Strasbourg, 16 April 2013
by Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Following his visit to Greece, from 28 January to 1 February 2013
Commissioner Nils Muižnieks and his delegation visited Greece from 28 January to 1 February 2013. In the course of this visit the Commissioner held discussions with state authorities and non-governmental, national and international organisations. The present report focuses on the following human rights issues:
I. Intolerance and hate crimes in Greece - the need for urgent action
The Commissioner is seriously concerned by the increase in racist and other hate crimes in Greece, which primarily targets migrants and poses a serious threat to the rule of law and democracy. A number of the reported attacks have been linked to members or supporters, including MPs, of the neo-Nazi political party “Golden Dawn” which won seats in parliament in June 2012. Whilst welcoming the fact that the Greek authorities have adopted new measures to combat racist violence, the Commissioner regrets that rhetoric stigmatising migrants has been widely used in Greek politics and that immigration control measures have led to the further stigmatisation of migrants. The Commissioner calls on the authorities to condemn firmly and unequivocally all instances of hate speech and hate crime. Political parties and the parliament in particular need to adopt self-regulatory measures to effectively counter and sanction intolerance and hate speech on the part of politicians. Far-reaching and systematic anti-racism and human rights awareness-raising campaigns should also be implemented, targeting particularly young people and schools. The completion and execution of a national human rights action plan that is envisaged by the authorities may play a catalytic role in this context. The authorities are invited to design and implement measures to improve migrants’ integration as well as intercultural dialogue, drawing upon successful existing structures such as the Athens City Council for Migrants’ Integration. In this context, the construction of a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in Athens is noted as long overdue. Lastly, the Commissioner expresses his concern at the envisaged restrictive change in the law concerning the naturalisation of long-term resident migrant children and the political participation of long-term resident migrants at local level, and calls on Greece to accede to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and the 1992 European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level and draw on its human rights standards.
II. Combating the impunity of perpetrators of hate crimes; victims’ access to justice and protection
The Commissioner calls on the Greek authorities to be highly vigilant and use all available means to combat all forms of hate speech and hate crime and to end impunity for these crimes. International law, especially the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights, which are ratified and have a supra-statutory force in Greece, make possible the imposition of dissuasive, criminal and other sanctions and restrictions on the activities of individuals who advocate for and are involved in instances of racist and other hate crimes. The same holds true for such activities of political organisations, including parties such as the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn”, on which it should be possible to impose effective penalties or prohibition, if necessary. Greek law, although insufficiently or completely unused so far, has the potential to curb and prevent manifestations of racial and other forms of discrimination by individuals and political organisations. The Commissioner urges the authorities to accelerate the modernisation of domestic anti-racism legislation and to carry out systematic, continuous training and awareness-raising in anti-discrimination law and practice for all police and coast guard officials, prosecutors and judges. As regards victims’ access to justice and effective remedies, the authorities are urged to remedy the long-standing serious shortcomings concerning excessively lengthy judicial proceedings, notably by enhancing the human and material resources available to prosecutors and judges. The newly established post of the anti-racism prosecutor in Athens needs particular reinforcement and expansion to other Greek regions so that anti-racism law is effectively applied throughout the country. Lastly, the state authorities are called on to reach out to victims of racist and other hate crimes and establish advice centres near the areas where they live, to clearly exempt them from criminal complaint fees, and to provide them with adequate legal aid, if necessary, as well as assistance.
III. The role of law enforcement authorities in combating racist and other hate crimes
The Commissioner is deeply concerned by persistent reports of ill-treatment, including torture, committed by law enforcement officials notably against migrants and Roma. The Commissioner calls on the authorities to ensure that the definition of torture contained in the criminal code is fully aligned with the definition in the UN Convention against Torture and that allegations of torture are effectively investigated and sanctioned. Ethnic profiling by the Greek police is also an issue of serious concern. In addition to strongly and publicly condemning all instances of abuse or misconduct by law enforcement officials, the Commissioner urges the Greek authorities to eliminate the institutional culture of impunity and establish an independent and well-functioning complaints mechanism covering all law enforcement officials, usefully drawing on the experiences of other Council of Europe member states. Law enforcement officials who are motivated by racism or act against democratic principles should be sanctioned and removed from their posts. Additionally, the Commissioner stresses the need to reinforce the capacity of the police to respond adequately to incidents of racist and other hate crime, particularly to examine and record all evidence related to hate crime motivation. The 70 newly established anti-racist units and the hotline for reporting racist incidents are a welcome step forward. However, these units need to be adequately resourced and their staff, which should include persons with knowledge of languages spoken by the complainants, needs to be systematically and adequately trained in human rights and anti-discrimination. Moreover, the authorities are called on to expand the mandate of these units in order to include all forms of hate crime.
IV. Asylum and immigration law and practice – certain major shortcomings that need to be addressed
The Commissioner welcomes the steps taken by the authorities since 2011 aimed at rebuilding the national asylum system. Nonetheless, the Commissioner remains seriously concerned by persisting gaps in law and practice which adversely affect the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, and increase their vulnerability notably to racist crimes. Among these gaps, he points out the highly insufficient asylum seeker reception capacity of Greece, the particularly dysfunctional system for lodging asylum applications in the Athens aliens police directorate, and the policy of systematic and prolonged detention of irregular migrants, often in substandard conditions. He urges the authorities to discontinue the costly and largely ineffective policy of migrant detention and to provide for possible alternatives in law and practice, drawing on the experience of other European countries. At the same time, the need is stressed for Greece to make sure that all migrant detainees have adequate access to health care. Expert NGOs may play a valuable role in this context. The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to provide effective protection to unaccompanied minor migrants, who are often left without any support and who are extremely vulnerable to racist violence and various forms of exploitation. Access to an effective system of guardianship and to adequate child protection mechanisms should be made available as a matter of priority.
The report contains the Commissioner’s conclusions and recommendations to the Greek authorities and is published on the Commissioner’s website along with the authorities’ comments.