Presentation of the Report
KOSTIS PAPAIOANNOU, Secretary General for Transparency and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, introducing the report, said that during the last six years, Greece had been experiencing a severe economic crisis, resulting in extreme and horizontal austerity measures. A migration and refugee crisis had also been unfolding: Greece, the main entry gate to Europe, had received more than one million refugees and irregular migrants since the beginning of 2015, and had welcomed them despite strong voices all over Europe calling for closed borders and pushbacks. Following the European Union-Turkey statement of 18 March, Greece had adopted the necessary legal framework for a fast-track procedure, with all asylum requests examined individually, which was not an easy task. Difficulties derived not only from the heavy workload and limited resources but also from the deep contradictions in European policy on migration and asylum.
In 2009, no one could - or dared - to identify the sharp increase of racism that was about to come to Greece, and few had the political will to openly admit that xenophobia and intolerance were increasing at a fast rate. Golden Dawn, the most prominent racist organization, active for long, mainly as a small and marginal group inspired by Nazi ideas, grew rapidly after 2009 and entered Parliament with more than six per cent of the vote. Its violent activity had increased, but the reaction by the relevant authorities had not been prompt, decisive and appropriate. In 2012, the Racist Violence Reporting Network had been created, and members of Golden Dawn, including all members of the parliament, had been brought to trial for several crimes, including for membership to a criminal organization. Greece had amended its old anti-racist law to strengthen its legislation and facilitate its implementation, but the application of legislation was still unsatisfactory. A number of operational measures had been taken to strengthen the criminal investigation of hate crimes: special prosecutors had been appointed in five cities for the investigation of racist crimes, and two new offices had been established within the Hellenic Police to deal with the investigation of acts of racist violence.
In 2015, Greece had established the National Council against Racism and Intolerance, which had already started planning a comprehensive strategy. In order to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to including those grounds in the anti-racism legislation and in the draft bill on equal treatment, the law on the civil partnership pact had recently been extended to same-sex couples. Greece was ready to establish an independent mechanism for the investigation of allegations of arbitrary behaviour by law enforcement personnel, particularly with racist motives, and the law was pending to be presented to the Parliament. Greek authorities and institutions were slow and reluctant in facing the reality, and for long had disregarded or underestimated racist violence; it took a long time to recognize that there was a clear pattern of organized racist violence. However, after 2013, there was a drastic change for the better, with tangible results in terms of law enforcement and criminal justice response, victims and civil society awareness, non-governmental organization networking, and reporting and recording of hate crimes.
Challenges remained, in particular hate speech and low intensity hate speech, which was widespread. There was also the danger of organized forms of racist violence against refugee camps, which seemed to represent the new era of criminal activity. It was closely linked with the wider political environment in Europe, the rise in racism and xenophobia in European countries, the weak and contradictory aspects of European asylum and migration policy, the radicalization and related acts of terrorism, and the fragile political and social environment in the wider area.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur and Committee Experts
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Greece, recognized the complexities that Greece was facing, such as the economic downturn, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, the negative impact of budget cuts on vulnerable groups and the consequent increase in poverty and social exclusion, the rise of racism in the whole of Europe, and contradictions of the European Union policy on migration and asylum. Mr. Marugan recognized the progress made in addressing racist violence, such as the recording of racist violence and the setting up of the two special prosecutors and special police units, and asked how those units were being resourced, and also asked for statistical data on the number of prosecutions, trials and sentences in cases on racial violence. The reform of the anti-racial law of 1979 was another welcome development, but it was not fully in compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, particularly its article 4 on prohibiting and declaring illegal racist organizations – what steps were being taken to implement this requirement of the Convention? The Committee Rapporteur welcomed the setting up of the National Council against Racism and Intolerance and asked about the anti-racism policies that it was developing, and the status of the strategy against racism and intolerance.
