24 March 2005
Human Rights Committee Concludes Review of Report by Greece
Experts Welcome Creation of New Laws, Institutions to Ensure Fundamental Freedoms but Voice Concerns over Rights of Minorities, Foreigners
NEW YORK, 23 March (UN Headquarters) -- Wrapping up a review of Greeces efforts to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a panel of United Nations human rights experts today welcomed the creation of new laws and institutions aiming to ensure that Greek citizens enjoyed fundamental freedoms, but were concerned that not enough was being done to protect the rights of ethnic or religious minorities and foreigners.
The experts, reviewing Greeces initial compliance report, were also troubled that the Government had not moved quickly to deal with the culture of impunity that had crept into the halls of law enforcement and border patrol agencies. Information provided by human rights advocates in Greece pointed to ongoing harassment and discrimination by State officials against Roma and other minorities, and a recent spike in xenophobic media. Ill-treatment of minorities or even killings at the hands of authorities resulted in negligible punishment.
Police sweeps had resulted in the forced resettlement of Roma communities or the expulsion of foreigners. Recounting a specific incident, one expert said that some 300 Albanian youths had been placed in a detention centre following one such round-up. They had subsequently been released, but there had been no attempt to see to their safety. No information had since surfaced as to their whereabouts. This led other experts to voice concern about prison overcrowding, as well as the serious problem of trafficking in humans, the few prosecutions for crimes related to trafficking, and fewer remedies offered for victims.
Introducing Greeces initial report yesterday afternoon, Maria Telalian, Minister Counsellor, Legal Advisor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, said that over the past decade, Greece had been rather rapidly transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Substantial efforts had already been made to adjust the legislative framework and relevant administrative procedures to that new reality, including the preparation of a new draft law on immigration policy. She stressed that the rapidly increasing migrant population had not stirred racial hatred, aggression or prejudice against foreigners.
Nevertheless, Greece, like other countries, recognized the need to remain vigilant against negative perceptions of the other, including foreigners and members of vulnerable social groups. The competent authorities were undertaking actions to ensure continuous public education on the principles of human dignity, racial and religious tolerance, respect for diversity and the promotion of those principles throughout all local communities. To that end, the General Secretariat of Communication/Information had developed a series of relevant activities, such as conferences and radio and television broadcasts.
Regarding the Roma people, Ms. Telalian today said that they were recognized as a vulnerable social group whose situation called for special measures on the part of Greek authorities. The Roma themselves had repeatedly expressed their wish not to be considered a minority within Greek society. Nevertheless, she stressed that the non-recognition of the Roma or any group as a national minority did not deprive that group from the enjoyment of all civil and political rights enjoyed by Greek citizens. She added that more and more Roma were becoming involved in Greek decision-making processes concerning issues that pertained to their well-being.
On the so-called Macedonian minority, she reiterated that the use of the term Macedonian to describe a minority usurped the name and the cultural identity of the vast majority of Greek Macedonians. It also implied irredentism, as it did not recognize Greek Macedonia as a part of Greece. It was obvious that the use of the name Macedonian to identify the existence of a national minority in Greece, or its associations, could not be accepted for the same reason that Greece could not accept the use of the name Macedonia by a neighbouring country.
Another delegate said that Greeces new legal framework incorporated the highest standard for human rights protection. Explaining the new law on firearms use by police officers, he defined the cases where such use was permitted, as well as the principles guiding firearms use. The principle of necessity and proportionality applied in every case. Police officers were bound to exhaust less serious measures, but if firearms use was indispensable, then their use should result in the least possible injury. The law also contained a list of cases where firearm use was allowed. In addition, the pocketbook on human rights for use by the police issued in 1996, had been translated into Greek and distributed to all police, personnel. That text emphasized the safeguarding of the free exercise of fundamental rights. Greece was a State in which the rule of law prevailed.
Of the 164 reported cases against police officers (2001 to 2003), he said 11 had involved Roma, 74 had had no criminal aspect, and 39 cases were still pending in the courts. The appeals laws had not yet been examined and no final decision in that regard had been issued. That might give the impression that no or very few police officers had been sentenced for ill-treatment, but that was not true. He cited a case where a police officer had used excessive force against a young Roma, and he had been sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Another delegate said yesterday that estimates had shown that trafficking in human beings in and around Greece was now the third largest criminal industry, after illicit trafficking in narcotics and firearms. Social exclusion, poverty or lack of knowledge of the language were among the social factors that made women, minors and aliens vulnerable to that abhorrent crime. And while the problem was growing, worldwide and in Europe, Greece had begun designing and applying action plans to tackle it. The Ministry of Public Order had established a Task Force in 2001 that had proved remarkably active and productive. She added that police training in the area of trafficking was under way.
The Human Rights Committee is scheduled to meet again in open session at 10:30 a.m., Friday 1 April, to hear a progress report from the Special Rapporteur for follow-up on views and communication.
The Human Rights Committee, which monitors worldwide implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, met today to continue and conclude its consideration of Greeces initial compliance report. (For background, see Press Release HR/CT/663 of 22 March.)
Experts Comments and Questions
Kicking off the first round of comments this morning, RUTH WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, presented the Greek delegation with a list of some 122 cases of alleged mistreatment of Roma persons by police officers. She said that the delegation could supply the Committee with further information within the allotted three-day period, or later in the meeting. She acknowledged that the request might appear tedious; she knew from experience that such a list could be useful for the countrys human rights machinery to go to the Government with perhaps concrete evidence that international agencies had information on rights abuses.
