Justicia: Comparative Report – Ethnic, Racial, or National Disparities in Criminal Justice

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Comparative Report – Ethnic, Racial, or National Disparities in Criminal Justice

 

30 Nov 2018: In 2017, under the existing European Commission Framework Grant for the Justicia Network, Open Society Justice Initiative conducted a small scale, ten-day scoping study to initiate these explorations and obtain an overview of current practices and main challenges as regards ethnic, racial, or national disparities in criminal justice.

The context for this research is that most European Union Member States have very little or no statistical evidence, research or information on how suspects and accused persons belonging to racial or ethnic minorities are dealt with throughout all stages of criminal proceedings and how they experience those proceedings.

The study consisted primarily of a desk review aiming to collect both quantitative and qualitative data and a secondary analysis of empirical data collected through semi-structured key informant interviews. We carried out the scoping study across Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Estonia, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece, and Hungary. Assessments were completed in the fourth quarter of 2017, and results were presented in country – specific reports.

Most importantly, all twelve European Union Members States at took part in the research established that disparities exist for people of various ethnic, racial, and national origins, at least at some stages of their criminal justice systems and in some form. However, the questions surrounding the real scope of the issue, its sources, impacts on criminal justice proceedings and outcomes, and key points in the criminal justice chain resulting in disparate treatment of ethnic, racial, or national groups could not be answered through this study and as such remain unanswered and in need of further in-depth analysis.

To read the report click the link below.

 

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OMCT: Greece: Smear Campaigns and new threats against Advocates Abroad and its Executive Director Ariel Ricker

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Human rights defenders/Urgent Interventions/Greece/2018/November

Greece: Smear Campaigns and new threats against Advocates Abroad and its Executive Director Ariel Ricker

CASE GRE 220518.1

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

Death and rape threats / Smear Campaign

November 29, 2018

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Greece.

New information:

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about new threats against the volunteers of Advocates Abroad and particularly against its Executive Director, Ms. Ariel Ricker, in the context of a smear campaign against the organisation. Advocates Abroad is a legal aid civil society organisation which aims to inform refugees of their rights in Greece.

According to the information received, Ms. Ricker and the volunteers of Advocates Abroad have received more than 37,000 death and rape threats, particularly over social media channels following a smear campaign initiated with the publication of a video distributed by a far-right group. The video distorted the work of Advocates Abroad upholding migrants’ rights by presenting out of context excerpts of a conversation held with Ms. Ariel Ricker recorded with a hidden camera. The video misrepresented the work of the organisation and tried to make it appear as if Advocates Abroad were instructing asylum-seekers to lie and misrepresent their stories so as to be granted refugee statute in Europe.

OMCT recalls that this is not the first attack against Ms. Ariel Ricker and Advocates Abroad and highlights that the situation of human rights defenders and solidarity actors in Greece has been critical for years. Human rights defenders working on migrants’ and minority rights are consistently targeted for their legitimate work and face different types of attacks, including surveillance, arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill-treatment, entry bans and expulsion[1]. Moreover, several complaints related to racism and minority’s rights have not been investigated and/or have been sent to the “archive of unknown perpetrators”[2]. OMCT is particularly concerned by the continued increasing of violent attacks and threats against minority rights defenders in Greece[3].

OMCT condemns the smear and threats campaign against Advocates Abroad and recalls the essential role that organisations like Advocates Abroad are carrying out to defend the human rights of people in the move in a context of systematic violations of international human rights standards by the European Union and its member states. We urge the Greek authorities to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Ricker and all the members of Advocates Abroad and to establish guarantees for the right to defend human rights in Greece.

Background information:

On April 22, 2018, at around midnight, Ms. Ariel Ricker was attacked and hit by a brick thrown at her head while she was standing guard in a solidarity circle to protect women and children refuges gathered for several days in Sappho Square, Lesvos, to protest against the conditions in Moria camp, from a group of rioters. The brick broke the safety helmet Ms. Ariel Ricker was wearing and was concussed and felt to the ground. Another solidarity actor was roughly hit with a brick 20 minutes later. Hours later, after being able to reach the hospital, Ms. Ricker was examined briefly by one nurse, then given one X-Ray and one MRI, and sent home without medication or prescription for medication.

These attacks took place in the context of a broader assault against the refugees gathered in Sappho Square, that began around 20:00, by a group of rioters. Firecrackers, bottles of water, stunners, flares, glasses from the cafes, and bricks were continuously thrown all night by the rioters at the refugees and the solidarity circle.