The delegation was further asked to provide the ethno-religious composition of the population, to explain the training of the police and judiciary on racial hatred and hate crimes, and to inform on the number of residency permits on humanitarian grounds issued to victims or witnesses of racial crimes and discrimination. How was the political leadership fulfilling its responsibilities to calm tensions and promote tolerance between different groups? The Country Rapporteur further asked about the evaluation of the national strategy for Roma integration, the situation of migrant workers, and the plans to combat the exploitation of undocumented migrants, Roma and third-country nationals, including through labour inspections. What had been done to improve the situation in detention centres for refugees and migrants and what steps were being undertaken to care for unaccompanied migrant children?
Moving to the first round of questions, an Expert asked whether the Government had consulted with non-governmental organizations and whether their views had been properly taken into account in the preparation of the report.
In addition to severely suffering from the impact of the global economic and financial crisis, Greece was also on the forefront of the migration crisis; both were important contexts for addressing racial discrimination, said another Expert. He noted with satisfaction the introduction of key elements of the Convention into the Penal Code in 2015, and the setting up of the Racist Violence Reporting Network, and stressed the importance of national ownership of that initiative. Why were the Slavic people, who were self-identifying as Macedonians, and who were living in the north of Greece, not recognized as a minority? What was the percentage of Roma who really needed mortgages to ensure housing?
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked the delegation to provide disaggregated data on women from minorities who were victims of racism, racial violence and domestic violence.
Another Expert asked whether it would be accurate to say that Roma persons had had their economic, social and cultural rights eroded and threatened by the refugee and migrant crisis. There was an increase in anti-Muslim sentiments in Greece, and more than half of the people surveyed in 2015 had viewed Roma unfavourably – what steps needed to be taken to change those views and sentiments? Roma were more likely to experience burglaries, stops and searches and be victims of racial and ethnic profiling. What was the impact of training on curbing racial profiling and hate speech, and how had integration affected Roma’s rights? The Expert noted that the only explicitly recognized minority in Greece was the Muslims of Western Thrace, and that Greece denied the right of ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Turks to self-identify. What were the reasons for which Greece was refusing to recognize the Macedonian minority?
With regard to the situation of refugees and migrants, Experts raised concern and asked about the situation of unaccompanied minors and their vulnerability to trafficking, and asked about the implications of the European Union-Turkish agreement on the principle of non-refoulement. How did Greece apply this principle, in particular the use of collective refoulement, which should be the measure of last resort? What was being done to ensure that minors were released from detention as soon as possible?
What was the impact of new anti-racism laws on the new sector of the population – refugees and migrants? Greece was using the excuse of the economic crisis for its failings in combatting racism and backtracking on all the progress Greece had made so far.
An Expert noted that the Greek Constitution did not allow declaring illegal and prohibiting any political party, and asked how a political party that openly called itself a Nazi party was treated under the law.
An Expert noted that Greece seemed to be a country of entry and transit for many refugees and migrants, since the number of asylum applications in other European countries was much higher than in Greece. One of the causes of the crisis that had an impact on the whole of Europe was the non-application of the rule to register all arrivals and take digital prints, which had led to a situation of chaos.
With regard to the impact of the European Union-Turkey agreement, the delegation was asked about the criteria that Greece applied in the refoulement of asylum seekers and their return to Turkey, how many arrivals were prevented from entering Greece and were returned from the border, how many had been returned to Turkey, if Greece had taken steps to ensure their protection prior to their return, and about the situation in detention centres.
Greece did not recognize minorities, and made only one exception based on the Lausanne Treaty, under which it recognized the Muslim minority of Thrace, but it did not recognize Muslims living in the islands, which seemed to be discriminatory.
An Expert noted that 55,000 asylum seekers were stranded in Greece at the moment and asked whether this represented the totality of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in the country. The Expert welcomed the training of the police and judiciary personnel in racist violence and hate crimes, and urged Greece to establish an independent and effective police complaint mechanism to ensure a more expeditious treatment of reports of acts of racism by the police. What steps were being taken to improve the conditions in “hotspots”, protect the vulnerable individuals, and tackle lawlessness in those encampments?
