GENEVA (3 August 2016) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning heard from civil society representatives about the situation in Greece and the United Kingdom, ahead of the Committee’s review of the reports of these countries this week.
In Greece, civil society organizations were concerned about the 2013 blanket amnesty for crimes, including racist speech, and about the complete abolition of Article 2 of the Law 979/79 in 2014 which had effectively decriminalized hate speech. They said that anti-discrimination and anti-racism legislation was rarely applied, and that the issue of national minorities was a taboo, with Greece fervently rejecting any reference to a Turkish or Macedonian minority. The refugee and migrant crisis had contributed to the further deterioration of the already overwhelmed and resource-poor asylum and reception system, with some 56,000 asylum seekers and migrants facing appalling reception and detention conditions. The situation had deteriorated following the entry into force of the European Union-Turkey migration deal on 20 March, following which the hotspots had been converted to detention centres.
Non-governmental organizations from the United Kingdom said that the Government applied a colour blind approach to racial equality, which did not work in practice as it did not recognize and address the extent of racial inequalities in all areas. There was little progress in the implementation of the Convention in the country: the racial equality agenda had disappeared and had been replaced by an anti-terrorism agenda under the name of social cohesion and security. The Operation Prevent was put in place to address the threat of terrorism, but it disproportionately affected Muslims and alienated, divided and stigmatised segments of the population. Concerns were voiced about the threat to the Human Rights Act and a possible removal of the United Kingdom from the European Convention of Human Rights and other Council of Europe treaties, which would be a breach of the Belfast Agreement on human rights protection.
Greek Helsinki Monitor, Minority Rights Group Greece, Médicins du Monde Greece, and Human Rights Watch spoke on the situation in Greece.
Speaking on the situation in the United Kingdom were the following non-governmental organizations: The Runnymede Trust, Friends, Families and Travellers, Race Equality First (Wales), Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (Scotland), Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, Global African Congress, National Black Police Association, Dalit Solidarity Network, and Minority Group International.
Next week, the Committee will review the reports of Paraguay, South Africa, Lebanon and Ukraine; it will hear from non-governmental organizations on the situation in those countries on Monday, 8 August at 10 a.m.
A live webcast of country reviews is available at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org
The Committee will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m., to start its consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of Greece (CERD/C/GRC/20-22
Statements on Greece
Greek Helsinki Monitor expressed concern about the 2013 blanket amnesty for crimes, including racist speech punished by Article 2 of the Law 979/79, and about the complete abolition of Article 2 in 2014, which had effectively decriminalized hate speech in Greece and had led to the dropping of charges in several criminal cases and trials, including against Golden Dawn leaders and Greek Navy Seals officers. After a protest by the non-governmental organization, a new and wider amnesty for crimes which had entered into force last week, did not include incitement to racist violence and discrimination through mid-2014, as had been called for in the draft bill. There were concerns that the new law 4285 of 2015 and the new provisions of the Penal Code would hinder the investigation and prosecution of racial crimes and racial hatred. Laws that had been introduced in the country to fulfil the obligations arising from international treaties or international court judgements were rarely or not at all applied.
Minority Rights Group Greece raised concern about institutional or de facto discrimination on the enjoyment of civil and political rights by all those who were not adult males, were not ethnic Greek, did not adhere to the official Orthodox Christian religion, did not have a majority sexual orientation or gender identity, or were persons with disabilities. Anti-discrimination and anti-racism legislation was rarely applied and judgements or recommendations by intergovernmental institutions were often ignored. National minorities were a taboo, with Greece fervently rejecting any reference to a Turkish or Macedonian minority, which required the Committee to address the concerns of the almost completely ignored Turkish minority in Rhodes and Kos who were denied the minority status of the Muslims and ethnic Turks.