The police had formed four lines but failed to adequately defend the refugees and the solidarity actors and human rights defenders who were accompanying them. They even threatened multiple times to beat refugees and solidarity actors, including Ms. Ricker if they did not stay within the solidarity circle and put away their cameras. Additionally, although the attacks happened before their eyes, the police did not arrest the perpetrators of the attacks against Ms. Ricker and other defenders, while they arrested over 100 protesting refugees for illegal camping[4].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Greece, urging them to:

  1. Put in place all necessary measures to guarantee the security and the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Ariel Ricker and all other members of Advocates Abroad, as well as of all minority rights defenders in Greece;
  1. Put an end to all acts of harassment against Ms. Ariel Ricker, as well as all minority rights defenders in Greece, so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii.             Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1, 5(b), and 12.2;

  1. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international human rights instruments ratified by Greece.

Addresses:

 

  • Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, Email: mail@primeminister.gr
  • Minister of Justice Mr. Stavros Kontonis Email: grammateia@justice.gov.gr
  • Alternate Minister for Citizens Protection of Greece, Mr. Nikolaos Toskas, Fax: +30 210 692 9764, Email: minister@mopocp.gov.gr
  • General Secretary for Transparency and Human Rights, Ms. Maria Yannakaki, Fax: Email: ggdad@justice.gov.gr
  • Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece, Mr. Ioannis Tsaousis, First Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 732 21 50; Email: grdel.gva@mfa.gr
  • Ambassador of Greece, H.E. Eleftheria Galathianaki, Embassy of Greece in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 545 5585, Email: gremb.bru@mfa.gr
  • Permanent Representative of Greece, H.E. Papastavrou Andreas, Permanent Representation to the European Union (EU), Fax: +32 2 5515651, 5127912 Email: mea.bruxelles@rp-greece.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Greece in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Brussels, November 29, 2018

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

Created in 1985, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) works for, with and through an international coalition of over 200 non-governmental organisations – the SOS-Torture Network – fighting torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and all other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in the world. OMCT and its SOS-Torture Network are today one of the leading networks working for the protection of human rights defenders at the international level.

[1]           See OMCT’s Written Submission to the 35th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the
against minority human rights defenders”, issued on February 21, 2018.

[2]           See OMCT’s Urgent appeal “Greece: Impunity regarding the attacks perpetrated in December 2016 against minority rights defenders“, issued on February 21, 2018

[3]           See the Observatory (OMCT-FIDH), Urgent Appeal on the break-in and arson attack of the Afghan Community Centre’spremises in Athens and the threats targeting the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR), GRE 001 / 0318 / OBS 036, published on March 30, 2018.

[4]           See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-23/greece-police-disperse-migrant-protest-on-lesbos-island)

European Implementation Network civil society briefing focuses on Georgia, Greece and the Russian Federation

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EIN civil society briefing focuses on Georgia, Greece and the Russian Federation

On 23 November 2018, EIN held its quarterly civil society briefing, ahead of the 1331st CM-DH meeting.

Presentations were given on the following cases:

1- Alekseyev v Russia (Application No 4916/07) and Bayev v Russia (Application No 67667/09) – Repeated bans on the holding of LGTBI marches and pickets; fines imposed for displaying banners considered to promote homosexuality among minors (against laws prohibiting such “propaganda”).

2- Makaratzis v Greece (Application No 50385/99) – Ill-treatment by coastguards and other state agents and a lack of effective investigations.

3- Merabishvili v Georgia (Application 72508/13) – Failure by the domestic courts to give relevant and sufficient reasons to justify continuation of detention on remand; continued detention on remand with the predominant purpose of obtaining information from the applicant about third persons.

4- Bekir Ousta v Greece (Application 35151/05) – Refusal of domestic courts to register the applicants’ associations.

 

 Participants in the briefing. Photo: EIN

Participants in the briefing. Photo: EIN

 

Over 35 participants attended the briefing, including participants from the Permanent Representations to the Council of Europe, the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, and other CoE staff members. The main recommendations from the briefing are available here.

