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20 October 2015
20 October 2015
The Human Rights Committee yesterday and today considered the second periodic report of Greece on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report was presented by Kostantinos Papaioannou, Secretary-General for Transparency and Human Rights of Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, who said that Greece had made remarkable progress in some areas, but a lot remained to be done. He highlighted three main challenges and areas where the Government’s efforts were focused: the impact of austerity measures on the enjoyment of human rights; the urgent need to address the refugee/migration issue; and the strengthening of laws and policies against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
In the interactive dialogue that ensued, Committee Experts raised concerns regarding the rights of migrants and refugees, including their right to non-refoulement and the provision of basic needs and services in order to ensure their dignity. In that respect, they underlined the need to improve first care services and facilities, the need to address police violence, and steps to increase legal entry. Experts were highly concerned about the rise of hate speech among political and religious leaders, as well as media. They also inquired about the disproportionate impact on women and persons with disabilities of the crisis and austerity measures, and expressed concern regarding the independence of the National Commission for Human Rights. Several Experts raised the issue of the non-recognition of the ethnic “Macedonian” and Turkish minorities, and expressed serious concern regarding the violation of their right to freedom of association.
Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, in his concluding remarks, said the dialogue had been very frank, and the delegation had conceded that there were certain difficulties. The Committee expected a genuine response to the questions in the future and not reiteration of the replies in the report.
Mr. Papaioannou, in concluding remarks, said in the following months a number of measures were going to be implemented with regard to respect of human rights. He expressed his gratitude for the fruitful exchange of opinions.
Greece’s delegation included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction; Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity, and the Mission of Greece to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today when it will start its review of the fifth periodic report of Austria (CCPR/C/AUT/5) to be concluded tomorrow morning.
The second periodic report of Greece is available here: (CCPR/C/GRC/2).
Presentation of the Report
KOSTANTINOS PAPAIOANNOU, Secretary-General for Transparency and Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, said that during the previous six years, Greece had been experiencing a severe economic crisis, an extreme example of the broader crisis affecting many European countries. The policy aimed at responding to the crisis included to a large extent extreme austerity measures. The impact of the economic recession had been significant, resulting in social upheavals and threatening social cohesion. The National Human Rights Commission had underlined in a recent statement in July 2015 the importance of the Human Rights Impact Assessment and reiterated that austerity measures strengthened extremist and intolerant elements and undermined the democratic institutions. The recently reelected Greek Government would strive, while implementing the latest financial assistance agreement, to protect the rights of the most disadvantaged segments of society and vulnerable groups. In March 2015, a law had been adopted to ensure basic goods and services to persons and families living under extreme poverty conditions, through provision of free electricity, rent allowance and food stamps.
One of the most pressing challenges for European countries, including Greece, in the recent months, was migration, which had reached unprecedented levels. An increase of the influx of migrants and refugees of over one thousand percent been detected in 2015 as compared to 2014, with almost 400,000 new entrances as of August. Greece and its citizens had responded at all levels, however means were insufficient and facilities were overstretched. Some of the efforts included the construction of temporary accommodation. A new Asylum Service and a new Appeals Authority had been established and operated by civil and not police personnel. Relevant procedures had been significantly accelerated and the recognition rate of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection increased. First Reception Centers had been created and were implementing a new system for registration, assessment, determination of identity and country of origin, medical screening an psycho-social profiling of third country nationals. They provided health care and psychological treatment to unaccompanied minors, and referred them to the Prosecutor for appointment of a guardian and placement in an open accommodation facility. However there were not enough reception centres. The institution of guardianship did not function in an effective and efficient manner, and was under review. Alternative measures to detention were also being implemented. No country could deal with such an international and humanitarian crisis on its own. International cooperation and burden sharing were needed to ensure respect for the human rights of all migrants and refugees.
The third point raised by Mr. Papaioannou was the alarming increase of organised violent racist attacks, mostly, but not only, against foreigners, in particular during the period 2012-2013. Extremist organizations or individuals had attempted to take advantage of several factors, including the discontent of parts of the society. After the killing of Pavlos Fyssas by members of Golden Dawn, the authorities had reacted decisively to end such extremist acts. Relevant laws and policies had been adopted. The new 2014 anti-racist legislation punished, inter alia, public incitement to acts or activities which could result in discrimination, hatred or violence against individuals or groups defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; the establishment or participation in an organization or union of persons systematically pursuing the commission of the abovementioned acts, and the malicious denial or trivialization of genocide. Special provisions for victims had been put in place in order to encourage reporting of racist crimes, and severe penalties had been introduced. Parliament could suspend state financing of political parties whose leaders or officials were suspect of and provisionally detained for racist crimes. Two new police sections and 68 offices had been established with the tasks of investigation of acts of racist violence, and two special prosecutors for racist crime had been appointed.
