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Uribes: the Spanish model for supporting terror victims
Written by   
, 25 2010

Uribes: the Spanish model for supporting terror victims may be an example

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes, general director of the Spanish interior ministry's Department of Terror Victim Support, discussed the Spanish model of state support to terror victims in an exclusive interview with the 'RIA Novosti' news agency.

- Recently you participated in 5th International Congress on Terror Victims, which was held in Colombia. What, in your opinion, was the most remarkable event of the forum?

I would say that it was certainly participation by terror victims in the Congress. Morethan 1,600 people, who were in one way or another affected by various acts of terror, attended at that time. There were people from Colombia itself, which had for decades suffered from the depredations of FARC (ed: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). There were victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th, 2001. There were some survivors from one of the bloodiest attacks in Northern Ireland, in Omaha (Ireland). There were many Spaniards, who were victims of Basque terrorism and the terrorist attacks on March 11th, 2004.

Felipe, Prince of Asturias, as well as his wife, and the presidents of Colombia and Mexico, attended the Congress. Thelatter closed the Congress. These persons also lent their gravitas to the event.

But, of course, most memorable were the stories of the terror victims and their families, their testimony, tragedy, and suffering. Thestories of mothers who lost sons, or the stories of orphaned children. Theperformances of some of the Colombian participants were very emotional. Gunmen had kidnapped their relatives, and they knew not whether they were still alive. These people are going through a terrible drama.

- Was there anyone from Russia?

No, this year there was no one from your country, though Russians had come to other conferences.

- What can result from such a congress?

We had a very useful exchange of experiences and compared different models of state support of terror victims. Ihad a wonderful opportunity to elaborate on our system, which received the general approval of the congress, and which could well become a model for many other countries.

- How long has your department been around?

It was established in 2006, though it has a prehistory. Earlier in the ministry, there was a division dealing exclusively with economic aid to victims of terrorist attacks. Then, under Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero, in 20042006, we started slowly changing the very philosophy of assisting terror victims. Bythe creation of this department, we tried as much as possible to extend assistance provided to victims of terrorist attacks so that it was not limited to cash payments, though they play an important role. Wecall the resulting system one of integrated, comprehensive support.

We have a powerful team of social workers, and we cooperate with the professional psychological community in Madrid, Spain, because it is very important to help people survive post-traumatic stress, which can last for years.

- What makes up the Spanish model for supporting terror victims?

I am convinced that this is a very good model, though we continue to improve it. Weare currently preparing proposals for new legislation to support victims of terrorism.

Frankly, it would be better if we did not have this model, because then it would mean that everything in our country is okay. Thesystem is based on our many years of tragic experience with terrorism. Formany decades, unfortunately, Spain has suffered and continues to suffer from all kinds of terrorism: ultra-right and ultra-leftist, nationalist such as Basque terrorism, and jihad. Letus recall the 1985attack at the 'Descanso' restaurant in Madrid, or March 11th, 2004, when the largest terrorist attack, in terms of dead and wounded, occurred in Madrid: 192killed and almost 2000wounded by European Muslim fanatics. Somany souls were left wounded souls by these blasts! Somany broken families, irreparable losses, and so many destinies forever changed!

We must, however, note that in recent years the state has done much to combat terrorism, especially from a law enforcement and legal standpoint, as well as politically. Insociety there have been significant changes, and the terrorists do not have the support base that may have existed at one time. Bythis Imean primarily Basque terrorism. Allthis, of course, was due to contributions by both the state, and society, which gradually developed legislation, social policy, and solidarity with terror victims. Itis no accident that the current law called the 'Solidarity Act'.

- What are the main points contained in this model?

The model is based primarily on the principle of territoriality, but with very large exceptions. Thefirst main point is assistance from the government: economic, social, and psychological. Assistance is provided to Spaniards and foreigners affected by a terrorist attack that takes place in Spain. Inthis case the assistance is identical, it does not depend on whether the victim is a Spaniard or a foreigner. Moreover, the government grants citizenship to foreign victims of terrorist attacks that occurring in Spain. Theamount of assistance is determined by the severity of damage. Ifthe person dies, than his close relatives are given assistance, including citizenship.

