|Press release by Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Minority Rights Group
Greece: Damning Council of Europe report on racism, discrimination and impunity
15 September, 2009
The cooperating NGOs Minority Rights Group-Greece (MRG-G) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) welcome the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report examining racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance in Greece and Switzerland released today (along with the reports on the Czech Republic and Switzerland). It is available on line, with Greece’s reply (that includes disinformation and attacks) appended, in
French; and in
Greek. GHM and MRG-G had briefed ECRI during its visit to Greece in September 2008 and had accompanied it to the Roam settlements in Aspropyrgos and Spata. They had also submitted updated information through 2 April 2009 when the report was finalized. The reports summary is reprinted below. Here we reprint specific excerpts concerning the racist, xenophobic and anti-semtic statements made in Greece by media, judicial officials as well as the leader of the parliamentary and Euro-parliamentary extreme right party LAOS and the near total absence of any convictions on the basis of anti-racism Law 927/79 (paragraphs 17, 18, 87, 88, 91, 92, 94):
“ECRI regrets, as the authorities have acknowledged themselves, that Law 927/1979 continues to be rarely applied although information indicates cases of incitement to racial hatred in Greece. NGOs have further informed ECRI that the above cases were brought to court on their initiative. Therefore, more action on the Prosecutor’s part is still necessary in this regard as it appears that he rarely brings cases to court ex officio…. ECRI strongly recommends that the Greek authorities act more vigorously to ensure the punishment of breaches of Law 927/1979 in order to adequately combat incitement to racial hatred… Some cases of incitement to racial hatred (against Jews and Roma) have been brought to court in Greece in accordance with Law 927/1979 and convictions obtained, thus establishing a case law on the limitations to freedom of expression as concerns incitement to racial hatred. As also mentioned in other parts of the report, the media, including some newspapers publish antisemitic articles… ECRI recommends that the Greek authorities continue to ensure the enforcement of Law 927/1979 against journalists and media who incite racial hatred.
The leader of a right-wing extremist party LAOS, which won approximately 3% of the votes in the 2007 parliamentary elections, often makes public antisemitic and racist statements, including blaming immigrants for a surge in drug-related crimes and violence. Thus far, he has not been prosecuted for any of these statements under Law 927/1979… ECRI notes worrying reports of some prosecutors, including the chief prosecutor (See, “Rights Groups Denounce Greek Prosecutor’s Racist Statement”, Press Release by Open Society Justice Initiative, Athens, 5 February 2008), making racist or antisemitic statements without facing any sanctions… ECRI urges the Greek authorities to ensure that Law 927/1979 is implemented as concerns all public figures who engage in racist discourse.”
ECRI REPORT SUMMARY
Since the publication of ECRI’s third report on Greece on 8 June 2004, progress has been made in a number of fields covered by that report.
One area of progress as far as ECRI’s mandate is concerned, is the adoption of Law 3304/2005 on the “Implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of racial or ethnic origin, religious or other beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation”, which is a positive development in the fight against, among others, racial discrimination in Greece. This law prohibits direct and indirect discrimination, and protects against harassment and an instruction to discriminate. It applies to both the public and private spheres and covers employment, social protection, education and access to public goods and services, including housing. It provides that the adoption or maintenance of special measures aiming at preventing or compensating for disadvantages on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin shall not be considered discrimination. Law 3304/2005 further provides for the sharing of the burden of proof in anti-discrimination cases. ECRI thus notes that this law is broadly in keeping with international and European standards on the protection against racial discrimination. The Ombudsman, the Equal Treatment Committee and the Labour Inspectorate are the bodies entrusted with ensuring and monitoring the implementation of Law 3304/2005.
In October 2008, the Greek legislation was amended to provide for the racist motivation of a crime to be considered as an aggravating circumstance, as recommended in ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No. 7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination. Furthermore, a number of persons have been successfully prosecuted in the last couple of years for antisemitic or anti-Roma publications under, inter alia, Law 927/1979 which prohibits incitement to racial hatred.
The Greek authorities continued to implement the Integrated Action Plan for Roma, by taking measures in the areas of education, employment, health and housing. In the area of health, Socio-Medical Centres providing basic health care services such as primary health care and vaccination in Roma settlements were created. With regard to wakfs (charitable foundations), a question of concern to the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, Law 3647/08 allowing, inter alia, for the election of their managing committees by the minority itself was adopted on 29 February 2008. Moreover, a number of measures have been taken by the Greek authorities to improve the situation of this minority in the field of education. As concerns immigrants, the Greek authorities have also implemented a programme for combating racism and xenophobia in the labour market. 11,300 migrants benefited from this programme and 87 support structures which provided information and advice on, among others, regularisation were created. Moreover, in 2006 and 2007 the situation of thousands of irregular immigrants was regularised. Since ECRI’s third report, a reception centre for unaccompanied minors (both immigrants and asylum seekers) was opened in Mitilini in 2008.
In 2004, the 27th of January was designated as a Holocaust Remembrance Day and Jewish representatives have also informed ECRI of good cooperation with the Ministry of Education on teaching the Holocaust, including in school textbooks.
It has to be noted that by law, a 0,5% quota for the State exams was introduced to enhance the participation of the Muslim minority in the public sector in Western Thrace.