Questions by Experts
On the issue of incorporation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into domestic law, an Expert asked the Greek delegation to cite specific cases since the latest report in which the Covenant and the views of the Committee had been invoked to provide remedies or to dis-apply domestic legislation.
Could the delegation provide a clear answer on what procedures existed for implementing views of the Committee after they were rendered? Was any specific State agency responsible for implementing the views?
With respect to the issue of re-opening criminal cases, the State party had maintained that no such possibility existed. However, at the same time, the State party had maintained in front of the European Court of Human Rights that when the applicant was informed that the case had been closed, he should appear before the public prosecutor in order to testify and request reopening of the case. Clarification was sought.
Regarding civil remedies could the delegation explain the claim made in the Georgopoulous proceedings, that the author could not claim a remedy from the State but from the municipal authorities? How did that comply with the international obligation of the State to provide remedies?
The Expert was concerned that in the Georgopoulos case the local court had not only found no criminal responsibility, but had actually rejected the Committee’s position that the evictions had been illegal, which was why the person was not entitled to any form of reparation. Were administrative remedies under Article 105 of the introductory law to the Civil Code not dependent on a prior finding of illegality?
Question was asked about measures taken to ensure that the Greek National Commission for Human Rights was provided with adequate financial resources for its effective functioning and full compliance with the Paris Principles.
Another Expert said that statistical data was needed in order to measure the impact of projects promoting women. More specifically, could the delegation provide the number of women in political life, especially after the most recent elections? How many female Governors, Ministers, and General Secretaries, were there? How many female members were there in the boards of the public power company and water company?
Had the Government considered the impact of the austerity measures on the most vulnerable groups?
The Expert commended the Reconciling Work and Family Life Programme and asked if it would be continued. What was the result of the implementation of the special four-year employment promotion programme?
What was the impact of the implementation of the programme for social inclusion for vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities? What was the number of persons with disabilities? How many were unemployed?
The Expert commended Greece on special measures for the transportation for pupils with disabilities. However the Committee had information that only 15 percent of children with disabilities in Greece went to school. Could the delegation provide numbers of pupils with disabilities?
The report stated that there was a limited use of restraining methods. However, the Committee had received information that the use was so high that there had been several incidents of deaths caused by fire in which persons had been restrained and could not flee. There were also reports that children being locked up in institutions. Could the delegation elaborate?
Another Expert asked for clarification regarding hate speech and gender identity in the laws.
The Expert expressed concern that the issues of the use of force by the police which had been prevalent in the 1960s and the 1970s had not been eradicated after the end of the military dictatorship. The problem seemed to be failure of prosecutors to investigate issues of police violence. What was the reason for that?
Another Expert asked about steps to combat racism and xenophobia and to ensure that all crimes were investigated and all perpetrators, including law enforcement officers, were punished. Was it true that most racist acts were not being complained against because of the lack of trust in authorities and safeguard mechanisms? In spite of all the commendable efforts, racist attacks against migrants, refugees and foreigners persisted in an alarming manner. Hate speech was not only used by extremist groups, but was widely used by the media as well as public personalities.
The report indicated that trafficking in persons had started to recede in 2010, which could be due to the fact that smugglers might had selected other routes. How had such a conclusion been reached? What were the enforcement procedures regarding trafficking, in particular of children, as well as Roma persons? What was the number of cases that had been decisively sentenced?
There was also alarming information on the employment of migrants in the agricultural sector, which amounted to servitude. The prosecution in the case of the death of almost 30 Bangladeshi workers had not been commensurate with the crime committed. How did the Government intend to address such inhumane phenomena?
Another Expert inquired about the respect of the rights of Roma. What was the implementation of the project Education of Roma Children? Cases of exclusion of Roma from schools, and the rise of ghetto schools remained serious. The cases of eviction of Roma in several areas of Greece were often the result of discrimination of Roma in the area of property rights.
Violence against women and domestic violence was raised by an Expert, who asked about a new law to fight domestic violence adopted in 2006. However, the number of domestic violence cases had not significantly decreased. What were the difficulties? Were female victims often denied effective acts to justice? The delegation was asked to provide statistics related to the number of complaints received, investigations carried out, types of sentences pronounced and penalties served. How many services and shelters were available, and what number of women and girls were in them? More specific information regarding the criminal mediation procedure for domestic violence was requested.