[She made reference to a report before the Committee entitled, State Violence in Greece/An Alternative Report to the United Nations Committee against Torture, particularly to pages 42 to 54, which she wished to have included in the meetings summary. The document, jointly prepared by five national human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in collaboration with the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), had been presented to the thirty-third session of the Committee against Torture.]
She also asked for further clarification on the countrys deportation procedures, particularly in light of reports of the forced expulsion of some Turkish citizens, as well as more information on medical facilities or availability of medical treatment in overcrowded prisons.
RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, urged Greece to do everything possible to speed up what the delegation had identified as ongoing efforts to ensure gender equality. He asked what specific initiatives were under way to guarantee that women were duly represented in decisionmaking positions within the country. What was happening in municipal and local councils, mayoral offices and other local and national government ministries to ensure gender equality?
AHMED TAWFIK KHALIL, expert from Egypt, said the delegation had been correct in acknowledging the troubling and ongoing phenomenon of trafficking in human beings in and around Greece. It had been heartening to hear that the Greek Government was also aware of the need to address the needs of victims. He asked for more information on sentences that had been handed down to traffickers and also wondered what more could be done to assist and rehabilitate the victims. The expert was particularly concerned about the reports of exploitation of Albanian children. What had been done to establish information on the fates of those children?
RAJSOOMER LALLAH, expert from Mauritius, praised the delegations extensive and well-thought out report. He had appreciated the details provided on the countrys efforts to integrate the Covenant into the laws of the country. But he had some specific concerns about the terrorism laws, and wondered if they negatively affected rights protection in any way. Could persons be detained without trial, merely on the ground of suspicion? Did persons suspected of terrorism have access to courts during detention? How did the law deal with extradition if another country wanted to interview suspects of terrorism? He also asked for more information on debtor/creditor procedures.
The expert from Ireland, MICHAEL OFLAHERTY, joined others expressing concerns about the situation of trafficking in Greece, and asked the delegation for more information on the assistance provided to victims of the scourge. He suggested that if the country only relied on the criminal justice system to provide information on trafficking, the Government might be missing out on the full extent of the problem. Was the Government attempting to reach out to victims or follow up on allegations beyond the instances of trafficking that had reached the courts? He believed that Greece was ahead of the curve in providing assistance to victims of trafficking in their home countries. Could the Government provide further information on its relevant programmes?
He was also concerned about the countrys extradition procedures, as well as reportedly deplorable health and living conditions in Greek prison facilities. He also wanted to know why access by Amnesty International to several prisons had been blocked. He said that this past December, it had come to the Committees attention that some 300 minors were being held in one of the countrys detention centres, and rather than placing those children in a care facility, it had subsequently been reported that the minors had simply been released. No information on their whereabouts had since surfaced. Was any of this true? What was being done to find out what happened to those children?
NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, was also concerned about the seeming culture of impunity in the police and other law enforcement departments. When such officials had been punished for ill-treatment of detainees or use of force/firearms, the punishments did not seem severe enough. What was being done to seriously address such conduct and to implement stiff punishment? Had any officer accused of discharging a firearm that resulted in death been found guilty of anything other than manslaughter? He cited a specific case in which a person had been shot and killed during an alleged border-crossing incident, where it appeared, as in many other countries, that the police were protecting each other during the ensuing investigation. But in this case it also appeared that other authorities appeared to be involved in the cover-up as well.
NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked for further information on the countrys anti-discrimination laws. He wondered about restrictions on the freedom of movement when a state of emergency had been declared. To what extent could citizens be compelled to work during a state of emergency? What was the age limit for such compulsory work?
The members of the Greek delegation were: Maria Telalian, Minister Counsellor, Legal Advisor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations; Vasileios Kyriazopoulus, Advisor, State Legal Council, Foreign Affairs Ministry; Elias Kastanas, Rapporteur, Special Legal Department, Foreign Affairs Ministry; Kyriaki Grigoriou, Advisor, State Legal Council, Ministry of Interior; Louiza Kyriakaki, Rapporteur, Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralaziation; Konstantinos Gogos, Military Judge, Ministry of National Defence; and Angelos Vallianatos, School Advisor, Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs.
Other delegation members included, Joanna Despotopoulou, Secretary-General for Social Solidarity, Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity; Nestor Kourakis, Ministry of Justice; Nikolaos Stavrakakis, Police Major, Ministry of Public Order; Ioannis Stavrou, Police Major, Ministry of Public Order; Theodosis Demetracopoulos, Head of the Press and Communication Office, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations/General Consulate of Greece, New York; and Marilena Mouzakiti, Lawyer, Advisor on Legal Issues, General Secretariat of Communication/Information.
Responding to the experts interventions, which began yesterday afternoon, one member of the delegation said that Greek laws against terrorism had a deep respect for human rights. That had largely been the result of the fact that two laws, including the most recent promulgated in 2004, relied heavily on the two framework decisions of the European Union, which had been adopted on 13 June 2002. In the preamble of one of those decisions, it was stated clearly that respect for human rights was a prerequisite in dealing with terrorism from the legal perspective. Moreover, all fundamental rights were allowed to be exercised, except in the case of abuse of those rights. For example, if a peaceful demonstration suddenly affected innocent people, the perpetrators would be punished. So, criminal law in Greece was not indifferent to persons who abused their rights and those of others. Terrorism in Greece was not a political crime.