1- Alekseyev v Russian Federation (Application No 4916/07) and Bayev v Russia (Application No 67667/09)

The Alekseyev v. Russia case addresses repeated bans on demonstrations promoting tolerance and respect for the human rights of LGBTI persons in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the absence of an effective remedy to challenge those bans. The European Court of Human Rights (the Court) found violations of Convention Articles 11 (right to freedom of assembly), 13 (right to an effective remedy), and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 11.

 

 Nigel Warner from ILGA Europe reporting about the Alekseyev and Bayev v RF cases. Photo: EIN
Nigel Warner from ILGA Europe reporting about the Alekseyev and Bayev v RF cases. Photo: EIN

 

The Bayev v. Russia case addresses violations of the right to freedom of expression and discrimination on account of fines imposed on the applicants for displaying banners considered to promote homosexuality among minors. The banners were held by the Russian courts to be against the regional laws prohibiting such “propaganda”, adopted in several regions since 2006, and followed by a nation-wide law of 2013 similar to that effect (violations of Article 10 and of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 10).

The main argument advanced by the RF in support of these laws – that they are necessary to protect minors from information about homosexuality – was dismissed by the ECtHR as “lacking any evidentiary basis”.

The execution of judgments process in the Alekseyev case has now been proceeding for 7 ½ years. Over that time, in numerous Decisions, the CM has repeatedly expressed concern that the competent authorities have refused the majority of requests to hold public events similar to those in the Alekseyev judgment. It has also made numerous warnings against the introduction of regional and federal laws prohibiting so-called “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” (the “propaganda” laws). These were ignored, and despite assurances by the Russian government to the contrary, these laws have been used on many occasions to refuse authorisation of public events in support of the rights of LGBTI persons. As far as the Bayev case is concerned, the judgment is relatively recent (June 2017).

In his presentation, Nigel Warner focused on the main recommendations listed in the Rule 9.2 communication submitted on those cases by Coming Out, a St Petersburg-based NGO, and ILGA Europe, in October 2018. According to Mr Warner, the latest Action Plan of the Russian Federation on those cases offers no evidence of any improvement or prospect of improvement in the situation. Furthermore, it appears to repudiate the Bayev judgment, citing a ruling of the RF Constitutional Court to the effect that the “propaganda laws” are consistent with the constitution. The “propaganda laws” continue to be used to the detriment of LGTB youth.

In view of this situation, Mr Warner therefore invited the CM to:

  • repeat its request to the Russian authorities to adopt a comprehensive action plan to ensure execution of the Alekseyev and Bayev judgments. This request should, as a minimum, include the repeal of legislation prohibiting so-called “propaganda of homosexual relations”; and
  • continue requesting information on the treatment of notifications to hold public events similar to those in the Alekseyev case.

The memo of Mr Warner is available here. His power point presentation is here. The October 2018 rule 9.2 submission form ILGA Europe and Coming Out is here. You can access the October 2018 Action Plan from the Russian Federation here.

2- Makaratzis and others group of cases v Greece (Application No 50385/99)

These cases concern ill-treatment and the unauthorized and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials.

An update on the group was delivered by Panayote Dimitras from the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), which represents the victims in nine of thirteen cases of the group.

Mr Dimitras first underlined the positive points included in Greece’s communication dated 4/10/2018 on the Makaratzis group of cases, i.e. the beginning of the functioning of the National Mechanism for the Investigation of Arbitrary Behaviour (hereafter “the Mechanism”) within the framework of the Greek Ombudsman; and the agreement of the Government with the Mechanism recommendation that letters of apology be sent to victims of the incriminating acts.

 

 Panayote Dimitras from the Greek Helsinki Monitor on the Makaratzis group of cases. Photo: EIN

Panayote Dimitras from the Greek Helsinki Monitor on the Makaratzis group of cases. Photo: EIN

 

He further highlighted the historical decision of the Supreme Court Prosecutor, in the Chowdury and others v Greece case, to file an appeal for the cassation of a domestic court judgment for the benefit of the law, to comply with the ECtHR judgment ruling that this domestic judgment was violating the ECHR. He reminded that GHM had recommended as a fundamental remedy to execute ECtHR judgments the filing of such appeals for cassation by the Supreme Court Prosecutor in case where the violations ruled by the ECtHR resulted from domestic court judgments.

