Spain’s top prosecutor will open an investigation into the deaths of migrants trying to cross the border from Morocco to Spain.
Moroccan officials say 23 people died in the violent incident, while several NGOs say the true death toll is 37.
Although Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez applauded the actions of Moroccan and Spanish authorities at the border, the Spanish Attorney General explained in a statement on Tuesday that the decision to investigate is based on “the transcendence and seriousness of what occurred, which could have affected human rights.”
The announcement came hours after the UN Committee on Migrant Workers called for Spanish and Moroccan officials to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the deaths.
“It is yet to be determined whether the victims died falling from the fence, in a stampede, or as a result of any actions taken by the border control officers,” the UN committee said in a statement.
The deaths occurred after around 2,000 migrants tried to cross the border into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.
Images from the scene show severely injured or dead migrants lying on the ground without receiving medical attention. Others showed how Moroccan authorities forced migrants, many with injuries, to lie on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs.
One of the 133 migrants who managed to cross into Spain told Spanish daily El Diario that his friend was beaten and killed by a Moroccan officer.
NGOs have warned that Moroccan authorities are already digging graves for the victims to cover up what happened on Friday.
In Tuesday’s statement, the UN committee pointed out that “the Moroccan government is required to preserve the bodies of the deceased, fully identify them and inform their families, and provide the necessary support for the transfer of the bodies.”
A branch of the attorney general’s office related to migration will manage the investigation. However, as the bodies are now on the Moroccan side of the border, it remains to be seen how much information the Spanish prosecutors will be able to obtain.
“These were horrifying deaths, the scenes from Melilla are downright dystopian, exemplifying everything that is unconscionable about Spain and the EU’s approach to migrants and refugees, particularly if they are Black or brown,” Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch told British daily The Guardian on Monday.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, also expressed shock and concern over the “violent and degrading treatment of African migrants” and called for an investigation.
Politicians from Colombia and Algeria have called what occurred “a massacre.”
According to the Spanish refugee agency CEAR, many of the migrants were from Chad and Sudan, meaning they had high chances of obtaining international protection if they had reached Spain.