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Greece, asked about the role of the media in facilitating the actions of the Golden Dawn organization, and how the media was treating it. How was the National Radio and Television Council, which had the authority to impose bans, operated and how was it resourced? Were the police and prosecution aware of the under-reporting of racial crimes and how were they working with non-governmental organizations to give confidence to victims to report the crimes, particularly among undocumented migrants who faced fear of being arrested?
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked about the reversal of the burden of proof in anti-racist legislation and which were the groups that were covered by this legislation.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the head of the delegation explained that Greece did not wish to use factors such as the financial crisis, austerity measures or the refugee and migrant crisis as excuses for anything; they were simply the tools that helped understand the complexity of the phenomenon of racial discrimination not only in Greece but in several areas of the world.
With regard to the report drafting methodology, a delegate said that the drafting had been coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in close cooperation with relevant ministries; the first draft had then been sent to the National Commission for Human Rights, in which several non-governmental organizations participated, and their views had been incorporated in the final version of the report. This was a standard procedure in Greece, whose reports always contained a dose of self-criticism. Greece recognized that its common core document was outdated and said that it would be updated as a matter of priority. Greece had not made the statement under article 14 of the Convention on individual communications, simply because the country was now focusing on establishing a robust monitoring mechanism in matters of racial discrimination.
The Greek Government had acknowledged the problem of racial discrimination in discourse and reality in Greece and in Europe. Migration towards Europe and the refugee crisis should not hinder the achievements of the high standards of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The refugee and migrant crisis last year had been very much present in political discourse in Europe in 2015, with the Syrian crisis triggering refugee movements towards Greece and Europe. The position of Greece was to welcome and provide reception for the refugees, but it did not have sufficient resources to provide reception for all of them. Many refugees had continued on to other countries in Europe, which had been a spontaneous and unorganized movement. The refugee and migrant crisis was a matter of common European and global policy. The asylum system in 2015 had faced significant challenges, and had even been broken; Greece was actively working to improve the situation and fulfil its obligations as a member of the European Union and a member of the United Nations. The population of Greece was 11 million, of which one million were migrants and refugees of various origins, and in 2016, Greece was making steps forward in addressing the issue of migrants, both those present in the country for some time, and the newly arrived. The challenge now was to provide education, and integration of newly arrived persons. At the moment, there were 55,000 asylum seekers in Greece, including some 9,000 in the islands in hotspots, who were awaiting decisions on their asylum claims. The asylum procedure was taking place on an individual basis.
The Convention was well established in the Greek legal order, but taking into account the need to combat persistent racial crimes, a series of institutional, operational and legislative measures had been adopted over the past several years. The Penal Code had been amended to provide stricter penalties for race-motivated crimes, and had eliminated the notion of hatred from racially motivated crimes, which was very difficult to establish. Hate speech crimes were prosecuted ex officio. The 1979 anti-racism law had been adopted following the ratification of the Convention, but the law had only been applied by courts six times in 37 years, meaning that its applicability was very low. Hate speech was also prosecuted by the Penal Code.
Statement by the Greek National Human Rights Institution
MARIA GAVOUNELI, Greek National Commission for Human Rights, said that during last year Greece had faced an unprecedented refugee crisis as almost one million people had arrived to its shores. In the aftermath of the European Union-Turkish deal, which was a great source of concern to the Commission, the way forward had been closed for almost 57,000 persons who had found themselves stranded in Greece. It was likely that they – and others who continued to steadily arrive - would remain in the country for an undetermined period of time, which called for an immediate action to avoid any rolling back in the fight against racism and xenophobia. As more Arabic and Farsi-speaking children were enrolling into schools, and more refugees and migrants were competing for low paid work in an informal economy in a wider context of high unemployment, there was a concern that hate speech might reach new levels and that racist incidents might increase. The Commission remained vigilant and had already issued a series of statements, most recently on the education needs of children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, including refugee children, and it also continued to actively support the Racist Violence Recording Network members, which remained the most effective mechanism addressing underreporting of hate crimes in Greece. The Commission continued to work on avoiding the resurgence of racist policies through consultation and reporting to further ameliorate the regulatory framework and the institutional arsenal of the country.