Despite these positive developments, there is still need for further progress. With regard to the work of the Ombudsman as the Mechanism for the investigation of arbitrary behaviour, in particular, Mr Dimitras regretted the lack of transparency and information on the Mechanism. GHM, which represents the victims in nine out of thirteen cases has never received any communication from the Mechanism. Most importantly, Mr Dimitras expressed his concern over the decision by the Ombudsman on almost all new cases not to carry out his own investigations but only to supervise them, and entrust the disciplinary investigations to what GHM considers as objectively partial investigation bodies. He also recalled that, in its Report on Greece of 2 November 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee evaluated the answers from Greece related to the work of the Ombudsman and the effectiveness of the Mechanism as either partially satisfactory or not satisfactory.

With regard to the Makaratzis group of cases, GHM therefore urged the CM to ask the Greek government to:

  • reopen all disciplinary investigations in the 13 cases of the Makaratzis group;
  • request the Supreme Court Prosecutor to file appeals for cassation for the benefit of law of ten domestic judgments in the Makaratzis group of cases found by the ECtHR to be in violation of the ECHR;
  • provide detailed information on the punishment of law enforcement officials for misconduct, ill-treatment or disproportionate use of force;
  • make sure that the Ombudsman investigates himself the torture or ill-treatment allegations;
  • empower the Ombudsman to impose sanctions. To do so, the law should be amended so that the Mechanism can impose penalties; concretely, a solution would be to remove the Mechanism from the Ombudsman and make it independent.
  • introduce the necessary amendments so that the definition of torture is compatible with Article 1 of UN CAT

The memo of Mr Dimitras on this group of cases is available here. The latest communication from the Greek government (September 2017) is here. You can also download the Rules 9.2. September and October submissions by the Greek Helsinki Monitor.

 

3. Merabishvili v Georgia (Application 72508/13)

 

 Georgian MP Otar Kakhidze and another Georgian MP updating on the Merabishvili case. Photo: EIN.

Georgian MP Otar Kakhidze and another Georgian MP updating on the Merabishvili case. Photo: EIN.

 

The case concerns violations suffered by the applicant, a former Prime Minister of Georgia, in the context of the criminal proceedings instituted against him in December 2012 and January 2013, for alleged embezzlement and the abuse of official authority (violations of Article 5 § 3 and Article 18 taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1 of the Convention).

The presentation on this case was given by Mr Kakhidze, MP of Georgia, on the basis of the Rule 9 submission filed on this case by EHRAC in September 2018.

Mr Kakhidze noted that, following the release of Ilgar Mammadov on 13 August 2018, Mr Merabishvili was the only convicted individual against whom a violation of Article 18 of the Convention had been found who remained in detention.

In its Action Plan, the Government proposes to undertake further investigative measures taking full account of the Grand Chamber’s findings. “The only potential investigative mechanism in which Mr Merabishvili has confidence”, stated by Mr Kakhidze, “is an investigation by the Parliamentary Commission (a Temporary Investigative Commission, set up pursuant to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia, Chapter 6, Articles 55-70”). Mr Kakhidze reminded that in September 2017 he requested that such a Parliamentary Commission be established to investigate Mr Merabishvili’s covert removal. Despite the fact that this request remains pending before Parliament, the Government rejected this proposal in its Action Plan (para. 33).

Mr. Kakhidze stated that without Mr. Merabishvili’s early release another investigation was not an answer to the established breach of Article 18/5. He emphasized that even the judges dissenting on violation of Article 18 agreed that Mr. Merabishvili was removed from his cell. Mr Kakhidze also reminded that an official internal inquiry of Merabishvili’s covert removal was conducted in 2014, and another formal investigation was launched in 2016 by the “reformed” prosecution service with a “newly appointed chief prosecutor”. However, the outcome which they published in 2017 clearly contradicted the ECtHR findings, both in the chamber and GC.

The Georgian Government indicated that the current domestic law prevented mobile telephone records and cell tower data from being examined as part of any further investigation, as the offence being investigated in relation to Mr Merabishvili’s removal fell within the category of less grave crimes (Action Plan, paras 34-36). It therefore proposed to amend the domestic legislation in order to permit such investigative steps to be carried out (Action Plan, para. 37). However, as Mr Kakhidze underlined, the Government failed to provide any further information as to what specific amendments it proposed to make, within what time period, whether such amendments would be retrospective (i.e. could be applied in Mr Merabishvili’s case) or whether practically this would have any effect (i.e. whether the relevant records in this case continue to exist almost 5 years after the event in question).

