister (and current defense minister) Moshe Yaalon, former interior minister Eli Yishai, minister-without-portfolio Benny Begin, and the vice-admiral in charge of the operation, Maron Eliezer. (LAHT, Nov. 16; EFE, Nov. 13; El Diaro, Madrid, Nov. 12)
NATO is just winding up its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War—Operation Trident Juncture, involving 36,000 troops and more than 140 aircraft and 60 ships from over 30 countries over a month-long span. The maneuvers were centered around Sardinia, where hundreds of local residents attempted to block the troops and craft in a civil disobedience action. They were angered by rising cancers, leukemia and birth defect rates on the island, where the soil and groundwater are contaminated with heavy metals, jet fuel and depleted uranium from decades of military operations and weapons testing there. Maneuvers were also held in Spain, Portugal, Norway and the Atlantic. (Gizmodo, Nov. 10; Revolution News, Nov. 3; ANSA, Oct. 21; NATO, July 15)