Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
OSCE Implementation Meeting - National Minorities, International Helsinki Federation Statement

IHF Report

In Greece, an unprecedented debate on the possible modernization of the country's minority policies was initiated in 1999. However, after a wave of negative reactions among politicians and in the media the debate subsided. As a result, policies of the non-recognition of ethnic minorities still prevail. The only minority enjoying legal protection in the country is the Muslim minority in Western Trace, whose status is regulated by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. Although the Muslim minority is virtually exclusively made up of persons viewing themselves as Turks, the Greek authorities refuse to recognize the group as an ethnic minority. In addition, the considerable groups of Macedonians and Roma, as well as other smaller ethnic groups, are not acknowledged as separate minorities. Most deplorable, the ethnic minorities also continue to be subjected to restrictions in terms of freedom of association and expression. Though the Greek authorities defend their position with claims that the recognition of ethnic minorities would contradict the wishes of members of the affected groups and undermine peaceful co-existence in the country , the opposite is nearer to the truth. The negative attitudes currently in place seriously violate the right of minority members to choose their self-identity, and effectively fuel frustration among the members as well as encourage intolerance with the ethnic majority of the country. Furthermore, in May 2001, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), in its concerns addressed to Greece, pointed to the occurrence of racial abuses within the ranks of Greek law enforcement authorities: "There is evidence that the police sometimes use excessive or unjustifiable force in carrying out their duties, particularly when dealing with ethnic and national minorities [and foreigners]”. In its advance submission , the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) noted that the Roma minority is a primary target of police abuse of the kind denounced by the CAT. Giving an account of concrete examples, the ERRC concluded that the excessive use of firearms by Greek police in recent years has resulted in at least two deaths and several cases of serious injury of Roma. In its concerns, the CAT also advised that "[...] such measures as are necessary, including training, [should] be taken to ensure that in the treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular [foreigners], ethnic and national minorities, law enforcement officers do not resort to discriminatory practices". We concur with these recommendations, and also urge the Greek authorities to finally grant ethnic minorities in the republic due recognition, to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities signed in late 1997, and to adopt and implement effective measures in accordance with this treaty.

In Greece, one of the established democracies, the government has remained oblivious to the significant role that NGOs might play in the promotion of a human rights culture. The state in fact continues to demonstrate a worrying propensity to hinder their activities. For example, in 2000, it cancelled an international seminar on "Greece and the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages,” organized by the Council of Europe and the Minority Groups Research Centre (KEMO), at the last minute and closely followed observers of politically motivated trials, and refused Turkish human rights activists visas to Greece.

On 21 September 2000, the Bulgarian parliament adopted the final version of the new non-profit corporations act. The act is a sign of progress in that it establishes clear rules for the registration of associations of citizens and foundations, and enables them be granted privileged status, which entitles them to tax concessions or direct funding by the state. The act also enables non-profit corporations to carry on business linked with their goals and to facilitate the decision-making procedures of their bodies. At the same time, the freedom of association and the right to peaceful assembly in Bulgaria continues to be violated with regard to a number of ethnic and religious minorities and unpopular political and trade union groups. The most drastic violation in this respect was the February 2000 decision of the Constitutional Court to rule the United Macedonian Organization (UMO) "Ilinden”- PIRIN unconstitutional. The court held that the party presented threat to Bulgaria's national security with its separatist activities. The bulk of the evidence against (UMO) "Ilinden”-PIRIN consisted of statements of leaders and activists of the party and of publications in the press prior to its establishment. Nor did the Constitutional Court take into account the statutes and program documents of the party, which expressly state that the party shall pursue its goals in a peaceful way and with legal means. However, judicial proceedings were not in conformity with the standards of fair trial then.