Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Press Release
OSCE Implementation Meeting - Statement on Greece, Strengthening Dialogue Between Governments and NGOs: the Negative Greek Experience

Press Release by the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece

In last year's meeting, we had welcomed what had appeared to be the beginning of a dialogue between the Greek government and NGOs concerned with human rights and minorities in Greece. However, following (and perhaps as a consequence of) a backlash against G. Papandreou during a July 1999 public debate on minority rights, the Greek government appeared to have reverted to the traditional, rather intolerant, related attitude.

In the last twelve months, there has been harassment of NGO activists by the Greek secret service "for reasons of national security;" cancellation of NGO activities by state agencies because of disagreement with their agenda; entry refusal for "blacklisted" Macedonian and Turkish minority defenders critical of the country's policies; and (successful or unsuccessful) attempts to hinder the international work of Greek NGOs critical of Greece's minority policies. The government's silence to the related denunciations, including the refusal to answer letters of international NGOs, creates the impression that all these practices have been accepted if not initiated at its highest level.

The Greek government likes to boast that it has put in place a National Human Rights Commission with NGO participation. What it does not mention is that not only a year later the Commission has not been heard of, but that the four NGOs participating in it were chosen by law (unanimously approved). Their selection was most likely due to the fact that they are not known to have ever reported any violations of human rights in Greece in sensitive areas; while instead they are known to have provided counseling to the Foreign Ministry on how to answer similar charges and other related matters.

When OSCE/HCNM Max van der Stoel made a short topical visit to Greece in October 1999, the Foreign Ministry tried to avoid him meeting with the minorities, which he did in the end only at the invitation of NGOs. While, in mid-2000, the ministry refused to give to NGOs the state report submitted to UN CERD, despite the explicit recommendation of the latter that governments publicize their reports upon submission.

The Greek secret service and/or the security department of the Greek police have traditionally been tailing or otherwise harassing human rights and minority activists (as well as diplomats meeting with them), especially in border or minority inhabited areas. The practice had appeared to become less systematic and/or more discrete in recent years, but it came back in force in the last twelve months. In one case, the Greek Ombudsman informed NGO activist Aysel Zeybek that an illegal and humiliating Greek-Turkish border control she underwent in December 1999 was "the responsibility of the National Intelligence Service (EYP)." EYP, in a letter to the Ombudsman, stated that this action was "in the framework of EYP responsibilities in intelligence gathering on national security matters."

On 31 May 2000 in Lamia, GHM and MRG-G, along with Amnesty International, observed a trial of Mehmet Emin Aga (the elected mufti of Xanthi, who was convicted that day on appeal to seven months in prison for four cases of "pretense of authority"). They noticed once again that well-known state security officers serving in Xanthi closely followed the NGO observers, even repeatedly overlooking the notes they were taking. While police near Larisa stopped the two buses with minority members from Xanthi who were in Lamia for the trial, on their way back to Xanthi, for fifteen minutes, until their "tail" from Larisa could reach them and follow them. In this way, police confirmed the harassment of the minority members attending the trial.

There were three major cases in 2000 where the Greek government attempted to hinder the international work of NGOs, namely those present in this OSCE meeting. In May 2000, the Greek Foreign Ministry representative in the "Technical Working Group" for the UN-sponsored regional preparatory "European Conference Against Racism" (ECAR, 10-13 October 2000) tried, unsuccessfully and embarrassingly for the country, to prevent the participation of Greek Helsinki Monitor at the ECAR. He promoted instead the participation of one of the NGOs already selected by the state as a member (and indeed the chair) of the National Human Rights Commission. GHM was finally invited, two months after all other NGO participants, in mid-July, certainly thus affecting its possibility to co-ordinate with other Greek NGOs on the matter.

The Greek Foreign Ministry succeeded in removing from the Stability Pact (SP) list of projects a minority advocacy training program for the Southern Balkans (proposed by Minority Rights Group International and Minority Rights Group-Greece), because it included minorities in Greece. The respective Task Force of the SP had previously selected the program with a recommendation for donors to fund it.

In our report to this meeting , we have also listed cases of the cancellation by state authorities of a Council of Europe-sponsored NGO seminar on minority languages, and of a NGO-organized solidarity concert to Serb opposition student movement OTPOR; as well as three cases of entry refusal for Macedonian and Turkish minority rights defenders.