Another delegate recalled that Ms. Wedgewood yesterday had touched on recent aspects of the terrorism issue, as well as the High-Level Panels Report on Threats, Challenges and Change, which contained a definition of terrorism and made the point that there was no justification whatsoever for terrorist acts. Greece fully subscribed to that position, which was also the position of the European Union. In negotiating a draft comprehensive convention against terrorism, a definition of terrorism had emerged, to which her country and all other European States had subscribed.
On the question of freedom fighters, she said she could not accept any act of violence against civilians, which was reflected in Greek national law. That anti-terrorism law did not stand alone, however, as other internal laws supplemented it. Greece had also ratified the 12 international conventions against terrorism, and the last two contained the concept of the depoliticization of terrorist acts, to which the national law subscribed. In addition, there were European Union regulations concerning the definition of terrorism, which was also part of Greek national law. And, there was a series of legislative acts that guided authorities in their actions in the fight against terrorism. Violence against civilians was forbidden -- by law, by international instruments that formed part of Greek legislation. We cannot tolerate such activities on our territory, she stressed.
On extradition, she said there were very strict conditions in the penal code governing how that process should proceed. If a terrorist act was committed on Greek territory, however, the Government was under obligation either to extradite or punish the person(s) involved.
Responding to an assertion by the experts that the Covenant and the Greek Constitution were considered to be on the same level, another delegate said that was not the case. Article 28 of the Greek Constitution stated that the generally recognized rules of international law and international conventions, as of the time the latter were ratified, should be an integral part of domestic Greek law and should prevail over any contrary provision of the law.
According to the Constitution, that document was on the top, followed by all other international conventions ratified by parliament, such as the Covenant, and then came ordinary law, he said. If there was a conflict between what the Constitution prescribed and what the Covenant prescribed, and there was no possibility to harmonize the two, then the Constitution prevailed. Of course, in most cases, it was understood that the interpreter of such a regulation would try to harmonize the two instruments.
Turning to a series of questions about prison overcrowding, the delegate explained that, in Greece, only five to six per cent of convicted persons actually went to prison; the others usually received a non-custodial or suspended sentence and stayed outside the prison walls. Despite that, there was a problem of prison overcrowding, but the situation in Greece was not worse than in other countries. According to data of the Council of Europe, Greece had one of the lowest prison occupancy rates in Europe, whereas, for example, the United Kingdom had a rate of 137 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants, the Netherlands had 105 per 100,000 inhabitants, and Greece had about 80 detainees per 100,000 inhabitants. So, the situation was not so bad.
On the other hand, he said, the situation was bad in specific prison facilities, where there were three times more detainees than the capacity of the prison. Those facilities were in or around Athens, and the overflow could be explained by the fact that most of the detainees wanted to stay in Athens, even in such conditions, instead of moving to another facility, with better conditions, outside the urban centre. The Government, therefore, had undertaken six specific interim measures to address the problem. For example, many persons could be transferred to certain agricultural prisons if they so desired, for which the Justice Minister last year offered incentives to detainees to go to those prisons, including serving shorter sentences. Efforts were also under way to improve the situations in the prisons near Athens, and a further measure was to encourage important alternatives to imprisonment, such as community service. Other measures involved negotiations with other countries, including Albania and Bulgaria, given that 40 to 50 per cent of the detainees in Greek prisons were foreigners. As another enormous problem was drug use in prisons, a detoxification centre near Athens had a capacity for 300 persons.
Regarding another question, he said that the only reservation concerning the application of article 11 of the Covenant was in the case when a merchant had enough assets to pay his debts but refused to do so, in order to use that money in other ways for his own benefit. The drafter of article 11 of the Covenant could not have had in mind to encourage such immoral behaviour. If such a situation was accepted, then everybody would try to conceal his assets or transfer them to other relatives, in order not to pay his debts.
Explaining the new law on firearms use by police officers, another delegate defined the cases where such use was permitted, as well as the principles guiding firearms use. The principle of necessity and proportionality applied in every case. Police officers were bound to exhaust less serious measures, but if firearms use was indispensable, then their use should result in the least possible injury. The law also contained a list of cases where firearm use was allowed. The new legal framework incorporated the highest standard for human rights protection. In addition, the pocketbook on human rights for use by the police issued in 1996, had been translated into Greek and distributed to all police, personnel. That text emphasized the safeguarding of the free exercise of fundamental rights. Greece was a State in which the rule of law prevailed.
Concerning civilian review, such a provision was not in the current disciplinary law, but the Office of the Ombudsman had the authority to make recommendations in the case of human rights violations, he said.
Regarding access to detention centres, he said that a secular order by the Chief of Police, in July 2003, had expressly stated that NGOs active in the human rights field could have access to detainment centres. On deportation, the period of detention, for the purpose of administering the deportation could not exceed three months and was subject to review. That review had to show that efforts had been made to improve the conditions of detention.