Responses by the Delegation
Over the past year, Greece had made significant progress in improving its anti-racist legislation, but the State needed time for this new legislation to take proper effect and to ensure that judges, lawyers and prosecutors received adequate training on it.
As far as racist organizations were concerned, there was no conflict between article 4 of the Convention and the Greek Constitution. The national legal order provided for a series of options in this direction, starting from the provision which authorised courts to dissolve a union that pursued an aim which was illegitimate or contrary to public order, while the new anti-racist law punished the establishment and the participation in a legal entity or union that systematically pursued acts punishable by this law. The law also provided for the liability of legal entities or unions and for the imposition of administrative sanctions and other penalties.
As far as political parties were concerned, after the dictatorship, it had been of utmost importance to Greece to protect political freedoms as a constituent element of democracy and not to allow declaring illegal and prohibiting political parties. Nevertheless, there were guarantees in place which ensured the protection of democracy and society from criminal activities by political parties and its members, and those guarantees had been applied in the case of Golden Dawn. Not only had all its members of Parliament been prosecuted following a waiver of their impunity by the Parliament, but they were being charged with establishing of and participating in a criminal organization, a crime severely punished by the law. State funding had been suspended in 2013, and in 21 cases members of Golden Dawn had been convicted for various crimes; racist motives had been found in two of those cases.
Concerning the implementation of anti-racism legislation, the police and prosecutors had investigated in 2015 98 incidents of which 82 qualified as racist violence and 16 as hate speech. Twenty-five criminal prosecutions had been initiated to date, while other cases were still being investigated. Criminal courts had issued decisions in six cases, acquitting four defendants and sentencing two.
The Hellenic Police had taken measures to protect people from racial crimes and violence and had established specialized departments to combat racist violence throughout the country. Those units were tasked with preventing and investigating all racially-motivated incidents and violence, based on race, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity, or disability. The police received regular training in human rights, human rights protection, promotion of the core values of the Republic, and tackling racial violence.
On minority rights, a delegate stressed that international law at the present stage did not confer to international courts or other bodies or mechanisms the power to determine the existence of a minority group. What really mattered was that members of a group which was not recognized as a minority included the full protection of the law. The Muslim minority of Thrace consisted of three distinct groups – Turkish, Roma and Pomak, who all had diverse ethnic and linguistic characteristics and the only thing that they had in common was religion. Greece continued to fulfil all its obligations under the Treaty of Lausanne and had adopted its legal framework for the protection of minorities to international standards. In some Greek islands there were Greek nationals of Islamic faith who enjoyed all the rights and protection under the law. As far as the so-called Macedonian minority was concerned, there was a small group of persons in northern Greece who in addition to Greek also spoke a Slavic language, with attempts by the political party Rainbow to achieve their recognition as an ethnic minority of Macedonians. Greece strongly objected to the use of the term “Macedonian” which created confusion in relation to the 2.5 million Greek citizens who referred to themselves as Greek Macedonians to denominate their territorial origin and not ethnicity.
Greece was considering ways and means to execute the three decisions of the European Court of Human Rights which had found that Greece was in violation of the right to freedom of association. This issue was a high priority in Greece, which had prepared a draft bill which provided for the creation of a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights
Turning to the impact of measures to promote the integration of Roma, a delegate said that, in the area of employment, 800 Roma had been supported by relevant projects to set up social enterprises, while 2,300 individuals had received support by the 27 Social Support Centres for the Roma and Vulnerable Groups. In addition, 27 medico-social centres which provided medical and social services to Roma had been established on municipal levels, staffed by a doctor, social worker, health visitor, and a mediator for the Roma community. Specific funds had been allocated for the current Roma Inclusion Strategic Framework 2014-2020, including four million Euro from the European Union structural funds. Greece had launched, for the first time, the National Roma Integration Strategy, aiming at combatting discrimination and social exclusion of the Roma by adopting or further developing a comprehensive approach to Roma integration in four key areas of education, employment, housing and health care.
