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Greece
29.04.03
Urgent Interventions

Greece: threat of unlawful eviction of a Roma community

GRE 290403. ESCR
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Threat of Unlawful Eviction of a Roma Community/Denied Access to Basic Services


The World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Greece.


Brief description of the situation

OMCT has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), a member of the OMCT network, of a police attempt to evict a Roma community living in the Nea Zoi area of Aspropyrgos, located at approximately 15 kilometres west of Athens (Attica), Greece. This incident occurred while the Roma community living in Aspropyrgos is still awaiting the provision of water and electricity, as promised by the Greek authorities and officially announced to the Council of Europe in September 2002.

According to the information received, on April 21st 2003, at around 3.00 p.m., a Hellenic Police (EL.AS.) car arrived at the Roma settlement located in Aspropyrgos. Two police officers reportedly said that “the plot was bought and the proprietor sent us to tell you to move out because he wants to clean it up and enclose it”. It is reported that the Roma were given two weeks time to gather their belongings and leave. While the police officers reportedly had with them certain documents that they showed to the Roma, they did not give any official eviction order.

A few days earlier, an individual claiming to be the proprietor of an adjacent plot where Roma are also living, reportedly asked them to leave his alleged property within twenty days and threatened that otherwise he would be forced to “call the police”.

According to the information received, on the following day, (22 April 2003), a representative of GHM, who is also a member of SOKADRE (Coordinated Organizations and Communities for Roma Human Rights in Greece), called the Aspropyrgos Police Station in order to get some more information on the incident. The police officer reportedly claimed that he was unaware of the incident and suggested in called his chief, saying however that the Police Station frequently receives complaints by the residents in the surrounding areas asking the Police to intervene in order to drive away the Roma living in the wider area of Nea Zoi. On April 23rd 2003, the Chief of the Aspropyrgos Police Station reportedly stated to the representative of GHM and SOKADRE that he was unaware of the incident and referred him to other officers, who were unable to provide any concrete information. Following this event, SOKADRE reportedly sent a letter to the Aspropyrgos Police Station on April 23rd, asking them to provide any documentation that could justify the actions of the police officers. So far, the police has provided no further documentation.

This incident occurred while the Asproprygos Roma community is reportedly awaiting the provision of water and electricity as promised by the Greek authorities. Despite the assurances given by the Greek delegation to the Council of Europe on September 11th 2002 that “all necessary measures have been taken in order that the Roma/Gypsy settlement of Aspropyrgos is provided with all public facilities”, the settlement still does not have running water and electricity.

The guarantee provided last September by the Greek authorities that all necessary measures have been taken in order to ensure that the Roma/Gypsy settlement of Aspropyrgos is provided with all public facilities, seriously contrasts with the actual denial of such services by the Municipality, along with the attempted eviction that took place on April 21st 2003.


Background information

This attempted eviction, along with denied access to water and electricity (despite the Greek authorities’ guarantee that they have provided these services to the Asproprygos settlement) takes place in a context of ongoing harassment against the Roma population living in Asproprygos, including notably attempted and actual forced evictions, as well as living conditions failing to meet international standards related to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

Besides the absence of running water and electricity that has already been mentioned, the Roma living in the Nea Zoi area of Asproprygos are living next to a defunct rubbish tip and in the midst of warehouses and small industrial facilities. Only about 6 families live in the settlement in question at the moment, although when Mr. Robles, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, visited it in June 2002, there were about 20. The other families were forced to move out either due to the frequent police raids or due to the lack of infrastructure and problems with drugs. During his visit to Greece, Mr. Robles went to the settlement and stated the following in his report: “Words fail me in saying that I am grateful to the families for their reception, as these people live under conditions very remote from what is demanded by respect for human dignity, in particular without running water supplies among other essential services.”

Attempted forced evictions or actual forced evictions of Roma living in Asproprygos are reported with alarming frequency. As highlighted by the following examples, attempted or actual forced evictions that are carried out by the Aspropyros Municipality include a certain number of similar characteristics, including the disregard for national and international law, the absence of eviction orders, the lack of alternative housing and compensation to the victims, as well as the absence of prompt and impartial investigation into the actions of the Aspropyros Municipality.

- On February 16, 1999, a municipality of Aspropyrgos crew, escorted by the two deputy mayors of Aspropyrgos and police, entered the Nea Zoe settlement with a water tanker, two bulldozers, a jeep, and three police cars. The municipal employees tore down five sheds with the two bulldozers and set the rubble on fire. The settlement comprised twelve buildings altogether, with around one hundred inhabitants. The Roma were not given enough time to remove their possessions. Some of the Romani residents were not present at the time of the operation.

- On July 14, 2000, the municipal authorities of Aspropyros, equipped with a bulldozer, entered a settlement of Romani tent-dwellers. In the presence of the Mayor of Aspropyros and the police, they demolished most of the homes in the camp belonging to Greek and Albanian Roma, which contained their personal belongings. According to eyewitnesses, no eviction warrants or orders were presented to the Roma families. The operation was carried out without the authorisation or presence of a public prosecutor, as is required under Greek law in cases of invasion of privacy and the domicile. The action taken by the Municipality of Aspropyros resulted in the expulsion of the Roma from their encampment and in the demolition of their homes. According to eyewitnesses, only eight homes escaped demolition; elderly persons or people with health problems who could not move immediately were in these homes. After the demolition, the inhabitants moved to a vacant place nearby, in the wider area of Aspropyrgos.
Mr N.A., a 35-year-old Romani man who witnessed the destruction of his home as well as many others, told that the inhabitants were not given time to remove their possessions from the huts and described how the bulldozers not only levelled the shacks, but used their blades to push the debris into the ground and cover it over with earth, burying the contents of peoples homes. According to Mr N.A., the demolition crew of the municipality proceeded to set ablaze the remains, mainly pieces of cardboard and wooden planks, which lay above the surface.