Of the 164 reported cases against police officers (2001 to 2003), he said 11 had involved Roma, 74 had had no criminal aspect, and 39 cases were still pending in the courts. The appeals laws had not yet been examined, and no final decision in that regard had been issued. That might give the impression that no or very few police officers had been sentenced for ill-treatment, but that was not true. He cited a case where a police officer had used excessive force against a young Roma, and he had been sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The legislator had never enacted a law differentiating between citizens and non-citizens when it came to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, another delegate stated. All foreigners on Greek territory were free to establish their own associations and free to exercise the right to assemble. There had been no reported cases where that had been forbidden. The legislator was bound by the constitutional provisions not to differentiate, so the courts had to take into account those provisions. In addition, the law and the international conventions prevailed over any contrary legislation. Even in the most remote village where the most remote judge presided, he or she had to take account of those provisions. International and national law meet; they were incorporated together into the Greek legal system, and the judges were obliged to apply those rules no matter what, she stressed.
Delegations Response to Written Questions
A member of the delegation said that that the term prevailing religion did not imply a dominant or officially established or State religion, as was the case in some other countries. The term in the Constitution, referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, was a factual recognition of the fundamental role that that religion played and continued to play in the history and cultural life of Greece. It was also the religion of the overwhelming majority of Greek citizens.
On other issues regarding religious freedom, he said that, among other things, the State had not handed down any convictions for proselytism, it no longer required the inscription of ones religion on identity cards, and all relevant applications to worship had been approved by the competent authorities, save one. The State did not subsidize the Orthodox Church, and in spite of changes in taxation laws, since 1998, according to the Constitution, all known religious properties were exempt from taxation. On other issues, he said that the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs had not established a list of known or unknown religions, which would risk unduly restricting freedom of religion.
Among the cases of concern that had been mentioned by the Committee, he mentioned one important case involving the Dodecatheists -- persons who worshiped the 12 gods of ancient Greece -- that was awaiting a decision form the Ministry. In 2003, that issue had come before the National Committee of Human Rights, but that panel had not issued any opinion on the merits of the case.
Another member of the delegation flagged rules governing conscientious objection, saying that the law required such objectors to perform civilian service, equal in service to that which would have been done if they had served in an armed capacity -- increased, however, by 18 months. The term of service for religious objection, as of 1997 was 30 months (basic service of 18 months plus one year). For objections based on philosophical or moral beliefs, the term of service was 36 months (basic service of 18 months, plus another year and a half).
He added that, over the past few years, military authorities had been aggressively trying to reduce the terms of both military and civilian service. In 2003, the length of obligatory military service had been reduced to 12 months. Under a new law, the term of service for religious objection, is now 18 months (basic service of 12 months plus six months). For objections based on philosophical or moral beliefs, the term of service is now 23 months (basic service of 12 months, plus another 11 months).
Another delegate said the rules governing the press and media were consistent with the Covenant. The Greek Constitution included specific restrictions, but only regarding other constitutional rights that needed to be protected such as in the case of gratuitously offensive material or profanity. The Government had seized one book, which had posited that the miracles of Jesus could be attributed to drug use. That was an isolated case -- the first time in the last quarter-century that any written material had been seized. The case was still pending in the Court of Appeals.
There had been some publications based on racially discriminatory or anti-Semitic content, which had triggered criminal proceedings, another delegate said. As far as measures taken against racism in the mass media, he said that the Greek National Council for Radio and Television was the authority that was responsible for monitoring the content of media broadcasts. As an independent body acting in the public interest, the Council intervened decisively in matters of racism and intolerance.
On freedom of association, a member of the Greek delegation said such freedom was fully protected under the law. According to the laws of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court, any interference with the exercise of that important freedom had to be carefully scrutinized by national courts under strict standards. Any interference must be triggered by a pressing need to protect national security or public safety or prevent disturbance of public order. He added that there was no general prohibition against the use of certain words in the denomination of an association.
A delegate said that physical, psychological and sexual abuse of children in social care system constituted a penal offence. No case had been reported until today. The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity was monitoring with great sensitivity the phenomenon of exploitation, abuse or neglect of minors in the home. It was taking the necessary measures for the protection and care of such children. She added that AGIA SOFIA Childrens Hospital ran a Centre for Abused and Neglected Children, which conducted scientific research regarding child physical and mental health, as well as social protection and the dissemination of information on the results of that research.
On cultural and ethnic minorities, a delegate said that objective criteria needed to be fulfilled for State recognition, including linguistic characteristics, size of the group and the wish to be recognized as a minority. Those were internationally recognized criteria. The mere claim that small groups of persons were a minority did not necessarily lead to the creation of national or ethnic minorities, according to the European Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities.
She said that in certain villages in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, there was a very small number of persons who claimed to have a distinct ethnic and national identity -- Macedonian. But those claims had been rejected by the Greek Government because it believed that there was no real human rights argument, and, particularly because the claim was politically motivated and could create a climate of tension and insecurity. Greek authorities and international human rights monitors handled the issue with particular sensitivity, owing to certain pending political issues, including the use of the term Macedonia and its relationship to Theformer Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Regarding the Roma people, she said that they were recognized as a vulnerable social group whose situation called for special measures on the part of Greek authorities. The Roma themselves had repeatedly expressed their wish not to be considered a minority within Greek society. Nevertheless, she stressed that the non-recognition of the Roma or any group as a national minority did not deprive that group from the enjoyment of all civil and political rights enjoyed by Greek citizens. She added that more and more Roma were becoming involved in Greek decision-making processes concerning issues that pertained to their well-being.
