16 September 2008:
ATHENS -- The United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, today concluded her official visit to Greece. During her visit from 08 to 16 September 2008, at the invitation of the Government of Greece, the Independent Expert visited the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, the region of Western Thrace, and the Prefecture of Florina in northern Greece. She consulted with senior government officials, civil society representatives and community members among others on issues related to her UN mandate. Her visit enabled her to gather substantial information on legislation, policy and practice relating to the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups and to identify challenges as well as positive practices.
Further to the standard practices of UN Special Procedures mandate holders the Independent Expert conducted her tour of different regions of Greece in order to gain information on communities and issues that have been brought to her attention. Her visits and schedule of regional consultations was planned and coordinated from the earliest stage with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Government of Greece. The Independent Expert wishes to thank the Government for its exemplary assistance provided in the preparation and conduct of her visit. The Government provided outstanding access to many senior officials who answered her questions fully. The communities with whom she met include the Roma, Muslims in Western Thrace and representatives of other religions in Greece, and communities in the Prefecture of Florina. She thanks the many members of civil society and community members who shared their information, views and opinions with her. She benefitted greatly from the opportunity to visit these regions and diverse communities in person.
The Independent Expert is required to promote implementation of the 1992 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities, inspired by Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, specifically dealing with the rights of minorities. Members of minority communities are subject to protection of rights articulated in the UN Declaration, irrespective of their official recognition, and all other rights established in international human rights law, including the right to freedom of religion, association and expression. Part of the legal framework that guides the Independent Expert’s work, in addition to the ICCPR, is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Her mandate also calls on her to be mindful of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and other international tribunals. Since June 2006, the Independent Expert has conducted similar country visits to Hungary, Ethiopia, France, the Dominican Republic and Guyana.
The Independent Expert is required to report upon her findings and make recommendations based upon her visit and research. She welcomes forthcoming opportunities to discuss in detail her preliminary findings with the Government of Greece, following which she will submit her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2009. She looks forward to continuing the highly constructive engagement with the Government of Greece achieved during the preparation and conduct of her visit.