Médicins du Monde Greece noted that Greece was entering the seventh year of a severe financial crisis, with the so-called refugee and migration crisis contributing to further discrimination of the most vulnerable groups such as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The already overwhelmed and resource-poor Greek asylum and reception system was further deteriorating. Since the migration agreement between the European Union and Turkey had entered into effect, the vast majority of asylum seekers and migrants that had arrived to the Greek islands had been restricted to the islands, often in “hotspots”, while those who had arrived before March 20 and those admitted to the Greek asylum system were living either in poor reception facilities in continental Greece, or in informal sites and informal facilities. While Greece had its own share of responsibility for the poor reception and detention conditions, it was not the only one to blame since it was enforcing what had already been decided on the European Union level regarding the management of the crisis.
Human Rights Watch said that the estimated 56,000 asylum seekers and migrants in Greece faced appalling reception and detention conditions, and the vast majority had been restricted to Greek islands, often in “hotspots”, since the migration agreement between the European Union and Turkey had entered into effect on 20 March. Since then, the camps that had been operating on islands as open reception and registration centres had been suddenly converted to prison-like camps. Asylum seekers and migrants who had arrived since then had been automatically detained by Greek authorities with the help of the European Union border agency Frontex, and forbidden to leave the camps. On April 2, the Greek parliament had adopted a law that allowed blanked “restriction of movement” on new arrivals inside closed facilities at border entry points up to 25 days during reception and identification. The United Nations Refugee Agency and several non-governmental aid agencies had suspended many of their activities when the hotspots had been converted to detention centres. The Committee should urge Greece to expedite processing of asylum claims of families with children, unaccompanied children, persons with disabilities, survivors of torture, victims of trafficking and gender-based violence and other vulnerable groups on the islands, and avoid detaining children.
Discussion on Greece
A Committee Expert asked for the view of civil society organizations on the stated improvements in the collection of data in Greece, the prosecution of racist violence, the setting up of special police units for racist violence, and the participation of non-governmental organizations in those processes. He inquired about the access to health care in the country, especially for migrants, about working conditions of migrant workers, especially in housing and agricultural sectors, the collaboration of Roma non-governmental organizations with the state to improve the situation of Roma, and the status of the Golden Dawn case.
Other Experts asked which ethnic grouping was recognized for the Slavic people living in the north of Greece such as Macedonians, the status of the implementation of the plan for the improvement of the situation of Roma, whether civil society organizations had been consulted in the preparation of the State party report, and civil society efforts to advocate with the Government of Greece to increase financing for refugee and migrants.
What was the real meaning and the implications of the recognition of national or ethnic minorities, and what was the difference – if any – between the Macedonian minority and Greek Macedonian? What efforts were undertaken by Roma to help them integrate in the society?
Responding to Experts’ questions, Greek Helsinki Monitor said that data collection was excellent, but there was no database on racially motivated crimes, while Racial Violence Recording Network mainly focused on crimes against refugees, migrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and not on all victims of racist crimes. Special units of the police were doing a remarkable job, but only for the cases that actually reached them - not all police units knew that cases involving racial hatred and violence should be referred to the special police unit. Non-governmental organizations were not involved in the preparation of the report, said a non-governmental organization representative, who also stressed the reluctance of Greek authorities to conduct human rights assessments on any of its initiatives and programmes.
Minority Rights Group Greece explained that there were about 100,000 “integrated” Roma, who lived in organized settlements, their children went to school and they were represented by a number of non-governmental organizations. At the same time, there were about 100,000 Roma who were not integrated, and who lived in informal settlements and in unacceptable conditions – it was this group that was of concern to the non-governmental organization. On the question of a difference between Macedonians and Greek Macedonians, the non-governmental organization explained that Greek Macedonians were people who originated from the area of Macedonia in Greece but were ethnic Greeks, while Macedonians lived in Greece but were ethnic Macedonians.
In the next round of questions and comments, a Committee Expert asked about the representation of minorities before this Committee and the effectiveness of strategies of addressing unfavourable views of Roma in Greece. Was there a system in place to record ethnic and racial origin of migrants, for example Africans, and how they were treated?
Greece had often used the excuse of the economic crisis to justify the inadequate response to the refugee and migrant crisis, despite the fact that Greece’s economy was recovering. What was the situation of unaccompanied migrant children, and the situation of victims of human trafficking?
What arguments had the Government used to justify the blanket amnesty and the abolition of Article 2? What was the effect of the migration deal between the European Union and Turkey on the situation with asylum seekers in Greece?