Continuing with the delegations responses, another speaker acknowledged that societys implementation of the positive measures towards the Roma population had sometimes faced objective hindrances deriving mainly from the difficulties in coexisting with different lifestyles. Upon recognizing that the Roma population was a socially vulnerable group, the Government had developed an ambitious programme aimed at their social integration into Hellenic society. Of paramount importance had been the establishment of the inter-municipal Roma network, comprising all municipalities within the Roma administrative domain. Such an initiative had highlighted the local authorities active interest in Romas social integration. The so-called Rom-network, as well as Romas representatives contributed substantially to planning, incorporation implementation and assessment procedures.
Experts Comments and Questions
Mr. KHALIL, expert from Egypt, said the written answers supplied by the delegation had been indicative of substantial improvements in the country in the past 10 years. He had understood that Scientology was not accepted as a religion by the Greek Government, but were not scientologists prevented from pursuing their activities? he asked, adding that he was very grateful the delegation had clarified the meaning of unknown and known religions.
He said he had also understood that those who practiced in the name of Judaism and Islam and the Orthodox Church were the only three groups recognized as legal persons of public law, while other religious groups were considered to be legal persons of private law. He wished to know the reason for that distinction, which seemed to be the cause of some additional legal burdens on some minority religious communities and organizations.
Noting that construction of the first Islamic conference centre and mosque in Athens had been delayed, he asked why and whether the Government had intended to see to it that the construction would resume in the near future. Also, spiritual leaders of the Muftis of the Muslim community were appointed by the State, and that had gone uncontested from 1923 until 1990, when some members of the Muslim community had contested appointment by the State and demanded that they be elected, which is what had eventually occurred. Had that issue been resolved in consultation with the Muslim community? he asked.
Turning to the reductions in the terms of military service and alternative service that had occurred, he asked if that was an ongoing practice now or whether there would be a further reduction.
He said he could not avoid the impression from the report that conscientious objectors seemed to be in an unduly vulnerable position. That negative impression had been reinforced by a reported case of someone stripped of his status as a recognized conscientious objector for refusing to do 30 months of community service because of its punitive nature. Apparently, in June 2003, he was reportedly given a suspended 20-month prison sentence by a military court and could be called upon for military service, with the understanding that if he refused the latter, he would have to serve that suspended sentence. There were reportedly some 20 plus individuals in identical or similar situations.
Noting that those who refused to fulfil alternative civilian service were declared insubordinate, he asked whether insubordination led directly to a court martial, and whether the conscientious objector had the right to choose the alternatives to military service. He also asked about the basis of the practice of depriving conscientious objectives of their status if they carried out trade union activities or participated in a strike.
Turning to the issue of freedom of the press, Mr. RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, said he had been rather uncomfortable with the explanation given in relation to the seizure of a book, whose case was still pending before the appeals court. It was premature to reach a conclusion at this stage, but he thought the issue of confiscating a book raised many questions. Greeces report, in paragraphs 725 and 726, stated that in 1986 a court had rejected the possibility of seizing a book, that that was prohibited because books were works of art, even if their content was inappropriate. It was surprising, therefore, that a few years later, a change had occurred in the authorities attitude with regard to the seizure of books for reasons that had been explained, but which were not totally convincing from a legal standpoint, he said.
He also asked for the delegations position regarding the proliferation of anti-racist publications. On the refusal to register associations, including those with the words Macedonian or Turkish in their name, he had heard the explanations, and although they had purely political aspects, he wondered about the legality of having a list of those associations just because of their names.
Regarding abuse of children -- physical, psychological, and sexual -- a State body had reacted by taking measures and studying such cases, but he thought that some information was missing, including whether there had been any punishment for those violations. He also sought additional information about womens representation in Parliament and high levels of Government.
Ms. WEDGEWOOD, expert of the United States, said that the idea of hyphenate citizens was a very narrow view of the rights under article 27 of the Covenant, and that seemed self-defeating. She was troubled that the right of collectivity of a citizen who chose to form a private association by using an adjective -- Turkish or Macedonian -- should be seen as beyond the pale by any State party. Those citizens were not claiming a share of executive appointments, they just wanted to use the name they called themselves. In the long term, perhaps the State could think beyond the immediate tensions of the past. Once it no longer made those terms an issue, they would cease to be an issue.
She said she also wondered whether the State party had any statistics of interest regarding the extent to which people who thought of themselves as having some Turkish origin or Slavic Macedonian origin, or Roma ancestry had achieved positions of leadership, or even of schoolteachers. The issue of naming names had a so-called cascade effect, and only gave comfort to local school and governmental authorities, among others, who might choose not to think of any kind of diversity in hiring patterns in schools, police and fire departments, legislative assemblies, and so forth. So, had the people who self-identified as Turks or Slavic Macedonians or Roma achieved positions of leadership? she asked. Just as Turks denied there were any persons called Kurds -- there were only mountain Turks -- so could other countries fall prey to the same kind of unhelpful conceit.
Picking up the points made earlier about conscientious objectors, HIPOLITO SOLARI-YRIGOYEN, expert from Argentina, said that not having arms was very important in terms of recognizing the right of conscientious objectors not to carry them, so to require military instruction, even if unarmed, was not an explicit recognition of the right to conscientious objection, as protected by article 18 of the Covenant. While the new law of 2004 had reduced the duration of alternative service, it was still long. According to the countrys report, military service was 12 months, and unarmed service was six months more, and civil service was 11 months more than military service. The current reality was that a conscientious objector either had to carry out military service or a much longer alternative service.
