Greece
25.05.17
Reports

35th Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Written submission on the situation of minority rights defenders in Greece

1. Background

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its deep concern about the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) dealing with minority rights in Greece. These HRDs are consistently targeted for their legitimate work and face different types of attacks, surveillance, arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill-treatment, entry bans and expulsion.

In Greece, many individuals who define themselves as members of an ethnic minority group find it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. Turks and Macedonians continue to face discrimination, denial of ethnic identity, harassment, and violation of freedom of association.[1] HRDs play critical role in preventing, mitigating and ensuring accountability of human rights abuses of these groups. Despite this, there are increasing reports of HRDs, who advocate for minority rights in Greece, being the subject of ongoing harassment.

Several of the individual cases of intimidation described below illustrate obstacles to HRDs work on the ground of posing threat to national security, which appears only to be aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities. These cases take place in a bigger context of systematic harassment of minority rights defenders in Greece.

2. Harassment of minority rights defenders in Greece

2.1. On December 12, 2016, six members of Parliament (MPs) from the Greek far-right party ‘Golden Dawn’ (GD) and several other GD members violently interrupted a conference on ‘National Minorities in Greece and Recommendations from International Organisations’, organised by the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace (DEB).[2] Participants in the event were verbally abused and threatened, including with death threats. The GD members also shouted racist slogans such as ‘Turks are not welcome in Greece’. The Greek police did not take any measure to protect the integrity of the participants nor to ensure their freedom of speech and association, although they had been formally asked to and had given assurances that they would provide security. Moreover, the Greek Prosecution Office did not initiate any ex officio proceedings following the violent attack.[3] GHM and DEB subsequently filed a complaint with the Racist Violence Prosecutor but as of May 2017it was not known whether it had led to any action by the Prosecutor.

2.2. On October 24, 2016, Mr Slavko Mangovski, International Coordinator of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement International(MHRMI), with US and Macedonian citizenships, was denied entrance toGreece when he was travelling to meet with Macedonian minority activists. Mr Mangovski might have been listed on the NationalList of Undesirable Persons following his participation in the 65th anniversary of the ‘Macedonian Children Refugees from the Greek Civil War’ in Toronto in June 2013.[4] Mr Mangovski was again denied entry on April 22, 2017, when he came to formally authorise GHM to appeal against the first ban of entry.

2.3. On August 30, 2016, Mr Mustafa Kaymakçı, a Turkish citizen born in the now Greek Dodecanese Islands and President of the Izmir (Turkey)based organisation ‘Rhodes, Kos and the Dodecanese Turks Culture and SolidarityAssociation’, was arbitrarily detained, before being expelled on August 31 and banned from the Greek territory while he was conducting a fact-finding mission about Turkish minorities in Greece. During his detention at Kos police station, he was held in an overcrowded 30 square meters’ room with only a small window, together with 20 other persons, in conditions amounting to ill-treatment.[5]

2.4. On November 8,2014, GHM-affiliated Macedonian human rights lawyer Ms Trandaflika Sandeva was declared persona non grata and banned from entering Greece. She was heading towards Thessaloniki to meet with GHM so as to legally represent Macedonian families in cases involving their properties, which they lost during the Greek CivilWar. Following a parliamentary question filed in 2014 by then Democratic LeftMP Ms Maria Yannakaki, who is currently General Secretary for Human Rights, theban was not renewed and Ms Sandeva was allowed entry in Greece in February2016. However, she was again denied entry on March 23 and April 22, 2017, when she came to formally authorise GHM to appeal against the previous ban of entry.It is feared that the only reason for these bans is her work as GHM-affiliated lawyer.

2.5. On June 3, 2013, twoMacedonian journalists, Mr Goran Momirovski and Ms Ivana Kostovska, were banned from entering Greece for posing threats to the public and internal security of the country, after filming a documentary about the daily life and struggles of the Macedonian minority in Greece. They were declared personae non grata, and were handed official documents describing them as ‘dangerous’ and ‘enemies of the State’.

2.6. On August 19, 2012, Mr Marin Mema, an Albanian reporter, was similarly declared a ‘threat to national security’ and denied entry to the country by the Greek authorities, after he released a documentary about the Çam community, an Albanian minority expelled from northern Greece during the SecondWorld War and has since never been allowed to return.

3. Non-compliance with international human rights obligations

OMCT is concerned about the ongoing harassment and pattern of restriction of movement of minority rights defenders. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as numerous Human Rights Council resolutions and reports by SpecialProcedures have underlined the importance of HRDs in contributing to the implementation of human rights law.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that defenders have an important role to play and an essential responsibility in safeguarding democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms and contributing to the promotion and advancement of democratic societies, institutions and processes.[6] In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council stressed that respect and support for the activities of HRDs is essential to the overall enjoyment of human rights.[7] The UNSpecial Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders also stated that ‘the defence and promotion of human rights is a legitimate and courageous activity which is necessary to ensure that communities can fully enjoy their entitlements and realise their potential. Defenders can play a key role in safeguarding democracy and ensuring that it remains open, pluralistic and participatory and in line with the principles of rule of law and good governance. Defenders should be able to carry out their activities in an environment that empowers them to defend all human rights for all’.[8]

It is the duty of the State to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for HRDs so that they can carry out their legitimate activities. While minority rights defenders face threats and harassment by theGreek authorities, the promotion and protection of human rights in the country is undermined.

4. Recommendations

In light of the above facts, OMCT calls upon the UN Human Rights Council to urge Greece to:

  • · Guarantee a safe and enabling environment for all HRDs in Greece so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance.
  • · Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all HRDs, including minority rights defenders, in Greece.
  • · Put an end to all acts of harassment against minority rights defenders in Greece.
  • · Guarantee the freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and association of all HRDs, in compliance with articles 12, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • · In particular, guarantee the freedom of movement of all minority rights defenders, including by immediately and unconditionally lifting the prohibition to enter Greece that was posed against them, as it only aims at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.
  • · Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by theGeneral Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially articles1 and 12.2.
  • · More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Greece.

[1] The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its fifth report on Greece in 2015, noted that only two schools in the Thrace region provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish (https://racistcrimeswatch.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/1-260).Further, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee onLegal Affairs and Human Rights addressed violations of rights of Greek citizens of Turkish descent in Rhodes and Kos in its February 2011 report (http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewHTML.asp?FileID=12646&Language=EN).On August 26, 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of RacialDiscrimination expressed concern in its Concluding Observations on Greece regarding the treatment of ethnic minorities in the country and denial of their right to self-identification (http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=CERD/C/GRC/CO/20-22&Lang=E).

[2] The Party was founded in 1991 to represent the interest of the Turkish minority in Greece.

[3] OMCT Urgent Appeal GRE060117, http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/greece/2017/01/d24144/

[4] OMCT Urgent Appeal GRE 181116, http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/greece/2016/11/d24064/

[5] OMCT Urgent Appeal GRE 261016, http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/greece/2016/10/d24016/

[6] General Assembly Resolution, UN DocumentA/RES/53/144, article 18, March 1999.

[7] Human Rights Council Resolution 22/6, UNDocument A/HRC/22/6, April 2013.

[8] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, UN Document A/HRC/25/55, para. 60, December 2013.

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