Had the European Court of Human Rights addressed the refugee and migrant crisis in Greece and made clear to Greece that there had been human rights violations? What was the attitude and relationship between the population and refugees, had it improved or worsened? Were the refugees forced to leave the Greek territory by sea and if so, had there been any shipwrecks recorded?
Answering those questions, civil society organizations from Greece said that indeed the economic crisis had been used to justify an inadequate response to the refugee and migrant crisis. However, it was important to stress that resources and money were not everything – what was lacking was also solidarity by other European countries, particularly in participating in relocation schemes. To date, some 3,000 people had been relocated from Greece, which was absolutely unacceptable. The Committee should stress that this lack of responsibility sharing was another factor that aggravated the crisis. It was not clear how many unaccompanied migrant children there were.
The Greek Government had deliberately removed Article 2, which prohibited hate speech, and nobody in the country had objected to this decriminalization. It was highly regrettable that hate speech had been decriminalized, and the Committee should address this issue with Greece. Every minority language should be integrated in the school curriculum, but this had not been done, including for the Romani language.
In order to expedite the processing of claims for international protection, the authorities had applied a collective approach, for example first examining all claims made by Syrians, rather than examining all asylum requests on an individual basis. This approach opened up a possibility of discrimination against certain nationalities.
Statements on United Kingdom
The Runnymede Trust, representing a wider coalition, said that the United Kingdom applied a colour blind approach to racial equality, and expressly declined to address specific racial markers in its policy. This approach did not work, and the Government stated that since its policies were not discriminatory in purpose they could not be discriminatory in practice. The response did not acknowledge the essence of racial inequality. In order to ensure the compliance of the United Kingdom with its obligations, it was imperative to fully transpose the Convention into the United Kingdom law which was particularly urgent in the current context where black and Asian minorities were victims of the rise in incidents in racial hatred. In the light of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, it was even more imperative to ensure the adherence to international law. The Government should also put in place a race equality strategy and investigate the extent of racial inequalities in all areas and develop a plan of action to address it actively and promote the historic contribution of black and Asian minorities to the United Kingdom. Action must be taken to address racial discrimination in employment of black and Asian people. More than half of Bangladeshi children lived in poverty because their parents were either unemployed or worked very low paid jobs.
Friends Families and Travellers said that following the last examination of the United Kingdom by the Committee, a Working Group had been set up to implement 28 Committee recommendation; the Working Group had only met once. The United Kingdom should adopt a National Roma Integration Strategy with targets that addressed the specific situation of Roma in health, education and employment, matched with resource allocation. Health statistics for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers were appalling, with the Government dismantling the one mechanism which had addressed the health of excluded groups – Inclusion Health. The Health and Social Act 2012 had placed equality duty on the public sector, which had to now care for all the groups that had been covered by Inclusion Health.
Race Equality First (Wales) raised concern about the Operation Prevent, which aimed to address the threat of terrorism and radicalism, which had disproportionately targeted Muslims and was in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was a sentiment that it was impossible to be a Muslim and a British, which was compounded by the rise in Islamophobia. Operation Prevent alienated, divided and stigmatised segments of the population.
Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (Scotland) expressed concern that devolution within the United Kingdom was still not fully understood, and said that the Scottish Government still had a number of issues to address in the area of racial equality and discrimination, including developing a strategy for Roma integration. The 2011 Committee report had referred to Scotland only once and the non-governmental organization stressed the need that Scotland be examined separately in all devolved areas of policing, education, health and education. Scotland should further adopt a comprehensive strategy to address racism and racial hatred speech.
Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities said that devolution in the United Kingdom had created a national Parliament in Scotland and a national Assembly in Wales and Northern Ireland, and was transferring varying levels of power from the United Kingdom Parliament to the United Kingdom’s four nations. The Committee should ask, in the future reports, the four nations in the United Kingdom to provide information on all areas of devolved policy and good practice within their jurisdiction. There was little progress in the implementation of the Convention in the United Kingdom: the racial equality agenda had disappeared and had been replaced by an anti-terrorism agenda under the name of social cohesion and security. Also, there were no benchmark ethnic data against which the progressive realization of rights of ethnic minorities could be measured. The non-governmental organization was concerned about the threat to the Human Rights Act and a possible removal from the European Convention of Human Rights and other Council of Europe treaties, which would be a breach of the Belfast Agreement on human rights protection.