Since 1997 special measures had been taken for Roma education. The Ministry of Education was planning proactive measures to address the persistent problems in the education of Roma children, especially segregation in schools, and to reinforce the participation of children in pre-school education. In the coming school year, 800 teachers would be recruited to staff reception classes which were frequented by Roma children, which would facilitate their transition to primary education. It was important to note that migrant and refugee children enjoyed the right to free education on a par with Greek children, and measures were in place to facilitate the registration of children without the necessary documents. It was the intention and the priority that all refugee children, some 20,000 as of now, had access to school from the beginning of the school year.
Aside from the current refugee crisis, Roma inclusion was the biggest challenge for Greece, as it was for several European countries. The fact that there had been no incidents involving Roma so far did not mean that attention from Roma inclusion should be shifted. The National Strategy for Roma, which was currently being drafted, would hopefully produce better results than the integration projects and initiatives undertaken so far.
Since 2015, more than 150,000 migrants and refugees – and among them a great number of children and infants - had been rescued by the Hellenic Coastguard in more than 3,000 rescue operations. For the Coastguard, detection, rescue and reception of migrants was a priority; therefore it had nominated fundamental rights officers and its personnel were receiving systematic tutoring and training in human rights, including those by the European Border Agency, Frontex. In terms of the conditions in detention centres and hotspots, Greece paid great importance to providing adequate living conditions for temporary immigrant detainees; they had the right to visits, and access to adequate health care, including referrals with a police escort to hospitals. Families with children were housed in separate facilities. All said, there was still a need to improve the conditions in detention centres and the protection of fundamental rights of temporarily detained migrants, and in that sense, the Hellenic police had appointed national trainers for the protection of fundamental rights in the framework of border guarding and management; it had also translated in Greek documents on fundamental rights, and it was actively investigating all allegations of violations of fundamental rights at the border by police officers.
The Greek Asylum Service had been established only three years ago, and so far had registered more than 40,000 asylum requests. In order to provide better access to asylum services, the number of personnel had been doubled, the number of regional offices had been increased, including on the Aegean islands, and relocation programmes were being implemented. Drastic action had been undertaken to ensure that the more than 48,500 people stranded in the Greek mainland were pre-registered and that they could lodge their requests for international protection, family reunification, or repatriation.
To date, Greece had issued more than 550,000 residence permits to third country nationals; of those 1,800 had been issued on humanitarian grounds, of which 29 to victims of racist violence. As for now, 104 Migrant Integration Councils had been set up, particularly in cities with large concentrations of migrants such as Athens and Thessaloniki, while the Government had allocated more than 25 million Euro from various funds for integration activities. The unemployment rate of third-country citizens was similar to the population of Greece, which might be due to the fact that the migrant population in the country was rather young.
Greece had implemented the hotspot approach to respond to the refugee crisis as decided at the level of the European Union. Greek Reception and Identification Centres had been established in five islands last year, which provided information on the asylum system, provided health services to all arrivals, and paid special attention to vulnerable people, regardless of whether they applied for asylum or not. Vulnerable groups included children, pregnant women, elderly, persons with disabilities, single-parent families, and victims of torture. All those who were granted international protection were transferred to the mainland and were housed in reception centres or apartments, in cooperation with civil society organizations.
Refugees and migrants who requested family reunification in other European countries were also transferred to the mainland and housed in reception centres. Most of those facilities were temporary, and in many cases did not comply with European standards. Greece was aware of this issue and was working actively to establish a reception system in compliance with European standards. Individuals who were not granted international protection on the island could be readmitted in Turkey, as per the provisions of the European Union-Turkey agreement. Greece considered the situation of unaccompanied migrant children to be of great concern.
Follow up Questions from the Experts
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Greece, agreed that Greece had made significant positive developments in addressing racism, including the appointment of special prosecutors for hate crimes, and asked whether the number of those prosecutors would be increased. The delegation had stated that there were 200 specialised officials who worked on cases of racist violence and race crimes and the Committee Rapporteur asked about their impact on under-reporting of racist crimes. Anti-racism framework legislation had been strengthened and it was clear that time was needed for it to be fully implemented, but the fact that since then only six cases of racism had been brought to justice was an indication that something was not working properly. What was Greece doing to ensure the application of the Convention in the case of Golden Down, namely to declare it illegal?
