Oral statement to UN CERD: Discrimination, national minorities and Roma in Greece

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Oral statement to UN CERD on Greece’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

3 August 2016

The enjoyment of civil and political rights by all those who are not adult males, are not ethnic Greek, do not adhere to the official Orthodox Christian religion, do not have a majority sexual orientation or gender identity, and/or are persons with disabilities is inhibited by institutional or de facto discrimination. Anti-discrimination and anti-racism legislation is rarely applied. Judgments or recommendations by intergovernmental institutions are often ignored.

National minorities are a taboo in Greece, to such an extent that even the Greek National Commission for Human Rights did not submit any information in its report to your Committee. During the review by the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Human Rights Committee in 2015, Greece fervently rejected any reference to a Turkish minority and a Macedonian minority.

Your Committee is requested to address the concerns of the almost completely ignored Turkish minority in Rhodes and Kos, whose size is estimated at 4-5,000 persons. Most seem to think of themselves as Muslims and ethnic Turks, and also as members of a specific Muslim community. They are denied the minority status of the Muslims of Thrace: Greek authorities claim that only the Muslims covered by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) may be recognized as a minority. The recommendations of the related authoritative report and the ensuing resolution in 2012 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on “The situation of the Greek citizens of Turkish descent in Rhodes and Kos” have also been ignored by Greece. Your Committee is requested to emphasize that the fact that that community is not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne (as at that time the islands were under Italian rule) cannot be invoked by Greek authorities to deny its members of at least the rights granted to the Turkish or “Muslim” minority of Thrace.

Most importantly, European Court of Human Rights judgments on minorities and Roma are not executed. The Court has found in five rulings that freedom of four minority associations had been breached by Greece, but Greek authorities have failed to execute the Court’s rulings in such cases, and to register the Turkish and Macedonian minority associations concerned, in some instances for more than twenty years. This is effectively related to Greece’s persistent refusal to acknowledge the existence of the corresponding ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Turkish minorities, while the State recognizes ethnic Pomak and ethnic Roma minorities and related associations.

Moreover, the Court has ruled three times against Greece for discriminatory exclusion or segregation of Roma pupils in Aspropyrgos (twice) and in Sofades: following the first judgments for each community, the ghetto schools continued (for Aspropyrgos) or continue (for Sofades) to function. Only after the second judgment, the Aspropyrgos ghetto school was closed down in 2014, but the State party made no effort to integrate all Roma children to the general school: in effect only a score of pupils out of a potential of over 100 children attended classes in 2015-2016. Finally, throughout Greece, there are scores of schools with Roma only pupils, while 43% of Roma school-age children do not attend school.

In June 2016, the European Commission assessment on the situation of Roma in Greece concluded that: “The situation remains almost unchanged. No new measures following the Recommendation or new initiatives have been taken since 2014 in order to translate the strategy into concrete actions which would lead to the improvement of the situation of Roma. Interventions are limited and fragmented, bringing no sustainable results. The situation in all areas is deteriorating. Systematic, long-term policies carried out within an integrated approach, effective use of available funding, monitoring and evaluation of the impact, efficient coordination between national and local level, involvement and constructive dialogue with Roma civil society are crucial to move the process of Roma integration forward.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance reported in May 2015 that “the Roma of Greece, while being for the vast majority Greek citizens, continue to face discrimination and remain economically and socially vulnerable.” A few months earlier, ECRI reported that The living conditions in many Roma settlements in Greece continue to be a cause of concern. Some settlements are in complete isolation from the rest of the population, without running water or electricity, with no heating in winter and leaking roofs in some cases, and without a sewage system or access to public transport. Furthermore, many forced evictions of Roma took place without specifying a suitable place to install a safe and legal settlement and without adequate access to legal remedies.”

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