Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Rainbow/Vinozhito Press Release on Historic ECHR Ruling Against Greece

Rainbow/Vinozhito - Press Release

Florina / Lerin - In a historic ruling on an appeal lodged by the members of the Political Secretariat for the European Free Alliance - Rainbow, Pavlos Voskopoulos and Petros Vasileiadis, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yesterday handed down a unanimous condemnation of Greece for violation of Articles 6 (right to fair legal hearing) and 11 (right of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court has required the Greek state to pay the plaintiffs 30,000 Euro in compensation for moral harm, 2,000 Euro for material damages and 3,245 Euro for legal costs.

The EFA-Rainbow had sought redress from the European Court for the destruction and burning of its offices in Florina in September 1995 by a group of 'enraged citizens', directly supported by the political and ecclesiastical authorities at the time and tacitly abetted by the police. The event which 'caused' this unprecedented act of violence was the posting of a sign in the Greek and Macedonian languages, and it should be noted that it was only by good fortune that there were no fatalities among the party members present in the offices at the time of the attack. In December 1995 the EFA-Rainbow laid the matter before the Greek courts, demanding - reasonably enough - that the culprits be punished. But the Greek authorities not only blocked the case for more than seven years, but actually dragged P. Voskopoulos and P. Vasileiadis before the courts, pursuing them for three years with the absurd charge of 'provoking division in the local population'!

In their ruling the judges of the Court of Human Rights - including the Greek Christos Rozakis and the Cypriot President of the Court Loukis Loukaidis - identified a clear violation of Article 11, since 'the posting of a sign in the Macedonian language by a legitimate political party cannot be seen as a provocative act or constitute a threat to public opinion...'.

In a landmark ruling for the attitude of the Greek authorities, the Court states that 'the Florina council explicitly invited local people to a rally against the plaintiffs, while members of the local council took part in the violent episodes'. Also, 'the Greek state, through the local police force, should have taken adequate measures to avert or at least limit the violent incidents. But it failed to do so, and failed to offer any explanation of the absence of an adequate police presence...'.

The ruling also includes scathing criticism of the fact that the public prosecutor, who should have become involved immediately and without prompting, did not even conduct the most rudimentary investigation of the events.

In respect of Article 6 of the Convention, the Court found Greece in contravention because 'investigation of the plaintiff's charges took more than seven years and one month … a length of time which cannot possibly be regarded as fair or reasonable and therefore represents an abuse of their rights...'.

The EFA-Rainbow believes that, above and beyond its legal dimension, the decision contains a clear political message to the Greek government, which, just a few months ago and in the person of Prime Minister Karamanlis, no less, declared the need for an upgrading of the importance of the European Court and for member states to comply fully with its rulings. The message is none other than the need for full and immediate respect - in words and deeds - for the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece.

The Press Office of EFA - Rainbow