Another Expert commended the work of the State with respect to efforts to address racism and xenophobia, and specifically with regards to migrants. Could the delegation elaborate on the measures the State party was talking to make the migrant population aware of the new services?
An Expert noted, with regard to individual communications, that the report said that the Covenant was an integral part of domestic law. Yet, there was a heavy burden which rested on the author of the communication who would have to start a case anew, in order to bring the case to the attention of the Committee. Should there not be a faster procedure for the author to communicate the violation in front of the Committee?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation noted that avenues for reparation were provided. Among those was bringing to justice of alleged violators of human rights. The obligation of the State was of a procedural character. To establish the criminal responsibility, a court had to have subjective elements, such as the intention of the alleged perpetrator. Those were issues which could not be dealt with by international bodies, which were not first instance courts. Of course, national bodies had to take into account views of the Committee.
The courts were competent to decide on the compensation taking into account views of the Committee. Until now the courts had not had the opportunity to consider a claim and it was premature to question a procedure which had never been utilized. Persons who considered they had the right to compensation from the State could lodge a complaint to the Legal Counsel of the State.
Concerning the question on the application of the Covenant in the national legislation, the delegation explained that Greek courts of all instances systematically referred to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The provisions of the Covenant were frequently evoked by the prosecutors and the courts, especially in advisory opinions.
Racist violence persisted, but attacks were less numerous and did not have the form of organized militia that they had three years earlier. There still existed smaller groups and individuals who committed violent crimes. Incitement of violence on the basis of racism was criminalized in the new legislation. Every effort was being made to criminalize racism and xenophobia, however, entailed curtailing freedom of expression.
Hate speech was admittedly used by public figures, including certain politicians, religious figures and the media. However, the official language of the Greek Orthodox Church was far from that. What was worrying was that people had gotten used to it, and considered it natural. The parliamentarian presence of a large and growing neo-Nazi organization, Golden Dawn, which gained seven percent of votes, constituted a new challenge for the democracy. State funding had stopped for Golden Dawn. The State trials of 17 Members of Parliament was one of the biggest in the history of Greece.
Accountability deficiencies existed in a structural sense and the everyday practice. The Greek Ombudsman would play a key role in combatting that. There was political will for accountability and a clear commitment to face far right groups.
Gender identity was a category include in hate crimes. Regarding the March 2014 case of death by torture where 17 prison officers had been involved, criminal procedures had been lodged against all of them, and were still pending. There were five more cases on disciplinary proceedings in five different prisons, lodged since 2010, and they also were pending. One additional incident had been relayed, but no investigative or criminal proceedings and been instituted.
Regarding the Roma, the delegation said that housing was a very complex issue and there were no easy solutions. Constructive attitude of all those involved was needed. After the completion of the Roma Strategy, Roma had been asked to express their opinion. In 2015, 17 million euros from European and national funds had gone towards reconstruction purposes for 20,000 beneficiaries. A mapping tool had been established on the settlements and their needs. Regarding the Halandri case, courts had recognized the rights of original owner, and local authorities and administration were coping to find a viable solution.
The process of the implementation of the Programme Education of Roma Children had been very important. It aimed to reduce school drop outs of Roma children and improve access to education by the Roma in at least 84 municipalities. The specific conditions in which Roma children often lived had been taken into consideration. A particular emphasis on pre-school education and early enrollment in primary school was placed. Roma school mediators were implemented to improve access.
Polygamy was banned in Greece, the delegation said. The legal minimum age to enter marriage was 18. Exceptions were allowed by courts, only in specific issues and after hearing the families concerned.
Regarding the impact of crisis and impact of austerity measures, the delegation said that there was a law that aimed at the immediate relief of people facing extreme poverty. In addition, a programme providing income support, access to goods and services and support for reintegration in the market was enacted. Women were one of the groups that benefited from those schemes.
The Programme Reconciling Work and Family Life would be continued, the delegation informed.
Greek legislation did not allow for discrimination on remuneration between men and women. The principle of equal pay for work of equal value was guarded by the Constitution. According to research, however, women were being paid 15 percent less than men for the work of equal value. A monitoring mechanism had been established to monitor that, based on the Beijing Platform for Action.
