10 May 2012
The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the responses of Greece to questions raised by Committee Experts on the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Wednesday, 9 May and today, the delegation of Greece, which was led by Ioannis Ioannidis, Secretary-General of the Department of Human Right and Transparency of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, talked about various issues on measures to curb the recent emergence of racism and xenophobia in the society and politics; the definition of torture in domestic legislation and its alignment with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture; access to the judicial profession and training of judges; redesigning and digitalizing the system collecting and processing justice statistics; and mechanisms for examining complaints of torture and ill treatment by law enforcement officers. Legislation was in place to protect migrant and asylum-seeking children who were victims of sale, trafficking and sexual and economic exploitation, and protection and assistance was also extended to victims of sex tourism and child pornography in accordance with the Palermo Protocol. The delegation also talked about preventing and combating violence against women, access of irregular migrants to the educational and health system, and personal data protection and legal aid, and explained measures to improve the effectiveness of the system of political asylum in Greece.
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 Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Greece will be issued towards the end of the Committee’s session which concludes on 1 June.
When the Committee reconvenes on Friday, 11 May at 10 a.m., it will meet with non-governmental organizations.
Responses of the Delegation of Greece
Greece was undergoing an economic and political tempest which saw the arrival on the political scene of the extreme right party; nevertheless, the majority of the population and parties in Greece were aware of this danger as attested by the absence of that party in political negotiations. The Government had deposited a draft bill against racism in Parliament which had not been voted on because Parliament at that moment had been dissolved; this law would put Greece in line with European standards in combating racism and xenophobia via criminal law. Greece was aware of the danger and would do everything it could to eliminate or reduce it. The acquisition of citizenship was governed by the code in a very clear way; a recent amendment of this law had favoured the acquisition of Greek citizenship of children of second or third generation, while the law allowing the withdrawal of citizenship had been abrogated in 1998. The Muslim minority of Thrace was the one minority legally recognized in Greece. The judicial corps and the police were not closed professions and any Greek citizen had access to those professions, provided they had undergone appropriate training. National schools for judges provided training also in human rights, trafficking in persons, criminal punishment of racism and xenophobia, personal data protection in police and many other subjects.
The definition of torture in the Greek Criminal Code was not narrower than the one in the Convention and did cover cases where torture was inflicted with the knowledge or acquiescence of a public officer. The order of a superior officer to undertake acts of torture carried a sentence of up to ten years in prison. Torture on grounds of ethnic, racial, sexual or gender orientation was an aggravating circumstance. There was a need for a systematic and digitalized approach to the collection and processing of justice statistics that would go beyond the handwritten bulletins of today. Attempts were currently underway to identify what needed to be done based on examples of best practices from around the world. Greece had established an Incident Response Office of Arbitrariness in the Ministry of Citizen Protection to create a more effective mechanism for examining incidents of ill treatment and arbitrariness by the police officers. The Office was responsible for collecting and recording, evaluating and further developing investigations into complaints against law enforcement personnel and allegations of torture and other offenses against human dignity, unlawful attacks against the life or health or personal or sexual freedom and any other offensive behaviour of an officer. Legislation was in place to protect migrant and asylum-seeking children who were victims of sale, trafficking and sexual and economic exploitation and they received protection for their life, physical integrity and personal and sexual freedom. They also received for as long as necessary assistance for accommodation, sustenance, living conditions, care and psychological support.
The recent law on ratification and implementation of the Palermo Protocol provided for assistance afforded to the victims of sex tourism and child pornography irrespective of the cooperation of victims with prosecuting authorities. The issuance of residence permits for humanitarian reasons was stipulated under certain conditions for third-party nationals who were victims of trafficking in human beings. Preventing and combating violence against women was the subject of the National Programme 2009-2013 which included actions such as the creation of counselling centres and shelters, the operation of the national SOS line, the awareness raising campaign to prevent violence and others. In addition, the Government had established a standing committee to elaborate a draft law on combating gender-based violence against women. According to the legislation which regulated access to education and health of irregular migrants, every child enjoyed access to education regardless of the absence of complete documentation and legal status of the parents in the country. Free hospital and medical care was provided to asylum seekers and to documented and undocumented foreign nationals who suffered from infectious disease and in case of emergency.
Prosecutors might through a special document authorise the seizure of personal data for people against whom judicial proceedings had been initiated and in several other circumstances. Greece had addressed the system of political asylum and had established in 2011 the New Asylum Service as an independent service in the Ministry of Citizen Protection, which had an autonomous structure and no involvement of police staff. Until the new service became operational, a Presidential Decree had established the procedure for granting the international protection status and the humanitarian status to aliens and non-citizens. Since February 2012, five Appeals Committees had been established as well, to deal with the submitted and pending appeals. The training of the police officers was being conducted in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for receiving and examining asylum requests. The authorities had not yet encountered asylum requests based on female genital mutilation.
According to the 2012 statistic, the capacity of Koridalos prison was 800 and the number of detainees amounted to 2,163; Larisa prison, capacity 500, housed 913 prisoners; Patra prison had a capacity of 780 and housed 791 detainees. A new prison had opened in Trikala in 2006 which replaced the old one in the same city which had a much smaller capacity. Prisoners could be subjected to body searches only in private premises by at least two officers of the same sex. The conditional release of prisoners was solely granted by judicial authorities on condition that they met the legal requirements. A total of 17 doctors served detention facilities, together with two pharmacists, 27 psychologists, 73 social workers, 78 medical personnel, and 2,201 guards and 1,108 external guardians. The Ministry had elaborated a construction programme for new detention facilities in order to increase prison capacity and reduce overcrowding. The operation of new detention facilities however depended on the ability to hire new staff which was currently restricted by financial constraints.