Although the delegation had said that decision had been based on objective reasons, that was not sufficient, he said, adding that there were defensive and political reasons, and military reasons were cited in the report. Those were not sufficient to fail to recognize a clearly protected right under the Covenant. The Committee had also been told that during periods of armed conflict, the alternative services option could be suspended and, thereby obliging the conscientious objector to provide military service. That had led him to determine that the right of conscientious objectors had not been complied with nor had it conformed to the norms of article 18 of the Covenant. He, therefore, concluded that the legislation governing recognition of the right of conscientious objector was not convincing. Military and unarmed military service was not explicit recognition of conscientious objection, and the alternative civilian service must neither be discriminatory nor punitive, nor derogable, even in wartime.
Mr. OFLAHERTY, expert from Ireland, sought additional comments about the very high incidence of the marriage of minors within certain communities. He had been shown statistics prepared by a childrens hospital, which suggested that the average marriage age for Roma women was 14. He was concerned that that was never in the best interest of the child. He would also welcome the delegations views on an August 2004 report of the marriage of a 22 year-old Muslim Roma man to an 11 year-old Roma Muslim girl. Apparently, on 22 January 2005, the Greek Consulate General in Germany had indicated in a paper that that marriage had been legal and that the Greek Government would not interfere in the matter because it respected matters of civil law in which the Koran was enforced.
Continuing on a related childrens rights issue, he had been struck by the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which said in 2002 that some 60 per cent of parents in Greece were apparently willing to inflict corporal punishment on their children, and that the State had only outlawed that in school, but not in the home or the family. What efforts were being made to change societal perceptions about corporal punishment, and was Greece participating in the United Nations study on violence against children? If so, had it responded yet to the list of issues circulated to States and could that response be made available to the Committee to assist it in its work? he asked.
Recalling that the delegation had said that all necessary steps would be taken for the dissemination of its report to the Committee, as well as the Committees concluding observations, he sought further information on the nature of those steps, and to what extent it would consider disseminating the report and the observations to the media in the form of press releases, other ways of engaging media attention, or on government web sites. Would the Committees observations be made available in public libraries across the country, and would the report be placed in the record or in the library of Parliament?
Turning to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, he said he had welcomed the statements concerning equal treatment under the law, specifically the introduction of sexual orientation as an unacceptable form of discrimination, which was in conformity with a recommendation of the countrys own National Commission on Human Rights. At the same time, however, the Commission had expressed concern about the victimization of people on the grounds of sexual orientation and had recommended the amendment of article 347 of the criminal code, as well as specific action to deal with the prevalence of derogatory and discriminatory remarks in the media and such behaviour among law enforcement personnel. What actions, if any, were being taken in that broader framework?
MAURICE GLELE-AHANHANZO, expert from Benin, asked how the marriage age could differ from one State to another, adding that the same problem persisted in the south. On the situation of Roma gypsies, he noted that they were not called minorities, but a vulnerable social group. That group represented 15 per cent of the population. He sought statistical data on what was being done in terms of educating the Roma and providing health care and housing. Also what was the representation of the Roma in the various decision-making and social bodies and in public administration?
Returning to the issue of conscientious objection, Mr. RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, noted that the Government distinguished between conscientious objection based on religious belief versus conscientious objection based on philosophical or moral beliefs, with religious belief demanding less extra time in the alternative service, according to the delegations written response. He sought some explanation about that particular distinction. The delegation had already stated that extra time spent in alternative service was proportionate, given the nature of the two respective tasks, but how was the calculation made of extra onerousness? Certainly it was not just the number of extra days involved that would explain a nearly 100 per cent increase in the amount of time being spent.
Furthermore, some NGO sources had said that it was actually possible for those doing military service to complete only one third of the 12 months by buying themselves out of the other eight months, he said, seeking confirmation.
He also asked whether it was true that advertisements for apartments in the newspaper actually stated the preference not to rent to persons from abroad. If that was so, that would be contrary to the Committees general comment 31, paragraph 8, which concluded that, in the field affecting basic aspects of ordinary life such as work or housing, individuals were to be prevented from discrimination, as set forth in the Covenants article 26. How could freedom of contract trump that particular concern? he asked, adding that it was clear to him that, on its own, it probably could not trump that particular concern.
On the issue of national minorities, he said that the Committee did not recognize the margin of appreciation, but it recognized that context had to be taken into account whenever groups were treated either differently or, despite their differences, were not treated differently. Margins of appreciation were not part of jurisprudence any more than the framework convention on national minorities was relevant to the Committees interpretation of article 27. The head of the delegation had mentioned a few times that the Romas did not self-identify as a group, as part of being a national minority, despite the fact that they spoke a native language other than Greek, and so forth. On the basis of what research was it possible for the State party to conclude that there was no group sense of minorityhood? And, if there was not a large group sense, maybe that was the result of certain obstacles put in the way of anybody seeking to probe the possibilities of their being such a group.
PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, asked for more detail about the procedure for dismissing a judge. Specifically, who could set such a proceeding in motion, and when application was made setting up the grounds for a judges removal, was there any system of filtering the application? Who prosecuted such a case? As for the Supreme Judicial Council, did it have full powers? It had been said that sometimes the Council made a recommendation that was referred to the court when the Justice Minister disagreed. Also, did human rights and constitutional rights cases go to the Supreme Court or to a lower court and then proceed to the Supreme Court?
Concerning legal aid, he asked whether that was granted for all kinds of cases or was there a filtering mechanism. Were there legal aid lawyers, and did they receive any remuneration? Who financed the legal aid fund? he asked.