Regarding the participation of women in public life, the delegation said that the Parliament had had a female Speaker until the recent elections, and the President of the Supreme Court, who had served as an interim Prime Minister, was also a woman. The General Secretariat for Gender Equality had intensified steps to increase participation of women, but in reality problems remained. The results from the recent elections were not different. Out of 46 members of the Government, only six were women. Of 300 Members of Parliament, 56 were women.
There was a law which prohibited indirect discrimination on grounds of sex, harassment, pregnancy, and less favorable treatment in matters of employment. Concerning victims of discrimination, access to justice in court and judicial protection was provided. The right to an appeal against an administrative body was provided. Free legal assistance was provided for victims of discrimination with low income, who were exempted from fees. A Consultation Handbook on Sexual Violence had been published.
Trafficking in human beings was still classified as a rare crime, due to the evasive nature of the problem and many new trends. The number of identified perpetrators was decreasing, and many criminal rings had been dismantled. However, organized crime was going towards less coercive communication and taking advantage of the internet and social media networks. Traffickers relied on psychological exploitation such as granting a day off or providing cash, rather than force. Victims were thus less inclined to complain. On the national level, intensive efforts had been undertaken, but difficulties remained. The main challenge was with developing training in the first reception services, speeding up accountability and enhancing the collection of data.
Regarding the question on the protection of rights of persons with mental disabilities, the delegation explained that physical restraints were used in limited and rare cases, as a safety measure to protect patients. The case of the three persons who had died in a fire while restrained was being investigated.
Gender-based violence remained hidden and was considered a family issue. To reverse that, an awareness raising campaign had commenced. There were 21 shelters, and the help line had received over 20,000 calls. Over 1,000 prosecutions and 307 convictions for domestic injury had been recorded in 2014. There was no need for the explicit inclusion of rape as a form of torture.
Regarding access for persons with disabilities, inspection was compulsory for every project applying for a building permit, and sanctions were imposed on engineers if plans did not comply.
The delegation stated that the Committee’s figures on children with disabilities and their access to education were not official figures and had been taken from a PhD thesis. The country was aware of the lack of statistics and an electronic database had been created.
The National Commission on Human Rights was struggling for financial autonomy, but that did not have an effect on its independence.
Questions by Experts
What was the actual state of implementation and the responsibility of the State to ensure that remedies became a reality? The answers were not clear and had alluded to opportunities for effective remedies that existed but had never been used. It was harsh to have a victim go through all the stages of the legal system once, approach the Committee and obtain a favorable decision, and then have to invoke a multiplicity of proceedings which might or might not work.
It was unclear whether the imposition of fees on those seeking to file a criminal complaint did not deter victims from pursuing their cases. That concern was grave in relation to appeals on prosecutorial decisions not to file criminal cases, where the fee was 300 euros. It was also difficult for the Committee to accept the need to pay a 50 euro fee to join as a civil party mot criminal proceedings. How did the State ensure that those fees did not serve as deterrents against claimants?
What was the state of play of the recommendations on the re-decriminalization of petty crimes and breaches of administrative law, reduction of litigation costs, reforms in legal aid, and improved access to justice in refugee cases?
Regarding practices of push-back, an Expert asked the delegation to update the Committee on the investigation of two cases, namely the Praggi case of 2013 and the Farmakonissi case of 2014, both of which had been highlighted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There were non-governmental organisation reports of cases of confiscation or dumping into the sea of papers, cell phones, and other personal items, beating of migrants with electronic truncheons. Was the delegation aware of those reports and could it comment on those allegations? Were electric truncheons in use by the Coast Guard or the Navy, and did the Coast Guard have a place in procedures to disable sea vessels used by migrants so as to prevent them from entering the Greek territory? The numbers of complaints were too high to ignore.
The Committee had received information suggesting that non-governmental organisations representing minority groups had not been involved in the consultation process of the drafting of the report. Could the delegation provide an explanation?
Another Expert inquired about the situation of prisons in Greece. No information had been received on conditions in health care services and the lack of human resources in certain prisons. Did the Government plan to separate preliminary detention and pre-convicted individuals in prisons?
A special rapporteur had recently drew attention to upholding the human rights of asylum seekers. Individuals found themselves in danger of refoulement. The delay of processing a file for up to 18 months was still in practice and could not be appealed. Did the Government plan to change the system in order to counter those problems? What measures did the State party intend to take to improve accommodation facilities? What was being done to address the issue of stateless refugees?