The Government also indicated that it has already undertaken a number of General Measures, in light of the Grand Chamber’s judgment, including:

a. Extending the period of time for storing video surveillance footage from 24 to 120 hours (Action Plan, para. 66; Order N35 amended by Order N19 (20 March 2017)); and

b. Creation of State Inspector’s Service SIS (Action Plan, paras 74-5).

Mr Kakhidze underlined that, in reality, video surveillance footage in detention facilities are stored for 30 days, but the Government tries to make the impression that “the system change” will be seen by the CM as an effective general measure. He noted that the proposed SIS was entirely irrelevant to Mr Merabishvili’s case as the crimes that it is empowered to investigate does not include any crimes related to Mr Merabishvili’s covert removal.

Mr. Kakhidze submitted that the Government intends to take the Committee of Ministers’ attention from individual measures to general legislative measures which, in his opinion, aims at delaying Mr. Merabishvili’s early release. According to him, the applicant’s continuous detention still has ulterior purposes disclosed by the Court when establishing violation of Article 18 in conjunction with Article 5.

As previously submitted (see letter to the Committee of Ministers dated 26 January 2018), in order to effectively implement the Grand Chamber judgment in his case, the Georgian authorities should therefore:

  • Re-open the criminal proceedings against him;
  • Pending the outcome of the re-opening of the criminal proceedings, order Mr Merabishvili’s release; and
  • Ensure rigorous investigation of his covert removal by an independent body.

You can download the text of the EHRAC rule 9 submission on this case, as well as all attachments: annexe 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5. The power point presentation of Mr Kakhidze is here. The October 2018 Action Plan from the Georgian government can be downloaded here. The November 2018 Rule 9.2. submission by the Public Defender of Georgia can be downloaded here.

Other documents presented by Mr Kakhidze:

Nov 2018 letter from Georgian MPs to the CM-DH.

October statement from Georgian NGOs on the crisis of institutions in Georgia

Excerpt from the Georgian Public Defender Report 2018

4. Bekir Ousta and others group of cases v Greece (Application No 35151/05)

These cases concern violations of the right to freedom of association (Article 11) due to the refusal to register Turkish minority associations (Bekir-Ousta and Others and Emin and Others; final domestic decisions in 2006 and 2005 respectively).

 

 Photo: EIN

Photo: EIN

 

Mr Dimitras, from the Greek Helsinki Monitor, gave a summary of the developments since the last examination of the case by the CM, in December 2017. In February 2018, the Cultural Association of Turkish Women of the Prefecture of Xanthi was refused registration on similar grounds as in the present group of cases. In its 2018 communications, mentioned Mr Dimitras, Greece has refused to address the CM December 2017 concerns on these developments. More importantly, the Supreme Court Judgment dissolving the Turkish Union of Xanthi (which was the first of the three Turkish minority associations of the group of cases that filed an application for the reopening of the domestic proceedings), was considered by the Greek government as irrevocable. This means, Mr Dimitras explained, “that any similar applications for the reopening of the proceedings on the basis of Articles 29 and 30 of Law 4491/2017 by ethnic Turkish and ethnic Macedonian minority associations vindicated by the ECtHR will have no chance to become admissible by domestic courts”.

Bearing in mind these developments, Mr Dimitras called on the CM to ask the Greek government to:

  • provide explanations for the two domestic court decisions not to register the new Cultural Association of Turkish Women in the Prefecture of Xhanti, and to reject as inadmissible the Turkish Union of Xhanti’s application to have its dissolution annulled;
  • promptly introduce a legislative amendment that will change the procedure so as to introduce a simple registration of associations, along the line of (for instance) the French model;
  • request that the Supreme Court Prosecutor to file appeals for cassation against all domestic judgments that were found by the ECtHR to violate the ECHR, including the four judgments related to the Bekir -Ousta associations.

The memo of Mr Dimitras and his recommendations are available here. The Rule 9.2. submission of the Greek Helsinki Monitor published in September and October 2018 are there. The December 2017 CM decision on this case is here.

16/11/2018: New evidence of police violence and illegal deportation of asylum seekers in Evros

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GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR (GHM)

Address: P.O. Box 60820, GR-15304 Glyka Nera Tel.: (+30) 2103472259 Fax: (+30) 2106018760

 email: panayotedimitras@gmail.com website: https://greekhelsinki.wordpress.com


 

Ms. Dunja Mijatović

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Commissioner@coe.int

16 November 2018

 

Another video evidence of police violence and illegal deportation of asylum seekers in Evros

 

Dear Commissioner,

 

Further to our 9 and 29 September 2018 letters, we are sending another update with information published in http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-villagers-warmly-welcome-migrants-after-greek-police-beat-them-naked-138823 and reprinted (without editing) here.

