9 May 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Greece on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Ioannis Ioannidis, Secretary-General of the Department of Human Right and Transparency of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, said that the prevention of torture and cruel treatment was a priority for the Government. A number of legislative and other measures had been adopted to tackle overcrowding in prisons, transparency in the administration of detention facilities, and the health care of prisoners. The country was facing a critical migratory situation at a time of serious financial constraints and Greece based its actions in this regard on four pillars: the creation of reception centres, the modernization of existing migrants’ detention centres, the reform of the national system, and the introduction of new return procedures. Legislation and policies against trafficking in human beings had been further strengthened, while the creation of a comprehensive structure for prevention, combating and support of victims of gender-based violence had been included in the National Action Plan of Violence against Women 2009-2013.
Nora Sveaass, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Greece, asked several questions concerning the hate and xenophobia by some groups that had entered the political scene in Greece and were promoting negative attitudes, xenophobia and nationalism; and lacunas that existed in the legislation concerning the definition of torture and its explicit prohibition and how they reflected on the functioning of the judicial system in dealing with crimes of torture and ill-treatment.
Essadia Belmir, the Committee Expert who also served as Rapporteur for the report of Greece, underlined the importance of understanding who was a national and who was a minority and the obligations of Greece to people under its jurisdiction. She asked why the judicial system was slow in criminal proceedings and why the system for receiving complaints was not fully functioning, for both nationals and foreigners.
Other Committee Experts asked questions about overcrowding in detention centres and the living conditions in those centres; the impact of financial constraints on improvements of staffing in prisons, particularly of health and social workers; and the compliance of Greece with the March 2011 statement by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture concerning extreme overcrowding in prisons. Other issues of concern included training of the police officers to deal with sexual violence, violence against women and body searches which now seemed to be routine; measures to address the case of missing Albanian Roma children; if female genital mutilation was recognised as a basis for asylum seeking; and the process of return of migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey.
The Greece delegation consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, Ministry of Citizen Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today when it will hear the replies of Albania which presented its report yesterday. The replies of Greece will be heard at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 10 May.
Report of Greece
The combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Greece can be read via the following link (CAT/C/GRC/5-6).
Presentation of the Report of Greece
IOANNIS IOANNIDIS, Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, introducing the report of Greece, said that the prevention of torture and cruel treatment was a priority for the Government. The rapid increase in migration flows and the financial crisis were some of the causes of overcrowding in detention facilities. Measures undertaken by Greece included improvement in the living conditions and enhancing transparency in the administration of detention facilities. Greek authorities did not deny or ignore the problems in its prison system and had adopted a number of initiatives to tackle overcrowding in prisons. Since 2001 a special framework had been established for the construction of new prisons throughout the country; one of those buildings had already been completed while others were in final stages of completion. Greece had also undertaken legislative changes to regulate the execution of sentences by eliminating failures of the legislation in force that had contributed to the prisons’ population increase. Another law had improved alternative measures so that an imprisonment sentence was imposed only for serious offenses and reoffending criminals. Under provisions of other recent laws, over 1,000 detainees had been released until now, while other laws were providing for fairer penalties for juveniles. Aiming to reduce the penal correction in particularly serious crimes and higher-aged minors, only reformatory or therapeutic measures might be imposed on minors up to the age of 15 instead of 13 as had been the case until recently. The Criminal Code had been amended to improve the process of judicial expulsion which until now had resulted in long-term detention for foreigners whose expulsion was impossible.
Turning to transparency and administration of prison, Mr. Ioannidis said that Greece had established in every prison a Record of Injuries to Detainees and in every women’s prison a Record of Body Searches had been established as well, to allow the competent authorities to check whether those searches had been made in accordance with the law. A special hot line was available in the Special Secretariat for Correctional Policy allowing prisoners to get easily in touch with and be heard by the central administration. In spite of the adverse financial situation, a series of measures aiming at improving prisoners’ healthcare had been taken and examination and vaccinations had been provided for a number of diseases. Greece faced a particularly heavy migratory pressure due to its geographic position as the external border of the European Union. The country was facing a critical migratory situation at a time of serious financial constrains. The action of the authorities was based on four pillars: the creation of reception centres, the modernization of existing migrants’ detention centres, the reform of the national system, and the introduction of new return procedures. The First Reception as well as Asylum Services had been established as independent services within the Ministry of Citizen Protection and the draft Presidential Decree regarding the organization and operation of the First Reception Centre was at the final stages of processing. It was encouraging to note that irregular immigration had been considered as a European problem and initiatives had been launched by the European Union to support Greece’s national programme for the management of migratory flows. Legislation and policies against trafficking in human beings had been further strengthened, while the creation of a comprehensive structure for prevention, combating and support of victims of gender-based violence had been included in the National Action Plan of Violence against Women 2009-2013.