Then there is the principle of territoriality, which was added for situations where people Spaniards and foreigners are victims of a terrorist act committed outside of Spain, but only in certain cases, such as when a terrorist act is committed against the interests of Spain, for example at an embassy or cultural office. Thishappened five years ago at the House of Spain in Casablanca, where 22were killed. Thesecond case is when an attack is directed against Spanish troops participating in peacekeeping missions abroad. Theassistance, moreover, is not limited to members of the mission, but to everyone, including foreigners who were located within the mission's territory and injured at the time of the attack. Thismay include not only service members, but also doctors, journalists, and employees of the mission from the local community. Ifthey are found to be victims of a terror attack, they receive appropriate assistance from the Spanish government. Thethird situation is when an attack occurs outside of Spain, but is committed by a Spanish terrorist group, for example, in the case of the ETA (ed: Basque separatist terrorist organization) in France. Thefamilies of gendarmes who were killed by Basque terrorists in the French city of Cap Breton in December of 2007were fully entitled to compensation, even though the Basque terrorists, of course, do not consider themselves Spaniards.

We have also extended another criterion to determine who is to be considered a victim of a terrorist attack, and to be given compensation and other assistance. Under the law, victims of terrorism are those who have suffered in varying degrees during a terror attack. Ifhe or she is wounded or killed, then in this case close relatives, the deceased's widow or widower, and orphaned children, are considered victims. Recently we included on this list those whose marriage was not registered, that is, those who are not legally a widow or widower, but in fact really are. Theytoo have lost a loved one. Alsoincluded are parents if they are economically dependent on a deceased son or daughter, that is, they lost their sole provider because of a terrorist attack.

- What does this assistance consist of?

Our system is characterized by three main elements that have arisen at different points in our history and are still in effect.

During the 1980's, during the governments of Felipe Gonzalez, there were a number of decrees recognizing that victims of terrorism were entitled to an additional lifetime pension. Iemphasize additional. Itis not a substitute for their regular service pension or salary, if the person still works. Itis in addition to other revenues. Theamount is determined based on the severity of the damage. Ifa person dies, then his or her pension is granted to the next of kin. Payments are monthly, and are fairly substantial: from 1,000 to 5,000 euros. Inthis case the pension is not subject to any taxes.

The second point: in 1999, under the government of Jose Maria Aznar, Parliament unanimously passed the 'Solidarity Law', in which, incidentally, the current Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, was actively involved. Theact established a system of lump-sum payments on top of monthly pensions. Theymay be paid in two or three installments, but it is a lump sum payment. Thesize is also determined by the severity of damage, and, in the case of death, can reach up to 240250thousand euros.

Added to this lump sum payment are any damages the court may assign the terror victim.

- Is this money also paid by the state?

In cases where a criminal, convicted of a committing a terrorist attack, is adjudged insolvent, such as the case of those who were convicted of the terrorist attacks on March 11th, 2004. In this case, as Imentioned before, 192were killed and almost 2000injured, some of them very seriously, and people were disabled for life. Thecourt awarded relatives of the slain victims 900thousand euros, and fairly significant amounts were awarded to injured victims. TheMinistry initially pays relatives of the slain the first 240thousand euros, then the difference in another payment. Other victims receive the entire amount as posited.

- And how much have these attacks ‘cost’ the state?

The court made the decision in September of last year, and since autumn we began paying more than 330million euros, of which the victims have already received about 200million.

- That is a lot.

Yes, Iagree, but the money is nothing compared with the impossibility of bringing back the dead, with the void that forever settles into the souls of their loved ones, and all of society, and with the need to find the strength to continue to live despite the loss. Painfor the loss of a loved one can never be paid off. Eventhough, of course, economic assistance is no small part of the comprehensive support we provide to victims of terrorism, it includes social and psychological assistance as well.