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November 13 2018 14:31:11

Turkish villagers warmly welcome migrants
after Greek police beat them naked

EDİRNE

Turkish villagers warmly welcome migrants after Greek police beat them naked

Residents of the Kiremitçi Salih village in the northwestern Turkish province of Edirne warmly welcomed a group of migrants they found naked and exhausted in their fields late Nov. 11.

According to local media reports, migrants from Yemen and Palestine walked to the Turkish village after they were beaten by Greek police on the other side of the border, which they had crossed illegally.

The Turkish villagers opened the local coffee house and turned on the stove heater to warm the half-naked migrants, who were offered clothes, food and warm drinks.

“All of them have marks and scars on their backs. They said the Greek police beat them before forcing them to walk back into Turkey,” village head Zeki Ateş told journalists.

Turkish gendarmerie forces later took the migrants from the village and bused them to a migration center.


 

In the Turkish language coverage here https://www.haberler.com/edirne-yunan-polisinin-ciplak-gonderdigi-gocmenler-11437700-haberi/ there is additionally a video with interviews with some of the victims also reported in the text.

 

We appreciate your reference to the recurring problem in your recent report on Greece and urge you again to write to the Greek authorities asking them to promptly and efficiently investigate this new group claim of ill-treatment and/or illegal destruction of documents and/or deportation of reportedly 80 persons who are now in Turkey by one (or more) Supreme Court Deputy Prosecutor(s) or Athens Appeals Court Prosecutor(s) for the criminal aspect and the Greek Ombudsman for the administrative aspect.

 

We thank you for your attention to this letter.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Panayote Dimitras

GHM Spokesperson and OMCT General Assembly Member

Greece: fake religious neutrality proposals

The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) considers -and will explain it below- that the Government-proposed constitutional amendments on “religious neutrality” and the Government-Church of Greece agreement in principle on the Church of Greece clergy and mostly contested property have nothing to do with their supposed aim, that is the separation of the Church of Greece from the State.

HUG is also bewildered that usually credible UK media (BBC, The Guardian, The Times) have de facto become the Greek Government’s spin doctors with articles (mis)informing about an alleged move towards secularization.

HUG is finally dismayed by a statement of Humanists UK full of false information on alleged forthcoming secularization in Greece, based on the aforementioned articles by UK media without prior seeking of confirmation from their fellow humanist organization in Greece, HUG. Both HUG and Humanists UK are members of the European Humanist Federation and of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Even after they had been alerted to the misleading character of their statement they did not withdraw it. Thus they appear to deliberately undermine the work of Humanist Union of Greece and of all Greeks striving to achieve real secularization rather some window dressing.

The proposed constitutional amendments

On 2 November 2018, the majority governing coalition partner SYRIZA tabled before Parliament a series of proposed constitutional amendments. They require a double approval by the current parliament and by the next parliament. Two proposed substantial amendments, of Articles 3 and 13 para.5, are related to religious freedom. The proposed amended texts (in italics what will be added compared to the existing texts) are:

Article 3

The Greek State is religiously neutral. The prevailing religion in Greece is the Orthodox Church, which is inextricably united with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and with every other Orthodox Church and respects the Apostles’ and Ecumenical Synod Rules and the ecclesiastical tradition. The Orthodox Church of Greece is self-ruled and governed according to its Statute, to the Patriarchal Volume of 1850 and to the Synodic Act of 1928. The ecclesiastical regime of Crete and the Dodecanese is not contrary to the above provisions.

Interpretative statement

The term prevailing religion is not a recognition of an official state religion and does not have any adverse effect on other religions and the enjoyment of the right of religious freedom in general.

Article 13

(…) 5. No oath is imposed without law, which also defines its form. The swearing-in of state officers and public officials and civil servants takes place through a political oath. In any other case, the person obligated [to take an oath] freely chooses whether to give a political  or a religious oath.

SYRIZA therefore proposes to add a sentence on religious neutrality, and an interpretative statement that the reference to prevailing religion is not a recognition of an official state religion and does not have any adverse effect on religious minorities. Additionally, it proposes a mandatory political oath for all public officials and civil servants (and in subsequent articles it offers the exact texts for the corresponding affirmations), but introduces for the first time in the constitution the religious oath for all other oath-taking procedures (e.g. in courts) alongside the political oath.