In the case of unaccompanied minors, was the Government looking into adopting a system allowing people to access European territory legally instead of becoming victims of traffickers? Detention of unaccompanied minors was of high concern. Greek legislation did not prohibit this. According to the information received, detention was practiced and minors were placed in so-called special places. What was the State Party planning to do in that regard? What were the procedures to establish the age of minors? With regard to guardianship, were there alternative practices?
On police custody, another Expert highlighted that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture had noted that the vast majority of those detained by police did not have access to a lawyer during the first two hours. What kind of action and thought had been given to the reactions and recommendations of the Committee on the Prevention of Torture, in particular the recommendations to video-record interrogations?
Another Expert described as impenetrable answers in the report to the question of the non-registration of associations of “Macedonian” and Turkish communities. The report stated that “Greece does not recognize that a distinct national, ethnic or linguistic minority exists in its territory by the name ‘Macedonian’.” The Expert said that this was not a question of ethnic or minority rights, but a question of freedom of association. Individuals belonging to those minorities should not be denied the right, in community with members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to practice their religion and speak their language and the existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State party did not depend upon a decision by that State party but required to be established by objective criteria. What were the objective criteria in question?
Regarding conscientious objection, according to information received, in many cases, the duration of civil service was more than double the duration of military service. Could statistics be provided? Why were men of Greek citizenship, who had already served in other countries, obliged to serve in the Greek military? Was Greece party to the European Convention on Nationalities, under which dual nationals were not subject to military service in more than one country? There was serious concern regarding the criminalization of conscientious objectors and repeated punishments for the same act of refusing military service.
There was also a serious concern regarding the excessive use of force by police during demonstrations and failure to protect media and demonstrators from extremist groups such as Golden Dawn. The sense of impunity was still deeply rooted and had been denounced repeatedly by civil society. What measures were used to suppress those acts by the police? Amnesty International had reported that over the previous t three years, escalation of attacks against migrants, Roma, and members of the lesbian gay bi-sexual and trans sexual community. Was that true?
With respect to the issue of migrants who had lost their lives at sea, what was Greece doing to ensure that migrants did not resort to life-threatening routes? What steps was it taking to increase legal entry and processing in order to reduce resort to dangerous routes. Was it facilitating land routes from Turkey? Was it considering establishing a border facility there?
Unregistered migrants had been prohibited transit to islands. Was that still the case? Was the State ensuring that migrants could expeditiously reach centers off the islands?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that there was a serious crisis going on which had to be taken into consideration. No country could have been ready for what was happening in Greece.
Regarding the asylum system, the delegation stressed that not all people were asylum seekers. Almost 80 percent had a refugee profile, but they did not seek asylum in Greece, and most did not even want to stay in Greece. The burden on the asylum system of Greece was heavy. It was not an issue of Greece only, but of European and international. It was a test for the core values of society today. The reactions of Europe had been xenophobic. Pressure on Greece to guard its borderline was worrying. Greece was guarding its borderline, but not forgetting its international obligations and the Geneva Conventions. It would continue to do both but not one at the cost of the other.
Safe entry points was a European issue, not one that only one country could decide upon. There were ongoing negotiations within the European Union and of the European Union with other third countries regarding safe entry points. The Appeals Committee’s work was independent.
Issues of allegations of police or coast guard violence against people who were trying to enter Greece dated to 2012 and 2013 and were not recent. If there were such cases, it was of utmost importance that they were investigated.
The protection of unaccompanied minors was a matter of priority for the Greek State. There was a new management system in place. Upon arrival of unaccompanied minors, first reception procedures were applied, including identification, medical screening, psycho-social support, and referral of unaccompanied minors to the relevant authorities. Minors were told their rights, and given the choice to stay at the reception centre or mobile unit. They were provided with footwear, clothes and other basic items.
Where first reception centers were unavailable, unaccompanied minors were referred to prosecutors for minors or, if those were not available, to geographical prosecutors. A new mechanism was being designed of appointment of guardians. Guardians had specific duties and obligations by law. The Government had undertaken a holistic approach with respect to unaccompanied minors. The National Plan on the Rights of the Child had been drafted in that respect. There was a project to upgrade the system in order to distinguish between unaccompanied and accompanied minors.
Recent measures had been taken on the application of detention measures as a very last resort. Concerning the alternative measures, the police was responsible for administrative measures of detention. New detention centres had been created. Those measures had been commended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Responding to the questions on the conditions of detention, it was explained that, due to the lack of proper facilities during the influx, migrants had been detained in border police stations. As a rule, migrants under return procedure were not detained in police stations. When absolutely necessary, migrants were detained for up to a maximum of five days. The information sheet on return procedures and other important information had been translated to multiple languages.