This is integrated support, and is the third pillar of our system of assistance. Westarted developing it during the government of Rodriguez Zapatero, since 2004. AsI mentioned, we have significantly broadened the criteria for granting aid, as well as those who are recognized as victims of terrorism.

- What is integrated support?

We do not limit ourselves just to economic aid for victims, and we try to personalize our attention and support. Wehave developed special programs, such as physical support of victims at court hearings. Notlegal assistance, because there already is that, the state allocates them lawyers, but physical assistance so they do not feel alone, so that they have someone they can rely on at difficult moments.

Our social workers visit the children at home or in the hospital, and still do this even many years after the attack, to see how they are doing and if there is a need of assistance. These people rarely seek help. Manywithdraw into themselves, and they need help to get out of this self-isolation. Evenif they are experiencing difficulties not directly related to the terrorist attack, for example, if someone lost his or her job, or got sick, we also try to help. Wealso have a special program of scholarships and grants for children.

By the way, as a result of these 'campaigns', we make statements that are then often used by plaintiffs in court. Forexample, to clearly assess the impact of terror on a family, where, say, someone became handicapped, or as was the case with the terrorist attacks on March 11th, where a girl has been in a coma for five years and the prognosis is very disappointing. Herfamily requires constant psychological help. Ofcourse, the damage caused by the terrorists to this family is not limited to data from the girl's medical records.

This is comprehensive support.

- All this assistance, including psychological, is free?

Yes, absolutely free. Wehave certain internal 'pricing', for example. Weallot 3,000 euros per person with regards to assistance by psychologists. Butif the case is difficult and requires long-term treatment, counseling, and psychological support, we may request additional funds. Someis allocated from various foundations and associations of terror victims, which are, in turn, largely financed by the government. Thevictims themselves do not pay.

We also pay for prostheses and any operations that are required.

Another feature of our model is the concept of active administration.

- What do you mean?

Previously, the ministry only carried out decrees, regulations, and legal actions for compensation and pensions, without any special activities and initiatives. Manyterror victims were in fact outside the law, because they did not even know that they were owed something. Technically, of course, they have to apply for compensation, fill out pension and other paperwork, because the state cannot compel people to exercise their rights. Butwe are taking the initiative ourselves and drawing up lists of victims. Wesearch for them and send them letters explaining their rights.

We created this program to locate terror victims, because, during the period from 1996to 20042005, almost 400people injured in terror attacks at various times had not yet applied for pensions or received any compensation, including psycho-social support. Manysimply did not know that they were entitled to this assistance. Theydid not know that there had been a court trial, and that the perpetrator or, if he was adjudged insolvent, the state, had to pay a certain amount of compensation to victims of the attack. Insome cases we are talking about fairly significant amounts: 80100thousand euros. Wereviewed all court decisions on terrorist attacks during this period, all police reports, and compiled lists of victims. Wefound them, some even abroad, and many have received their due. Wehave reached an agreement in principle with the judicial authorities that, in the case of terrorist attacks, the statutory period for victims to sue and to exercise their rights is to be extended, since, in some cases, we are talking about events occurring more than 10years ago.

So we are always on the alert, ready to help at any time and for any reason. Thisis largely due to the fact that Spanish society has changed dramatically. Nolonger is there the atmosphere that prevailed 6070years ago, when people affected by an attack almost had to bury their loved ones in secret, keep silent about what happened, and not go stuttering to the state for assistance. Nowevery terrorist attack summons sharp condemnation from the public, while those who were victims now feel acceptance, solidarity and support.

- How many terror victims now receive assistance from the state?

Well, look here. Inthe whole of our nation's history there have been about 1300people killed in terrorist attacks. 825were due to Basque terrorism, 192were on March 11th, 2004, and all sorts of far-right and ultra-left factions killed the rest. Wehave included on this list, by the way, Spaniards who suffered during the de-colonization of the Western Sahara. Addin close relatives of the dead, the injured and, in some cases, their relatives, and our data still only contains 20,000 people who today are recognized by the government as terror victims, and to be provided the appropriate support.