However, even the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), in a 2015 report to the UN HRCtte, stated in relation to the introduction in 2012 of a choice between a political and a religious oath that “the GNCHR is not fully satisfied by this solution. Firstly, choosing a political oath instead of a religious one might lead the jury to form a biased view of the witness. The reason for this is the predominance of the Greek Orthodox Religion in Greek society. Secondly, witnesses often are not even asked whether they would like to choose between a religious and political oath. Consequently, the witness must request it his/herself, thus revealing that he/she most probably is not Greek orthodox. The GNCHR, therefore, recommends that religious oath should be completely replaced by political oath.” 

Should that amendment be accepted, it will be impossible in the future to abolish religious oath altogether as HUG and so many other civil society actors plus the official GNCHR advocate. Additionally, the constitutional guarantee to the religious oath is expected to lead to the maintenance of the icons of Christ in all courtrooms and in all offices of all judges or other judicial officials, that runs counter to the supposed religious neutrality.

Additionally, the SYRIZA amendments keep intact the references to the dogmatic and institutional arrangements of the prevailing religion, whereas the equivalent arrangements for the minority religions have no reference in the constitution. It also keeps intact all other religious references in the constitution.

Preamble

In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity

Article 13

1. Freedom of religious conscience is inviolable. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties does not depend on the individual’s religious beliefs.

2. All known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law. The practice of rites of worship is not allowed to offend public order or the good usages. Proselytism is prohibited.

3. The ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same supervision by the State and to the same obligations towards it as those of the prevailing religion.

4. No person shall be exempt from discharging his obligations to the State or may refuse to comply with the laws by reason of his religious convictions.

Article 16

(…) 2. Education constitutes a basic mission for the State and shall aim at the moral, intellectual, professional and physical training of Greeks, the development of national and religious consciousness and at their formation as free and responsible citizens.

The constitution is and will continue to be proclaimed in the name of the Holy Trinity. Education will continue to aim at the development of a national and religious consciousness, which has been interpreted including by Greece’s supreme courts as an official Orthodox Christian consciousness: to be exempted from such religious education, pupils have to declare that they are not Orthodox Christians, in violation of Article 9 of the ECHR: this is currently judged by the ECtHR (Papageorgiou and others v. Greece) and in its observations the SYRIZA government vehemently defends the status quo ante.

On the other hand, Article 13 paras. 1-4 define religious freedom in a way that has been interpreted by many constitutional experts as de facto religious neutrality, although in practice this is not always respected. Henceforth, HUG as well as academics, experts and civil society actors have argued that the proposed introduction of a sentence on religious neutrality in Article 3 does not in effect add anything of substance to religious freedom as defined in Article 13, especially as the mandatory development of de facto Orthodox Christian religious consciousness through education defined in Article 16 cancels the religious neutrality in education.  Characteristically, Professor Yannis Ktistaskis (with a successful ECtHR track record) called the proposals “fake neutrality,” while texts by the President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) Professor Dimitris Christopoulos, the former President of the Hellenic League of Human Rights  (HLHR) Professor Kostas Tsitselikis  (also with a successful ECtHR track record) and HLHR were published under the title “The devil is in the detail” making clear that there is no separation of Church from State, nor any changes that can satisfy any advocate of religious neutrality in Greece. In another article, Professor Dimitris Christopoulos stated that “having both a “prevailing religion” and “religious neutrality” is silly.”

The Government – Church of Greece preliminary agreement

On 6 November 2018, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos announced a “historic” Joint Statement that made arrangements for the joint management of disputed church property and for the replacement of the current direct payment by the state of the salaries individually to each member of the 10,000-strong clergy (the largest per capita in Europe) with an annual subsidy of 200 million euros to the Church of Greece for the payment of that clergy’s salaries (as a comparison Former Minister of Education and Cults Nikos Filis -dismissed at the Church of Greece‘s request- said that the German state gives to the Catholic and the Protestant Churches annually 480 million euros). With the latter arrangement, the Government can claim to the international donors that it is removing 10,000 persons from the civil service and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced that 10,000 new civil service appointments will be made in 2020. It is obvious that the whole arrangement has a strong clientelist character; let alone that it is introducing a discriminatory element as the clergy of all other religions will not be paid through state subsidies, which also contradicts the alleged “religious neutrality” the Government pretends to introduce.

