Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Amnesty International Report on Greece: Out of the Spotlight - The Rights of Foreigners and Minorities are Still a Grey Area

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"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status."
Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Freedom from discrimination is the basis upon which the protection of human rights rests. The failure to guarantee freedom from discrimination is thus a fundamental failure in such protection practices. Amnesty International has documented various aspects of this failure around the globe. This report outlines the situation in Greece. It documents a consistent pattern of human rights violations across a range of fields that stem from the failure of the state to combat discrimination, in the practices of its representatives as well as of non-state actors. These practices range from the denial of protection to refugees and the ill-treatment of migrants, to the forced eviction of Roma from their settlements and the inadequate protection of minority rights.

In a previous report on Greece, published jointly with the International Helsinki Federation in 2002,(1) the persistence of human rights violations, and ill-treatment in particular, was documented. One of the major findings in that report was that "Roma and immigrants are particularly at risk of abuses at the hands of law enforcement officials" and that "the pattern is sufficiently clear to leave little room for doubt that xenophobia and racial profiling have played a part in the human rights violations suffered by members of these groups".

Since 2002, there has been little change to this pattern, despite the fact that new domestic legislation has been put in place to deal specifically with the areas of concern highlighted in that report, as well as with various other aspects of discrimination. The legislation relates to the use of firearms, access to justice, combating trafficking in human beings, and immigration control. The reports received by Amnesty International of human rights violations in the period between 2002 and 2005 show that many of the provisions of this legislation, especially those designed to protect human rights and to safeguard freedom from discrimination, are yet to be implemented.

This report contains an indicative sample of the cases of alleged human rights violations received by Amnesty International in the last three years. It is neither exhaustive, nor does it cover all aspects of human rights violations in Greece. It rather focuses on violations affecting marginalized populations in the country, such as migrants and minorities.

Discrimination comes in a variety of forms, even in this context. Its colours are often those of distinction between different types of marginality. The legalization documents used by the state to classify foreign nationals into different categories of regularity are coloured red, yellow, and green. These are the colours of a legal system with a number of provisions on human rights protection, but the implementation of which often leaves individuals in a state of prolonged irregularity and vulnerable to ill-treatment by state agents and non-state actors alike. Discrimination has also cast a dark shadow over the local authorities' treatment of their Roma constituents whom they forcibly evicted shortly before the Summer Olympic Games of 2004, and just as the organizers extolled visitors to "catch the light" through walks in the centre of Athens, the main Olympic site. This was not the only occasion in which Greece came under the international spotlight. In 2003, it presided over the European Union. And away from the spotlight, Greece's record of human rights protection came under the scrutiny of the UN Committee against Torture in 2004 and of the UN Human Rights Committee in 2005. As an appraisal of this period, the current report aims to shed light on this record by outlining Amnesty International's concerns regarding the treatment of those outside of the spotlight in Greece, the members of the many marginalized groups in the country.

The report focuses specifically on the failure of the state to comply with human rights law and standards regarding access to the asylum process and non-refoulement, the detention of migrants, and the protection from discrimination and ill-treatment. The reports and allegations presented here have been brought to the attention of Amnesty International by lawyers, doctors, journalists, activists and international and locally-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as by migrants, detainees, and victims of human rights violations. Representatives of Amnesty International visited Greece in January 2005 and June 2005 and collected further information about these violations. Over the course of 2003, 2004 and 2005, the organization has raised its concerns in these areas of human rights protection with authorities in Greece, but in most cases has not received any reply. In addition, Amnesty International has published a number of documents outlining examples of such violations and raising its concerns publicly. Concerns have also been raised by inter-governmental bodies, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the European Committee on Social Rights.


"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."
Article 18, ICCPR

"State Parties undertake… to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national of ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of… the right to nationality… the right to freedom of opinion and expression."
Article 5, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

4.1 Background

A persisting concern of human rights observers over the last three decades has been the flawed framework guiding the government's policies on minorities. The basis of this framework is the state's assertion that "the only officially recognized minority in Greece is the Muslim minority in Thrace", most recently stated in the country's initial report to the UN Human Rights Committee. (115) Indeed, the "Muslim minority of Thrace" constitutes the only group of Greek citizens who are guaranteed specific rights as members of a minority - these rights were granted under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.(116) Since then, a number of other groups of Greek citizens have claimed the right to minority protection. The most widely publicized cases have been of groups of individuals living in the region of Florina claiming their right to self-identification as "Macedonians", and members of the aforementioned officially recognized minority group claiming their right to self-identification as "Turks".(117) The Greek state has in response denied the existence of any minorities other than the "Muslim" one within its territory. This dispute has had repercussions on the state's ability to comply with its obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of individuals adopting political positions that are not in line with the official policy on the matter, most notably the rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of association and assembly.