Questions from Rapporteurs on Greece
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the Report of Greece, said that the list of issues had been sent to Greece in February 2009 and the report was prepared in 2010, so the discussion today would be an opportunity to get up-to-date information about the situation in Greece and measures and initiatives taken. The Committee recognized the considerable challenges that Greece was facing in relation to irregular migratory flows and overcrowding in detention facilities. It would be of interest to also examine how Greece could address the question of hate and xenophobia; some groups that had entered the political scene in Greece were promoting negative attitudes, xenophobia and nationalism and this was the issue of concern. Ms. Sveaass encouraged Greece to reflect on some of lacunas that existed in its legislation concerning the definition of torture and its explicit prohibition. Serious discrepancies between definitions in the Convention and in the national legislation may create loopholes and allow some forms of torture to take place. Further, Greece should reflect on the legislation regulating sexual violence. It was of the utmost importance to discuss the lack of data on torture and ill treatment and also to discuss the examination in criminal proceedings of police officers for accusations of ill treatment. Concerning the case of a homosexual from Turkey, the Committee listed a number of violations of the Convention and asked Greece to comment on how this issue had been dealt with, including on how people could be medically examined after torture and ill treatment. There seemed to be a number of decisions in the first instance to sentence acts of torture and ill treatment, only for them to be acquitted on appeal, and the Committee Expert asked the delegation to comment on how crimes of torture had been dealt with.
The Expert noted the strong efforts of Greece on trafficking in persons and recognized that a lot had been done to prosecute the offenders and cut the trafficking routes. What could be done to improve the protection of victims of trafficking? The responsibility of the Committee was to prevent torture and fill gaps in legislation and this was an important aspect of its work in relation to sexual violence and violence against women. Could the delegation provide information about the prosecution and treatment of such offences? Irregular immigration was an issue of serious concern and the Committee reiterated that standards and procedures were respected in terms of reception, waiting, principle of non-refoulement and absolute protection from torture. The Committee welcomed the measures taken by Greece to address the issue and asked for comments on the Presidential Decree and on the status of the 13 reception centres. It was problematic to note the high number of arrivals and very low number of asylum applications; the number of granted asylums was also very low. What measures did Greece undertake to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Optional Protocol concerning non-refoulement? Other issues of concern regarding irregular migration included detention of undocumented migrants, the long time of detention, and the detention of children and unaccompanied children.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on Greece, underlined the importance of understanding who was a national and who was a minority; what rights, duties and responsibilities they had and what were the obligations of Greece to people under their jurisdiction, be they citizens or aliens? Why was the judicial system slow in criminal proceedings; was it a problem of people, access to the profession, training or something else and what prevented the system from truly functioning? It seemed that the system for receiving complaints was not fully functioning, for both nationals and foreigners, and there was a problem of racial discrimination which affected all parts of the system and not just the police. A society-wide effort must be made to tackle this scourge.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked whether there had been efforts in 2011 to improve the situation in migrants’ detention centres and whether the Sparta Migration Centre was in operation. In the light of the financial constraints, had there been efforts to improve staffing in prisons, including health and social workers? Concerning the September 2011 incident in which two lawyers had been attacked, what was the action taken to prosecute the offenders?
Another Expert asked that the number of detainees in each of the detention centres be provided, together with the description of living conditions in those centres. There were some prisons in which overcrowding had reached 200 or even 300 per cent capacity and the situation was such that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture had made a statement in March 2011 concerning this deplorable situation. What was being done to comply with this statement? Could the delegation describe how the asylum applications were processed?
What kind of training did police officers receive to deal with sexual violence, violence against women and body searches which now seemed to be routine and were degrading? Greece provided a lot of information concerning the Code of Conduct and the Expert asked for further information for the prosecution and punishment for violations of the Code. What measures were taken to address the case of missing Albanian Roma children and was Greece considering the creation of a bi-national commission to look into the matter?
Regarding the legislative changes in Greece, an Expert asked for comments on how crimes of torture and ill treatment would be treated and if there was a danger of replacing them with fines. Did new legislation on asylum make distinction between people to whom asylum was granted and did this law recognise female genital mutilation as a basis for asylum seeking? How was the return of migrants arriving from Turkey done?
Committee Expert asked whether there was a system of appeal for repulsion procedures and how slowness of the criminal procedures squared with the statute of limitation running out. It was the aptitude of people dealing with detainees to detect violence including sexual violence as acts of torture. Could the delegation provide more information on this? What was the role of non-governmental organizations in prisons and detention facilities?
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, asked the delegation to clarify how retaliation was avoided in case of complaints, the evolving of the establishment of the ombudsmen office and the composition and workings of a three-member committee that was receiving complaints. Concerning irregular immigration, implementation in practice of laws was always an issue.
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the Report of Greece, in a second round of questions, asked for clarification on how non-governmental organizations could visit prisons. Was the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment directly applicable in courts? The report had provided much interesting information concerning training; could the delegation provide additional data about training on torture, and particularly of medical personnel and on training on the Istanbul Protocol. What were the conditions in which children asylum seekers were held?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on the Report of Greece, noted that there were a certain number of international standards for dealing with minors and that criminal sentence should be the last resort. How were minors who were trafficked dealt with, as victims or otherwise?
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to describe how the reduction of prison sentences was being done and the role of the executive in this process.
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