As concerns the police, a Code of Police Ethics has been adopted and an order was issued in 2004 on the non-use of degrading terms by the police, either in writing or orally, against Roma. Furthermore, all police officers are currently obliged to investigate the racist motivation of a crime and instructions and orders have been given to subordinate agencies for complete compliance with the above mentioned Law 3304/2005 which prohibits, inter alia, racial discrimination.
ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Greece. However, despite the progress achieved, some issues continue to give rise to concern.
On 4 November 2000, Greece signed Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it has not yet ratified this instrument, which entered into force on 1 April 2005. Law 927/1979, which prohibits incitement to racial hatred, continues to be rarely implemented although cases of incitement to hatred against Jews, Roma and immigrants in the media and by politicians occur.
Very few complaints have been filed for racial discrimination under Law 3304/2005, partly because NGOs cannot bring cases to court if a specific victim is not referred to. The bodies empowered with ensuring and monitoring the implementation of Law 3304/2005 need to be strengthened, as for instance the Ombudsman does not provide general information or legal advice to victims of racial discrimination. The Equal Treatment Committee and the Labour Inspectorate are not sufficiently active and independent in the fulfilment of their role in this regard.
As concerns the situation of Roma, Muslims in Western Thrace and immigrants in the employment sector, these groups continue to lag behind and to be confronted with discrimination in this area. Most Roma who live in settlements continue to earn their income from scrap and garbage collection and few are employed in the mainstream labour market due to discrimination and prejudice. A comprehensive long-term programme has not yet been established by the authorities to improve the integration of Muslims from Western Thrace into the labour market and reports indicated that they continue to be under-represented in the public sector and state owned corporations.
The implementation of the Integrated Action Plan for Roma needs to be more systematically monitored to assess results. In this regard, there have been allegations that the housing loan scheme has not always benefited targeted groups. Roma children continue to suffer from exclusion, discrimination and a high drop-out rate in education.
The renewal or issuance of residence permits continues to be one of the greatest problems faced by immigrants and an overhaul of the system in this regard is necessary as immigrants are often faced with long delays in this regard.
The question of the recognition of the right to freedom of association of persons belonging to the Macedonian community, a group - distinct from the majority – in the Greek administrative region of Macedonia and the Turkish community, one of the three components of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, has still not been resolved. A dialogue between the Greek authorities and representatives of these groups is still necessary to solve these issues and other matters of concern to these communities.
Other problems highlighted in this report include the need for the Greek authorities to sanction incitement to racial hatred by public and political figures, and to combat racially-motivated crimes more vigorously. The response given to asylum claims is also an area where improvements are necessary, as asylum seekers do not have adequate access to interpretation and legal counselling. The Greek authorities also need to improve the integration of refugees, by providing them with Greek language classes, access to education and employment.
In this report, ECRI requests that the Greek authorities take further action in a number of areas; in this context, it makes a series of recommendations, including the following.
ECRI recommends that Greece ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, an instrument which it considers important in the fight against racism and racial discrimination at national level.
In view of the above-mentioned instances of incitement to racial hatred, ECRI recommends that the Greek authorities act more vigorously to ensure the punishment of breaches of Law 927/1979 in order to adequately combat this phenomenon.
While recognizing that the adoption of Law 3304/2005 is a positive step in the fight against, inter alia, racial discrimination, ECRI recommends extending its scope to discrimination based on colour, language and nationality as recommended in its General Policy Recommendation No.7 on national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination. ECRI also recommends that the Greek authorities take measures to ensure a more vigorous implementation of this law in cases of racial discrimination by, inter alia, amending it to enable civil society actors to bring cases to court, even if a specific victim is not referred to.
ECRI notes that the role of the Ombudsman is broadly in keeping with the basic principles laid out in its General Policy Recommendation No. 2 on specialised bodies for combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level. However, ECRI recommends that the Greek authorities ensure that the Ombudsman is empowered to provide aid and assistance to victims, including legal aid, as recommended in its General Policy Recommendation No.2. ECRI also recommends that the delay within which individuals may file a complaint before the Ombudsman after learning of the administration’s illegal action or failure to act be extended to at least a year, inter alia, in order to encourage victims to file complaints to this body. ECRI further recommends that the Greek authorities take measures to raise public awareness of the role of the Ombudsman in implementing Law 3304/2005*.
With regard to the Integrated Action Plan for Roma, ECRI recommends the creation of more systematic and long-term mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the Integrated Action Plan in order to assess results and make any necessary adjustments. ECRI recommends that Roma representatives be involved in this process.*
As concerns the Macedonian and Turkish communities, ECRI recommends that the Greek authorities take measures to, inter alia, recognize their right to freedom of association, in full compliance with the relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.
ECRI also recommends that the Greek authorities combat antisemitism by ensuring the arrest, prosecution and conviction of those who commit antisemitic acts and calls upon the Greek authorities to draw inspiration from its General Policy No.9 on the fight against antisemitism, to that end.
As concerns immigrants, ECRI recommends that the Greek authorities address any structural problems within the administration which continue to slow down the process for issuing and renewing residence permits and to separate this question from the requirement of revenue stamps.*
ECRI also makes a number of recommendations concerning the police which are drawn from its General Policy Recommendation No. 11 on combating racism and racial discrimination in policing, particularly the setting up of an independent complaints mechanism and investigating and punishing police misconduct against, inter alia, members of minority groups.