The number of individuals in remand detention had halved between 2013 and 2015, form over 4,000 to over 2,000. Numbers of pre-trial detainees had also decreased.
On the issue of pushbacks, the delegation said that disciplinary sanctions had been invoked. However, the anonymity of victims made it difficult to investigate those cases.
The issue of freedom of association was not a matter of discrimination, the delegation said.
Regarding the questions on minorities, the delegation explained that in Greece only one group was qualified as a minority, namely the Muslim minority, with three distinct groups having the Muslim religion as their common trait. That was based on the Treaty of Lausanne, but also on the assessment of objective facts and criteria and implementation of modern treaties. At the same time, the principle of self-identification was fully respected. But the decision of the State to recognize a group as a minority and to grant them additional rights had to be based not only on subjective claims of numerically small groups, but also on the objective criteria. Those were of legal, cultural linguistic, historical and ethnological nature.
On the issue of the “Macedonian” community, it was explained that there were over 2.5 million Greeks who lived in the northern Greek region of Macedonia and who used the adjective “Macedonian” to denote their regional and/or cultural provenance and not a distinct ethnic identity. Those circles promoting the existence of a so-called “Macedonian” minority in Greece were supported by a political party in Greece which had obtained in the most recent elections in which it participated - the 2009 elections for the European Parliament - some 4,500 votes, or 0.1 percent of the votes. That dismissed any attempt to recognize a so called Macedonian minority.
The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that States were not obliged to recognize and or initiate procedure of recognition of a group. Having said that, a State should respect all persons claiming to represent a minority even if such did not exist. The European Court of Human Rights judgment mentioned by the Expert was related to the freedom of association, not to minority rights. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights on the case “Home of Macedonian Civilization” had dismissed the claim that they were victims of discrimination.
Regarding conscientious objectors, Greece had not ratified the European Convention on Nationalities. Those rejecting both military and administrative services were committing a punishable offense. Multiple accusations in conscientious objectors cases did not breach the ne bis in idem principle.
The article that provided a legal basis for law suits and high fines against the press would be abolished.
The delegation informed that there had been a mapping of all health care establishments in prisons. Doctors would soon take up their positions, but problems and shortages of medical staff were still acute. Integration of the psychiatric care facilities in the national health care system was being looked into.
With regard to the measures protecting the principle of non-refoulement, the delegation said that national trainers had been nominated to train border patrol and other actors involved directly with migrants and refugees. Other measures had also been taken, such as the translation to Greek of a manual provided by Frontex, the compilation of an epitome of fundamental best practices for border guards, and the establishment of regional focal point officers supervising fundamental rights.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert said the questions on legal aid had not been fully answered and asked the delegation to provide the answers in written form.
There had been numerous allegations of push-backs occurring recently and not in 2013. Those had to do mostly with land crossings. Civil society had highlighted lack of political will to investigate them, which amounted to a culture of impunity. Could the State party provide concrete cases in which criminal or disciplinary proceedings had been lodged?
With respect to the new hot-spots envisioned as the way forward, the concern of the Committee was whether adequate accountability would be ensured on behalf of the State Party.
Another Expert clarified his question with regard to the minorities and the position under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (and not the European Convention on Minorities, which did not define Minorities). Namely, the Covenant did not require an act of recognition, but it required that a minority have the right, in community, to enjoy its culture, profess its own religion, speak its own language. Religious identity was only one type of minority. The Expert did not understand the delegation’s point on the “Macedonian” ethnicity. He was baffled that any minority that wanted to assert that identity would be denied the right to freedom of association.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation agreed that freedom of association had to be respected, but only under strict articles enumerated in the Covenant.
KOSTANTINOS PAPAIOANNOU, Secretary-General for Transparency and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights of Greece, said that in the following months a number of measures were going to be implemented with regard to respect of human rights, namely with respect to members of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual community. The review of the Penal Code would also examine the outdated provisions such as 347, regarding unnatural indecency, and the articles on blasphemy. He expressed his gratitude for the fruitful exchange of opinions.
Dheerujlall SEETULSINGH, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, stated that the Committee was fully aware of the difficulties Greece was currently facing. The dialogue had been very frank and the delegation had conceded that there were certain problems. The Committee took note that the Ministry was one of transparency and human rights, and the delegation had lived up to those standards. The Committee expected a genuine response to the questions and not reiteration of the replies in the report.
For use of the information media; not an official record