Experts recognized that the police was doing a lot to address racially motivated violence against Roma and asked about crime prevention strategies in areas of high Roma settlement. Were there Africans among refugees and migrants and were there any complaints received about racism and racial discrimination against people of African descent? What activities were being undertaken in Greece to mark the International Decade of People of African Descent and to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action?
Responding to Experts’ follow-up questions, delegates said that the budget of the Ministry of Justice had been cut by 30 per cent and it was not possible to have full-time prosecutors on racism, particularly in some of the islands which only had one prosecutor. The need was not in having specialised racism prosecutors but rather to ensure that all prosecutors had adequate training to prosecute incidents of racist violence. The Action Plan on Racism and Intolerance was being drafted and would be adopted soon. The law 4356 had established the National Council against Racism and Intolerance and was already in force. Victims of racism were exempted from paying the fee for criminal cases. A delegate explained that it was difficult to have precise statistical data on the number of Roma students because they were Greek citizens and as such were not obliged to declare their ethnicity.
Further Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert asked about the provisions of the Penal Code concerning aggravating circumstances for crimes, such as racial motivation, about the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and about statistics on the refoulement of refugees and migrants.
Another Expert hailed the rescue activities of the Hellenic Coastguard and asked about the cooperation with international organization in both sea rescue and in addressing the major challenge of people trafficking.
The delegation was also asked about the Slavs living in Greece and whether they could speak their language in public as well; how all those that practiced Islam such as Turks, Roma, Pomak, Syrians and others, could self-distinguish or identify with something else but religion, for example language, ethnicity, et cetera; and about the systems in place to receive complaints of persons stripped of their Greek nationality.
Responses by the Delegation
Hotspots were sometimes understood as detention centres which they were not; they were first entry points into the country where arrivals stayed until they were registered and their movement inside hotspots was limited. Article 19 of the former Citizenship Law had provided that people living Greece with the intention to permanently settle in another country had led to a loss of Greek citizenship; those decisions had been and were valid. People who had not intended to permanently settle abroad but who had still lost their citizenship could file a complaint and a proof of evidence, upon which the citizenship would be reinstated.
Muslims of Thrace were protected by the Treaty of Lausanne and other international treaties, while other persons of Islamic faith were protected by the applicable law. Anyone could self-identify whatever they wanted, but this did not impose an obligation on the State to recognize them as minorities.
People of African descent applying for international protection in Greece made up for a significant percentage of the total number of asylum applicants. The handling of asylum applications was not done on the basis of the country of origin, but on the basis of vulnerability. There were more than 19,000 people from African States living in Greece; half received permits on the grounds of family reunification and another half for work purposes.
NICOLAS MARUGAN, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Greece, said that the Committee was aware that the European Union must urgently assume its responsibilities, and adopt a human rights based approach to migration, based on the principle of responsibility sharing and solidarity by all Member States. There was a lot of confusion in relation to the European Union-Turkey agreement which caused suffering of refugees and migrants. Greece needed to reinforce the structure and resources for labour inspection and other institutions involved in the fight against the exploitation of migrants and refugees.
KOSTIS PAPAIOANNOU, Secretary General for Transparency and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, thanked the Committee Experts and said that the Greek approach to banning political parties should not be interpreted as a sensitivity to their ideas or methods. Greece had a strong will to investigate, prosecute and punish those methods whenever political parties were engaged in criminal activities to the detriment of public order. Far right ideas had always existed but had not been always expressed, but there had been no neo-Nazi traditions in Greece. The situation had changed after 2010 with the sharp increase in support for violent far right groups, but their activities had not increased as a result of the refugee and migrant crisis. At the same time, their popularity had not diminished and it seemed that those parties had established firm links with some parts of the Greek population, which presented a challenge to the democracy in Greece. The crisis had inevitably touched the most vulnerable, as it always did, and had also affected human rights protection mechanisms. Greece was dealing with the economic crisis in the sector of health, education, and other crucial sectors, while at the same time dealing with a hiring freeze imposed by international monetary institutions.
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