Noting the reports mention that there was a lot of corruption among prosecutors and judges, he asked what steps were being taken to curb that corruption. In western Greece, 32 cases of police and civilians had been charged with trafficking in women, corruption, and so forth, and in all but three of the cases, the charges had been dropped because the statute of limitation was allowed to run out. He asked for comments on that.
ROMAN WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said that it had recently been reported that a television programme called Travelling in Greece had been indefinitely postponed, because the subject of one of its interviews who lived in the northern part of the country had identified Macedonian as the mother tongue. He hoped that some attempt would be made -- in spite of historical political sensitivities -- to respect the rights all citizens of the country. He also joined others who urged the Government to ensure that homosexuals were not being discriminated against, particularly in the workplace.
ALFREDO CASTILLERO HOYOS, expert from Panama, also expressed concern about the situation of religious and ethnic minorities. All matters pertaining to minorities in all parts of the world were political in nature. That could not excuse a Government from complying with the tenets of the Covenant, he said.
On evictions and forced evictions, a member of the delegation said that pursuant to domestic and international law, eviction was explicitly related to the right of property. It was evident that eviction was legal upon the absence of property titles, or in cases of unauthorized settlement in the absence of the necessary permits, or in cases where there was demand for public interest infrastructures. The relevant law applied to all Greek citizens and, therefore, applied to the Roma people too. The alleged cases were, therefore, not about evictions. Eviction or even administrative removal from public tracts of land was lawful upon infringement of property rights.
But the relocation of those offenders was discussed with representatives from their communities and competent local authorities in order to facilitate, as much as possible, commonly accepted settlement until a permanent settlement was made possible. On alleged cases of extra-judicial demolition of dwellings and forced evictions prior to the 2004 Olympic Games, she said that Roma families had been illegally camping on tracts of land around the Olympic facilities. The communities were relocated so that facilities could be completed. It was widely known that a joint agreement between Greek authorities and representatives within the affected Roma communities had been reached prior to the resettlement. Provision was made for locals that until then had been living in tents. The municipality was subsidizing the subsequent rent since the relocation.
He would follow up what had been said during the meeting and ensure that it was widely disseminated back home. He hoped that would lead to a very informed public, and once that public became informed, that the concerns raised by the Committee today would not have to be raised again. Along with public-awareness raising campaigns, public training programmes had also been instituted. That effort also included investigative officers and border control officials and judges to sensitize them to human rights issues and racism.
On medical treatment in prison, a delegate said that medical care was indeed provided on detention premises. All services were free of charge. A wide range of human rights advocates and independent experts had access to state prison facilities. On hate language in the press, he reiterated that much of that had been found in letters to newspaper editorial boards or in want ads. On discrimination based on sexual orientation, he said that the National Commission on Human Rights had suggested changes in law.
Ms. TELALIAN, head of the delegation, said that the delegation had been somewhat embarrassed by the comparison of the treatment of the Muslim minority in Thrace to the treatment of Kurds in Turkey. The Kurds had not been recognized in Turkey, while the Muslim minority had been recognized since 1923. So, such a comparison was patently inappropriate. At any rate, freedom of association of that minority was not being prohibited. That population had remained in Greek territory after the 1923 treaty but the Greek Government could not accept that small group referred to itself as a national Turkish minority, which would classify all Muslims in the country as Turkish.
She added that the Council of Europe used the phrase Turkish speaking Muslim population. She was aware that there had been much criticism levelled at Greece about this issue, but said that Greece was not denying the ethnic origins of this group. In fact, it was continuing to examine the matter. On the so-called Macedonian minority, she reiterated that the use of the term Macedonian to describe a minority usurped the name and the cultural identity of the vast majority of Greek Macedonians. It also implied irredentism, as it did not recognize Greek Macedonia as a part of Greece. It was obvious that the use of the name Macedonian to identify the existence of a national minority in Greece, or its associations, could not be accepted for the same reason that Greece could not accept the use of the name Macedonia by a neighbouring country.
She was certain that Greece would solve these problems, chiefly because of its democracy. There was a time for everything, and despite overzealous NGOs, when the time was right, the Government would decide when to recognize certain groups.
Concerning the protocol between Turkey and Greece, another delegate said that for any alien who entered Greece, including a Turkish citizen, no expulsion took place until a final rejection of an asylum claim. Regarding the alleged 300 youths on one of Greeces islands, he said that about 25 to 30 were between the age of 15 and 18. They had not asked for asylum, so after three months of detention, they had been released.
Responding to questions about the conditions in detention, he said that new facilities had been created and were now operational. In a few months, a new building in Athens, able to house 600 people, would be ready.
Another delegate, recalling that laws had been adopted in favour of womens political participation, said they had achieved positive results, as womens participation in politics had increased from one election to the next. In the legislative election last year, 38 women had been elected deputy out of 300. In the European Parliament, seven women had been elected out of 24. A woman had also been elected to the presidency of the Hellenic Parliament in Athens, and another was the mayor of the municipality. High posts had also included the juridical council, which, in 1980, had been made up entirely of men, whereas now women occupied 40 per cent of the seats. At the Interior Ministry, women occupied several high-level posts.
Regarding the seizure of books in Greece, another delegate said that the seizure of written material after circulation was allowed under the Constitution for specific reasons. The first instance of such a matter -- a book considered offensive -- had been brought to the courts in Athens, where the decision had been made that the book was a work of art and, as such, was protected under the Constitution. Thus, the complaint had been rejected. So, a books offensive content had not led to its seizure. Rather, the judge had established a balance between that and the books artistic value. The seizure of the book in question was a singular and unique case. Now, the matter was before the appeals courts.