Global African Congress stressed the need for the United Kingdom to take historic responsibility for racism and said that the United Kingdom should do way more to implement its obligations from Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and publicize more the International Decade of People of African Descent. It was important to stress that black people had been a historical part of Britain, and had been British even before Britain was Britain. And yet, the only areas where African people were overrepresented were prisons, mental health institutions and school exclusion. The Government had failed to introduce special measures and to collect adequate data on the situation of African people, which would clearly show that damage had been done to the black people and that reparations must now be undertaken.
National Black Police Association said that the representation of minorities in the police force was not only about numbers but about issues of recruitment, training and retention, and that black police officers were dealing with ugly sides of covert racism. Black officers were relegated to lower ranks, and were subjected to a separate and harsher disciplinary system, while out-of-court settlements of racial discrimination silenced the progressive voices. Lack of progress on diversity in policing was embarrassing and measures must be urgently taken to change the culture within the police force, including through greater representation and consultation with the National Black Police Association on strategic issues.
Dalit Solidarity Network said that there was clear evidence of caste discrimination amongst the South Asian diaspora in the United Kingdom. The Government had declared the intention to introduce legislation to make caste discrimination unlawful, as a specific aspect of race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Three years later, Dalits in the United Kingdom still awaited justice for their communities and the right to be treated without discrimination in the public sphere. The national Equality and Human Rights Commission had stated clearly that it was necessary and desirable for the Government to implement section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 in order to clarify that the Act’s prohibition of racial discrimination and harassment included protection against discrimination and harassment based on caste.
Minority Group International raised the issue of the refusal of the United Kingdom to allow the return of native Chagossians to their ancestral homelands, as it claimed that the United Kingdom did not have to apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to its actions on the Chagos Island, as it had not ratified the Covenant in relation to the British Indian Ocean Territory. However, Minority Group International argued that the United Kingdom had jurisdiction over the Chagos Islands and that the Covenant did apply to the situation of Chagossians. At the same time, the expulsion of the Chagossian people had been discriminatory in effect and in violation of article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Discussion on United Kingdom
A Committee Expert noted the extreme complexity of the legal and administrative structure of the United Kingdom, which made the examination of the report very difficult, and said that it would be hard to review all four United Kingdom nations in all devolved areas, as some non-governmental organizations had suggested.
What were the most important developments that had taken place in the United Kingdom during the last year and in particular following the vote to leave – what were the key problems to raise with the United Kingdom Government?
What was the situation of Africans in tertiary education? What steps had been taken with the State on issues of reparation? Were black police officers placed in majority black areas and if so, what were the effects of this?
Another Expert asked about the impact of the choice of the new mayor of London and the impact of Brexit on racial discrimination and xenophobia. Was there any political dialogue with government bodies on questions of racial discrimination and exclusion of people of African descent?
What were the reasons that explained the absence of people of African descent in high levels of the police force?
Responding, the representatives of the non-governmental organizations said, in relation to statistics, that there were almost 7,000 black and minority ethnic officers in the police force, and that most were in the lower ranks. On the issue of reparations, a dialogue had been opened up with the members of parliament – most of whom were unaware of issues related to reparations - and this dialogue would be continued after the examination of the United Kingdom by the Committee. Representatives of non-governmental organizations explained that they were not suggesting the submission of four separate reports, one for each of the four United Kingdom nations, but rather for the Committee to urge the United Kingdom to conduct a scoping exercise prior to preparing its reports, to identify good practices in devolved areas.
With regard to Brexit, the United Kingdom was seen to have good equality legislation, but the policy was insufficient because it was colour blind. Brexit was throwing a challenge to the United Kingdom as a country which was committed to human rights and to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. One of the challenges was the politicians, who were not only not implementing the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations, but were engaging in anti-minority speech and sentiments and refusing to address historic responsibilities.
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