Amnesty International believes that the existence of a minority is a question of fact to be determined on the basis of reasonable and objective criteria. Whilst there is no internationally accepted definition of a minority, arbitrary distinctions based around recognition or non-recognition are discriminatory, and so states should avoid listing the groups to whom minority rights apply, as these lists tend to be exclusive. Membership of a minority should be by choice, and the subjective element of membership should be retained in order to avoid the forcible assimilation of individuals into groups. In the absence of other criteria, the existence of a minority should be determined by self-identification.(118) In this regard, the Human Rights Committee has stated, in its General Comment 23 that "the existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State party does not depend upon a decision by the State party but requires to be established by objective criteria".(119)

This part of the report outlines recent developments in this area of human rights practice in Greece. During the last two years, Amnesty International has received information on these issues from locally-based as well as international NGOs, monitoring bodies and individuals belonging to non-officially-recognized minority groups. During the visit of Amnesty International's delegation to Greece in January 2005, delegates were also in contact with members and representatives of the "Muslim" minority group in Thrace. The organization has also been able to collect information about further violations of human rights, arising from the state's failure to provide redress to victims of discrimination perpetrated as a result of legislation that has since been withdrawn. These findings are also included in this chapter of the report.

4.2 The non-recognition of minorities

In 1998 the European Court of Human Rights found Greece to be in violation of the right to freedom of association in the case of Sideropoulos and others v. Greece(120) on the basis that Greek courts had refused the application of the complainants to register "the Home of Macedonian Culture" as an NGO.(121) Contrary to the views of the domestic courts that the stated goals of the association threatened public order, the European Court of Human Rights had concluded that "the refusal to register the applicants' association was disproportionate to the objectives pursued".

Following this decision, the applicants attempted to re-register their association by filing an application with the Single-Member Court of First Instance in Florina in June 2003. On 19 December 2003 the Court rejected the application because of

"the unclear wording of the articles [which] has led to confusion concerning the activities of the association. More specifically, the word 'Macedonian' - defining the culture to be preserved - implies that this culture is something particular and self-contained, so that it is not clear whether the word is being used in its historical sense to refer to an integral part of Greek civilisation with its local specificities, or in its geographical sense, in which case it is left undefined which part of the broader region of Macedonia is meant, as its territory took shape after the Balkan Wars. This lack of clarity is not only not removed by the name of the association, which insists on the indiscriminate use of the term, but is in fact exacerbated by the association of this culture with a non-existent language, claimed to be 'Macedonian', despite the fact that in the geographical area of Macedonia it is the Greek language which is spoken, except by a small portion of the population, which also speaks - in addition to Greek - an idiom which is essentially Slavic. Thus the confusion caused by the general use of the terms Macedonia and Macedonian, without distinction as to geographical or historical reference - a confusion existing in the mind of the states with which the association will be dealing, in pursuit of its objective through demarches to and collaboration with these states, and in the mind of persons interested in participating in the work of the association in pursuit of this objective - contains a direct danger to public order and provides an opportunity for exploitation by external agents who have tried from time to time, unsuccessfully, to create a historically non-existent 'Macedonian nation'."(122)

The reasoning of this decision is similar to the reasoning presented to the European Court of Human Rights, which had found Greece to be in violation of Article 11 of the ECHR, relating to the right to freedom of association.

In this sense it would appear that the authorities have failed, through this new decision, both to uphold the provisions of Article 11 of the ECHR, as well as those of Article 53 of the same Convention stating that "the High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the decision of the Court in any case to which they are parties".

In addition to this case, Amnesty International has also been informed that on 11 May 2004, the Single-Member Aridea Criminal Court of First Instance found Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias guilty of establishing and operating a house of worship without the authorization of the local religious and educational authority, as required by Law 1363/1938, and sentenced him to three months' imprisonment. The defence's argument that Article 1 of this Law, which requires places of worship to be registered with the authorities before they are given permission to operate, contravened Article 9 of the ECHR regarding freedom of religion was rejected.