Turning to the question of religious freedom, he said that the Greek Orthodox Church of Christ, and the Jewish and Muslim religions were legal. As for the so-called legal personality of the Catholic Church, it had not applied for that status, but a discussion had begun in February with the head of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and bishops of the Catholic Church. The latter would soon present a report and that discussion would restart.
The law stated that applications had to include at least 50 families with a church leader, which had to declare their presence by signing their names as members of a certain church. That did not happen any more. He added that a place of worship gained permission after an application of just five persons. The term known religion had also been clarified in such a way that it helped people to apply. It had previously been necessary for the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs to have the opinion of the local bishop, which was no longer necessary.
As for corporal punishment, that law had only come into force within the last month and yes, that only applied to a strict prohibition of corporal punishment at all levels in the schools.
Concerning the education of the Roma, he cited significantly improved statistics on enrolment and a decline in the dropout rate. Students also received transit cards, which fit the need of those who followed families that moved from place to place during the school year. The cards enabled the students to transfer their transcripts from school to school. In the past year, 632 new cards were given to Roma students. Among the other advances, there had been eight seminars for teachers in the past year, and a Roma-Greek dictionary had been published. Reading out the statistics was not a triumphant way to say that things were satisfactory; numbers could never substitute for people, especially young people. They were only signs that the will is here and were on the way.
Regarding the establishment of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque, another delegate explained that both the Greek side and Arab States, which had resident diplomatic missions in Athens, would participate in the establishment of that foundation. The funding had been undertaken by the Saudi Arabian Government. Construction was very late -- we are always late in some things, as with the Olympics -- she said, but eventually, the cultural centre would be built. The delays only concerned bureaucratic difficulties, but hopefully, those would be resolved in the near future.
On the state of siege and conscientious objectors, another representative said the Greek Constitution and International Covenant had taken different approaches: the Covenant had enumerated rights that were not derogable, while the Constitution had enumerated rights that were derogable. That meant that the rights in the Covenant were not derogable even in a state of siege, but freedom of movement were among the relevant articles of the Constitution that were derogable.
Further reduction of conscientious objector service in the near future appeared not to be possible, he said in reply to a series of questions on that topic. The last reduction had been in July 2004, but the objectors might benefit indirectly from the step-by-step reduction of normal military service.
He then explained in detail the case of a Greek conscript who had been called to join the army in 1992. His case was still pending in the courts. The military courts had jurisdiction over objectors only for the crime of insubordination. The same applied to the normal conscript who had not yet joined the army. Trade union activists or participants in a strike were not permissible. The same rule applied to the regular soldiers, who also could not exercise such rights. To the question about the 26 objectors who had not been given objector status, he said that was because they had not submitted the required papers.
The length of military service in Greece depended on the countrys defensive needs and the dangers and threats it faced. Greece was threatened by a neighbouring country, so the length of service of the conscientious objector depended on the length of the normal military service for those reasons. The special committee which had exempted the objectors applications had consisted or professors from Greek universities, one recruiting army officer, and one doctor-military officer.
In addition, he said, the Minister of Defence could suspend the right of a conscript to carry out an alternative service, and that was justified when the country faced a serious threat for its life. In such a situation, one might revoke the right or status of the objector in order to avoid the dangers of war. He also provided some examples where civilian service was less heavy than armed service. The core of the different treatment lay in proportionate equality, rights and obligations, as recognized by the Constitution.
Another delegate responded briefly to questions about trafficking in women, explaining that the resident permits rule for trafficked victims had been amended last year, so that now those permits could be used as work permits. Since the new law had come into force in October 2002, there had been some 307 trafficking cases for which a criminal procedure was initiated.
Concerning a question about a banned television programme, another delegate explained that the Committee had received some incomplete information. There had been a technical problem with the broadcast, which had been rescheduled for this Sunday. It would be shown on the same channel at the same time as originally scheduled, he explained.
Ms. WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, said that she had not been accusing or intimating that Greece had not respected the 1923 Lausanne treaty. The comparison of Kurds in Turkey to the situation of the Muslim community in Thrace was to give an illustration of what, in her opinion, was a community going to an extreme to recognize an ethnic or religious minority. She wondered why, if one person could identify him or herself as a minority, why couldnt three people do the same and form an association?
Mr. WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said he had been disturbed by the reference to an NGO representative as overzealous. In his opinion, the active participation of civil society was critical to the work of the Committee and the advancement of the cause of human rights in all countries.
Mr. RODLEY, expert from United Kingdom, said that it appeared that the delegation got sidetracked and did not answer the Committees first set of oral queries, particularly on police use of force and the independence of investigations.
Summing up, ELISABETH PALM, Vice-Chair and expert from Sweden, said that, although the delegation had taken great care to answer the Committees questions, there were still some doubts as to the countrys treatment of minorities and what was being done to improve prison conditions. Doubts also remained about protecting the rights of children and rules regarding conscientious objection.
Delegations Closing Remark
Ms. TELALIAN thanked the Committee for its lively discussion and assured the experts that Greece appreciated the work of civil society actors. She also reiterated that her Government was continually examining the situation of minority populations and looked to solve remaining issues and concerns with great sensitivity to all concerned.
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