Many are members of various foundations and associations of terror victims, of which there are somewhere around 50 in the country, if we count the military and police unions. Incidentally, more than half of those killed and wounded in terror attacks were police and military.

- Do they have any privileges in obtaining compensation?

No, but everyone understands that most of them were on duty at the time of a terror attack, and that they are at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. Theyreceive the same pension and compensation as other terror victims. Theonly exception we have made for them, even though it was later extended to civilian terror victims, was that we expanded the list of those recognized as terror victims by the government to include parents who lost a son or daughter on whom they were financially dependent. Among the police and military, such cases, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Parents receive a lifetime pension for a deceased son, or assistance if he, for example, was disabled for life and unable to support his parents.

- Does your department have a budget?

No, but every year we compile a forecast based on data on terror victims we already serve. Bythis Imean victims of terrorist acts that have already been committed. Though, if there is need for additional assistance, operations and so forth, not to mention the fact that if, God forbid, there is another terrorist attack, we have no problem with money. Ourdepartment is funded directly from the government budget and there has been no disruption of financing.

If we talk about numbers, Ican say that for the entire period that the government has paid these pensions and compensation, and provided other assistance to terror victims, more than 1billion euros has been spent for this purpose. Justin the past year and the first five months of this year, we paid victims of the March 11th attacks about 300400million euros.

- You mentioned that they are preparing the draft of a new law on support for victims of terrorism.

In October of last year, Minister Rubalcaba met with representatives from terror victim associations, first of all to hear their comments and suggestions.

This was the basis for the original version of amendments to the law, which Ihope will be adopted under the current government. Weare now at the stage of writing the text of the law.

- Does this mean that the current law is not perfect?

Yes, the law has its drawbacks, though, again, we have a very strong and powerful model. Butthe problem is that much of what we have recently introduced into practice, including the concept of integrated support and proactive administration, which Itold you about earlier, is not fixed and is not spelled out in the law. Themain job now is to bring together this practice and to register, 'to norm it' or something. Thisis important.

Then there are some voids in the current law that we need to flesh out in an effective content.

The first is the situation with illegal detentions, which, especially recently, were practiced by Basque terrorists. Letus say they had to steal someone’s car to use in a terrorist attack, filled with explosives. Sothat whomever they stole the car from does not call the police, they are detained for several hours and released after the attack. Thisit how it was, let us say, in December of 2006, when an explosion went off a parking lot at Madrid Airport. Thecurrent law only recognizes as victims of terrorism those who were kidnapped for ransom or blackmail. Wewant to extend this criterion.

The second point concerns victims of terrorist acts committed outside of Spain. Ihave already explained what the law covers the situation.

- What kind of relationship does the department have with terror victim associations?

They are good, both the working and permanent relationships. Every year we allot financing to these organizations, about 1million euros, and the labor ministry, for its part, also helps them. Theyalso have many private donations. Now, as Ihave already said, we have continuous contact with them while hammering out the text of the new law. I frequently have joint events, roundtables, memorial services, and conferences, like the one that took place in Columbia.

- Do they criticize you?

Sometimes, though nowadays it is rare.

In a recent interview, Pilar Manjon, president of the association of victims of the March 11th terrorist attacks, expressed strong dissatisfaction that this year, on the 5th anniversary of the tragic events, there were a good deal less government events marking the occasion.

I do not agree with her. Onthat day Iwas personally present at, at least four, events: two memorial demonstrations, a meeting with survivors, and that evening Iwas at a gala concert, which was attended by Felipe, Prince of Asturias, and his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, and attended as well by at least six other ministers. Pilar, by the way, was also at this concert.

But Ican understand the victims and their relatives. Timepasses and much is forgotten and erased from memory, but they live on with this, the memories, and their feelings. Forthem it is vitally important that they are remembered. Theysaid that they want recognition and justice, and we are trying to help them as best we can, trying to help them break this vicious cycle and find some stability in life.

Printed in 'RIA Novosti'.

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