In 1997 Greece was found guilty of violating the provisions of the ECHR because of the stipulations of Law 1363/1938.(123)
Thus, these recent decisions appear to similarly violate both the provisions of the ECHR regarding freedom of religion, and those regarding the treaty obligation to abide by the European Court of Human Rights' rulings. It should be noted that the National Commission for Human Rights has also expressed the view that the provisions of this Law are contradictory to those of the ECHR.(124)

In a very similar case, on 7 February 2005 the Supreme Court banned the "Turkish Union of Xanthi" on the basis that it poses a threat to public order and national security and that its

"aim is in contradiction with the international treaties signed in Lausanne, as it is attempted openly to present that in Greece (the area of Western Thrace) there is an ethnic Turkish minority, while according to these treaties only the presence of a religious Muslim minority is recognized in the area… The reference to the Turkish identity is not used to denote some remote Turkish origin but a current quality [of the members of the Association] as members of a Turkish minority that would exist in Greece and would pursue the promotion within the Greek state of state interests of a foreign state and specifically Turkey... The appellant [association] with through its insistence in keeping the adjective 'Turkish' in the Union's name, in contradiction to the international treaties mentioned above, not only fails to contribute to the peaceful coexistence amongst the citizens of the area, which is necessary for the general well-being of the two Greek communities, Christian and Muslim, but also raises a non-existent minority problem of 'Turks'."(125)

The "Turkish Union of Xanthi" association was founded in 1946 and was initially dissolved in 1984, on the basis that it constituted a danger to national security, since which time the case has been examined by the courts.

Amnesty International considers that the failure to lift the ban on such associations' operations violates international law and standards on the right to freedom of association, and specifically, Article 22 of the ICCPR as well as Article 11 of the ECHR. Despite the fact that the authorities maintain that "the refusal of the denomination of an association which includes the word 'Turkish' is not an unconditional one",(126) the fact that no such associations have as yet been given permission to operate in Greece raise further concerns about the failure of the authorities to comply with the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of members of minorities. These concerns are raised particularly in light of the fact that these judgments concern a recognized minority group, even though the word used to identify it is disputed by the authorities.(127) Thus, there are additional concerns that the decisions are in contravention of Article 2.4 of the UN Declaration on Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, under which "persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own associations".(128)

4.4 Conclusion

In its third report on Greece published in 2004, ECRI encouraged the authorities "to ensure that all groups in Greece, Macedonians and Turks included, could exercise their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression in accordance with international legal standards", further noting that:

"the Greek authorities are more ready to recognise the existence of minority groups in Greece, such as the Pomaks or the Roma, including the fact that certain members of these groups have a native language other than Greek. However, other groups still encounter difficulties, the Macedonians and Turks for example. Even today, persons wishing to express their Macedonian, Turkish or other identity incur the hostility of the population. They are targets of prejudices and stereotypes, and sometimes face discrimination, especially in the labour market."(131)

This chapter is not exhaustive of the human rights concerns around the issues of minority protection. However, Amnesty International continues to be concerned about the authorities' failure to address these issues. The organization also continues to receive reports of the authorities' failure to fully address issues of religious freedom pertaining to the minorities, including the well-publicized controversy over the mufti appointments.(132)

In addition, while the organization welcomes the steps taken to address past violations against minority members arising from discriminatory legislation such as the repeal of the old Article 19 of the Citizenship Code, it is seriously concerned about the violations that victims of such past policies continue to suffer at present.


5.1 Conclusion

Throughout this report an interconnecting thread has been the documented failure of the authorities to ensure that persons residing in Greece who are not members of the Greek majority group enjoy the human rights to which they are entitled, whether they be asylum-seekers, migrants or members of minorities. This report has documented the mechanisms that contribute to this failure. Although Amnesty International has also received reports of violations of the rights of members of the majority Greek population, it is of grave concern that such reports were vastly outnumbered by the number of similar violations of the rights of foreigners and members of minorities. There is thus an urgent need for the Greek government to meet its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of marginalized groups and individuals. In this final chapter, Amnesty International makes recommendations to the Greek authorities, covering the four main areas of human rights violations covered in the report.

5.5 Recommendations regarding the protection of the rights of minorities

Amnesty International urges the authorities to ensure that the provisions of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the ECHR are fully implemented by:

· ratifying the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which Greece signed in 1997;

· reviewing the legislation currently in place with regard to the operation of non-governmental organizations with a view to safeguarding, in a non-discriminatory way, the rights to freedom of religion, expression and association.

The organization strongly recommends that violations suffered by minority individuals as a result of discriminatory legislation is addressed. This includes:

· ensuring that all of the individuals who, under such legislation have had their citizenship rights withdrawn, are fully informed about the conditions under which these decisions were taken;

· facilitating the naturalization of individuals who have lost their citizenship rights in this way, including by removing relevant fees and by introducing procedures to speed up the naturalization process;

· ensuring that all individuals who have lost their citizenship rights in this way regain access to the full range of social benefits they would be entitled to as Greek citizens.

The organization also calls on the authorities to review the policies relating to the recognition of minorities, specifically with a view to:

· stopping the practice of listing recognized minorities;

· establishing mechanisms to ensure that the government complies with its obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to self-identification according to established clear and objective criteria.