- On July 17 and 18, 2001, two municipal police officers and two state police officers visited one of the makeshift settlements, next to a refuse dump, and told the Romani families there to leave the area within three days. According to Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou, a Romani woman who had resettled with her family next to the refuse site and a representative of the community to the non-governmental umbrella group SOKADRE, the officers did not present any papers and threatened the families that if they did not leave within three days, they would send in their special forces to take care of them. The authorities never acted on the threat and the Roma are still living beside the refuse site.

- On the morning of September 13th 2001, the municipal authorities of Asproprygos, under the orders of Asproprygos’ Mayor G. Liakos, proceeded to destroy 6 homes together with all their contents and damage another. The destroyed homes allegedly belong to 4 Greek and 3 Albanian Roma families. A bulldozer belonging to the municipality of Aspropyrgos, accompanied by both state and municipal police officers, began demolishing dwellings belonging to Roma. One of the residents reportedly approached the police officers and asked them for the documents authorising the eviction. According to Mr V.A., one of the municipal officials reportedly told him that they had no papers. One of the state police officers reportedly stated that he thought an eviction protocol existed, but that he could not remember. Mr V.A. related that he informed the officers that the eviction action was illegal without proper authorisation. The municipal authorities of Aspropyrgos put an end to their operation following the intervention of the Greek Ombudsman and the Greek Helsinki Monitor. According to the intervention received, a police car stood by during the destruction of the homes without intervening.

- On September 28th 2002, a bulldozer belonging to the municipality of Aspropyrgos, together with a municipal patrol car carrying four municipal police officers, visited a Romani man, Mr S.K., living in the Nea Zoe area. The Romani man was erecting a shed on a plot of land he owned when the bulldozer and the municipal police arrived and told him that they would have to tear his shed down. Ms Panayotopoulou asked them whether any decision had been issued by the local Town Planning Bureau, authorising the demolition. The municipal police officers responded that there was such a decision, concerning all the illegal dwellings in the area, but it had not been issued yet and hence they could not provide her with a copy. When further asked by Ms Panayotopoulou whether they had been sent there by the mayor, the municipal police responded that they were carrying out orders from the Town Planning Bureau. This is unlikely, as in such cases the town planning authorities solicit the assistance of the Greek state police and not of the municipal police forces. It is also unlikely, given that if in fact the municipal authorities had requested the intervention of municipal police, that a representative of the town-planning bureau would not be present. Finally, September 28, 2002, was a Saturday, a day when the regional authorities (to which town planning authorities belong) are closed. In the end, the municipal police and the bulldozer left, with officers telling Mr S.K. that he had time until Monday to tear down his shed himself, otherwise they would do so. The municipal police did not carry out their threat and on September 30, 2002, the SOKADRE submitted, on behalf of the Nea Zoe community, a complaint to the Ombudsman’s office. On October 24, 2002, the Ombudsman’s office addressed a letter (Ref. No. 19000.2.2) to the Aspropyrgos municipality, soliciting the municipal authorities’ view on the issue at hand. The latter responded on February 12, 2003, (Ref. No. 3205), alleging that no municipal employees had been involved in any such activity on that particular day. The municipality of Aspropyrgos letter ended by offering its version of what actually had happened, namely that ... some individuals unknown to them, maybe even private security guards, presented themselves as municipal police officers, whereas they were not. The SOKADRE contacted both Ms Panayotopoulou and Mr S.K.s wife, Ms G.K., (who was also present during the incident) who reconfirmed their version of the events. Ms G.K. also added that one of the municipal police officers was an acquaintance of her husband, so it is impossible she was mistaken as to the officers’ identity. On February 21, 2003, the SOKADRE submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman’s office in which it claimed that the municipality’s reply was inadequate.

The rate with which attempted or actual forced evictions of Roma occur in Asproprygos, along with an overall policy of harassment and denial of access to basic services suggest a systematic practice of keeping Roma permanently from long-term settlement and integration in the Municipality.


Action requested

Please write to the authorities in Greece urging them to:

i. guarantee the right to adequate housing of the Roma community in Nea Zoi, -namely its following elements: security of tenure, access to public and environmental goods and services, freedom from dispossession, right to information and resettlement- as recognised in International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comments No. 4 and No. 7 of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, among others;

ii. provide immediately public utilities (water, electricity, etc.) to the Roma community in Nea Zoi, as pledged before the Council of Europe and in accordance with General Comment No.15 of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the right to water;

iii. guarantee an immediate investigation into the circumstances of these events, identify those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by law;

iv. guarantee that municipal authorities of Asproprygos abide by international human rights obligations that Greece has freely subscribed;

v. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights standards;



Addresses

Mr. Constantine Simitis, Prime Minister, Prime Minister’s Office at the Hellenic Parliament, Greek Parliament Blgd, Constitution Square, Athens / Greece, Fax: ++30 210 724 17 76, Email: Mail@primeminister.gr

Mr. George Papandreou, Foreign Minister Athens, Fax: ++30 210 36 81 433, Email: gpap@mfa.gr

Mr. George Kaminis, Ombudsman, Fax ++30 210 7289643

Mr. Costas Skandalidis, Minister of Interior, Public and Local Administration Fax ++30 2103233218


Please also write to the embassies of Greece in your respective country.

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Geneva, 29 April 2003

Kindly inform OMCT of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
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