The delegation explained the system of detention for aliens entering the country illegally and provided information about investments made to increase the capacity of detention facilities throughout the country. A new detention centre had been built in Attika in Athens to deal with the problem of illegal immigration to Greece; it was a closed, standalone enclosure and had no contact with the Police Academy and its students. Detainees in this facility were foreigners who entered the country illegally and were not fully identified, and those infringing on criminal activities. Concerning the public statement of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Greece had a good relationship with this Committee and strived to have as good cooperation as possible to allow them to best carry out their mission. According to the legislation in force, those recognized as conscientious objectors could serve in a civil service which was three months longer than military service.
Follow-up Questions of Experts
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Greece, pointed out some problematic elements in the definition of torture in the national legislation in Greece and asked how Greece considered the independence of the complaint mechanism. Violence against women was often undetected and the Expert asked whether this was part of the training of law enforcement officers. Did the reforms in the asylum system already begin? What was being planned in the context of new centres for unaccompanied minors and particularly those who were not asylum seekers? The rehabilitation of torture victims was important and there used to be a rehabilitation centre mostly financed by the European Union which had to close down due to a lack of national funding. How was the professional preparedness among doctors and psychologists and what were the possibilities within the public health system to provide rehabilitation to victims of torture who were asylum seekers?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Greece, asked what happened to people whose citizenship had been removed in light of the 1998 abrogation of the law. The problem of the justice system was not the training of judges but real structural flaws that existed and the functioning of the justice system and remedies must be found to address those issues. What was the situation with regard to trafficking in persons, including minorities? Most children and juveniles in conflict with the law belonged to minorities; they were at risk from lengthy pre-trial detention, lack of access to legal aid and others. What were the efforts in the country to establish and perfect the system of juvenile justice?
Other Experts asked the delegation to explain the delay in the implementation of reforms in the asylum system, shed light on reasons behind extreme overcrowding in some of the prisons despite the measures taken to reduce it, and to provide information on the case of 502 missing Albanian Roma children, including criminal responsibility for their possible ill treatment or torture. The Committee also said that every case of asylum request needed careful examination and asked whether residency permits for foreigners for humanitarian reasons also covered family reunification. It was encouraging to see the progress made in improving situations in migrant detention centres, said another Expert and remarked that the number of staff in prisons was also about creating safe environment in the whole institution and the situation observed in 2011 was on a rather poor side. What was the complaint mechanism in place for people who were victims of racism and xenophobia?
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, asked if Greece was proactively exploring the experience of other countries in considering alternative measures to detention and also for migrant children. Were there any statistics concerning complaints against law enforcement officer brought forward by migrants?
NORA SVEAASS, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Greece, asked for comments on national preventive mechanisms and possible limitations of the ombudsmen contrary to the provisions of the Optional Protocol.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Greece, said that the European Court of Human Rights had rendered several decisions on Greece which had been taken into account in a certain number of circulars and asked why yet this did not seem to reach the behaviour level of the law enforcement officials.
Responses of the Delegation
Greece would take into account the comments of this Committee and the European Court of Human Rights to see if the legal framework defining torture could be improved; some improvements were already contained in the draft Criminal Code which still had not been presented to Parliament. After the decision of the European Court of Human Rights was being rendered, there was a possibility of reopening the case, which needed to be balanced out with the rights of the accused; but up to now, there had been no specific cases in this regard. There was special legislation in Greece for the protection of victims of torture and ill treatment that ensured the protection of their identity and practical measures such as protective custody that could be implemented also when a police officer was accused. Independence of the complaint mechanism against the police was guaranteed through its make up and composition, as it was not a part of the Ministry for Citizen Protection and was staffed by retired judges.
In 2011 there was an increase in the number and volume of training courses on human rights, which also included practical aspects. Much progress had been achieved in the area of training and more needed to be done. Not every asylum seeker needed to be detained, but also there were some people who abused the right to asylum and those persons were kept in detention until the examination of the case. The last available information about the 502 missing Albanian Roma children was from 2004 and all the material had been sent to the public prosecutor. Greece agreed that body searches should be resorted to only when there was a risk, but the truth was that there were many risks and there were now trials against prison administration by families of prisoners who died in prison because they took drugs.
The huge majority of people whose nationality had been withdrawn had already acquired different nationalities so they were not non-nationals. Specific legislation was in place to enable them to regain Greek nationality under certain circumstances. Access to justice and police jobs was often limited to nationals in a majority of European countries and it would be difficult to think of some form of preferential treatment in accessing those jobs.
For reasons of transparency and combating nepotism, Greece had very long procedures in the public recruitment of personnel in public administration and it took at least a year to fill a vacancy. This was one of the reasons why the reform of the asylum system was not operational at the moment.
The Athens centre for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture had been closed for financial reasons and Greece was now trying to identify where the gaps were and work with the forensic scientists and state officials qualified in diagnosing and rehabilitating victims of violence. Greek public hospitals treated anyone who asked for medical help and Greece was trying to address the situation of those people in distress in the best possible way. Four laws over the last several years had addressed the slow pace of the justice system, which was a systemic problem noted also by the European Court of Human Rights.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, in his closing remarks said he had appreciated the candid presentation of issues by the delegation of Greece and appreciated the exchange and putting the expertise of the Committee at the disposal of the State Party.
IOANNIS IOANNIDIS, Secretary-General of the Department of Human Right and Transparency of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, said in his closing observations that the Government was trying its best in difficult circumstances of the financial and migration crisis. Greece was always open to receiving assistance, help and advice and he thanked the Committee for this useful interactive dialogue.
For use of the information media; not an official record