Fake news by UK media and Humanists UK about the fake neutrality in Greece

All the information above, including the damning public statements by experts, was widely available to the public. Hence, it is at least inexcusable that the UK media and Humanists UK published such fake news on 7 and 8 November 2018.

BBC falsely claimed that the agreement will “bring Greece a step closer to separation of Church and state,... is definitely an important step towards Greece becoming a genuinely secular country.” The Times also falsely saw “a surprise agreement that will separate the state from the powerful Orthodox Church for the first time in centuries… [and] redefine the state as “religiously neutral”. The constitution had long stipulated that the Greek Orthodox faith was the dominant religion in the country.” as if the religiously neutral reference will replace the dominant religion reference; worse they falsely claimed that “The deal will save the Greek Treasury about €200 million a year by stripping some of the country’s 10,000 priests and church staff of their state-funded salaries.” [sic] The Guardian also falsely claimed that “In the biggest move yet towards the 11-million strong nation becoming a fully fledged secular country, officials said the public sector would cease to have any religious role… Progressives have long spoken of the need to separate church and state with the “historic” accord now being seen as key to achieving both.”

Humanists UK though produced the worst statement with the super-fake news title “Greece to separate church and state: a triumph for human rights.” [sic] Only they falsely claimed that “Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras announced plans this week to disestablish the Church of Greece. ” Only they falsely claim that “Tsipras, whose Syriza party was elected on a secularist manifesto in 2015.” Only they falsely claim that “The Prime Minister intends to amend the Constitution of Greece to remove references to the church and define the Greek state as ‘religiously neutral’.” Only they falsely claim that there is a “church’s support for secularisation.” Only they see an Alice-in-the-wonderland situation, that even Government spin doctors would not dare proclaim: “‘It is wonderful to see that as Greece embarks on a period of modernisation and democratic reform, its government is acting on the will of the electorate to create an inclusive, secular constitution for all the people of Greece, regardless of religion or belief. ‘We hope this will serve as a positive example to countries around the world at a time when people are hungry for radical and democratic reforms to outdated institutions.’” The fact that they did not retract the statement after they were provided with the information above, let alone apologize for having misinformed thousand of persons who read and shared their text, may have several interpretations, all of which discredit a NGO with a long very positive record in the UK.

European Humanist Federation: Rehabilitate those who refused to take part in the slaughter a 100 years ago!

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Rehabilitate those who refused to take part in the slaughter a 100 years ago!

Posted on the 11/11/18

Today the world celebrates the centenary of the end of WWI. During the past four years of studies, celebrations and commemorations, a parallel was often drawn between our time and the years preceding the outburst of that war.

Indeed, the nationalist and populist wave we are witnessing shows sinister similarities. The most striking and worrying one is the rise of nationalist movements and the downfall of multilateral diplomacy and its international organisations. In Europe and in America nationalists tend to use whatever item may be found in each of our countries real or invented “tradition” and stereotypes, beginning with the autochthonous traditional religion, as tools of exclusion, as fuel for renewed nationalist ideas, for futile but dangerous quarrels among European countries. This undermines decades of efforts for integration and peaceful cooperation, especially among Europeans.

Nationalism is war. Once aroused, it may very easily get out of control, as it was the case one century ago.

On the other hand, in many of our countries voices have been raised during these years of celebrations to preserve the memory and lessons of history, asking national parliaments and governments to make some symbolic gesture in reparation for the huge and insane slaughter in which that war resulted. In particular demands were raised to ask individual national states to symbolically repeal the death sentences – including decimations of military units – inflicted upon those soldiers who refused to continue to take part in that senseless and bloody conflict.

But as long as those debates remain limited to a single nation, the focus becomes the historical interpretation of the role of that particular country, and the dispute on the historical responsibilities for the outbreak of the war.

The European Humanist Federation believes it is high time for a collective European gesture of reparation by the European institutions and by all the European countries whose citizens were forced to fight in WWI.

We ask the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and all the Parliaments and governments of the then belligerent European nations to repeal all the death sentences inflicted upon the drafted soldiers who refused to take part in that massacre. As a sign of reparation, as an assumption of historical responsibility, as a symbolic gesture of awareness of what is at stake for the future of Europe today.