Convention against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Committee against Torture
Summary record of the 1761st meeting
(CAT/C/SR.1761 – Distr.: General – 31 July 2019)
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Wednesday, 24 July 2019, at 10 a.m.
Chair: Mr. Modvig
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention (continued)
Seventh periodic report of Greece
The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m.
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention (continued)
The meeting rose at 12.45 p.m.
Convention against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Committee against Torture
Summary record of the 1764th meeting*
(CAT/C/SR.1764 – Distr.: General – 31 July 2019)
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on Thursday, 25 July 2019, at 3 p.m.
Chair: Mr. Modvig
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention (continued)
Seventh periodic report of Greece (continued)
The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m.
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention (continued)
The meeting was suspended at 5.25 p.m. and resumed at 5.40 p.m.
The meeting rose at 6.05 p.m.
Post-review submission on Greece’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture
29 July 2019
In her replies, Greece claimed that the sentences for torture were reduced in the new Penal Code from 5-20 years to 5-15 years only because of the horizontal reduction of the maximum sentence (except for the life sentence) from 20 years to 15 years. This was intentionally misleading.
In the Penal Code valid through 30 June 2019, the sentence for crimes under article 137A.1 (i.e. torture) was “imprisonment” without any numeric specification. That meant 5-20 years. In the Penal Code valid since 1 July 2019, there is only one change in the whole text of Article 137A.1: the phrase on sentence is now “imprisonment up to ten years.” That means 5-10 years. Had there not been such change, i.e. had the sentence for torture remained “imprisonment,” it would have meant 5-15 years, as the upper limit of imprisonment is now 15 years (instead of 20 years before). The Committee should recommend to Greece that Article 137A.1 should be amended back to the previous version calling for imprisonment without upper limit (i.e. for 5-15 years).
The Committee is requested to take into consideration that the sentence for aggravated torture (eg with the use of falaga, electroshock, etc.) in the old Article 137B was “imprisonment for at least 10 years” (hence 10-20 years) and the text has remained unchanged in the new Article 137A.2 (hence 10-15 years).
The most troubling element that led the one and only police officer convicted at first instance and on appeal for torture not to spend even one day in prison is the possibility to apply mitigating circumstances (e.g. no serious crime before and/or good behavior after committing torture) for the dramatic reduction of his sentence. If one such circumstance exists, the respective sentences mentioned above are reduced from 5-10 years to 1-6 years and from 10-15 years to 2-8 years. If two such circumstances co-exist, the respective sentences mentioned above are further reduced from 5-10 years to 6 months – 6 years and from 10-15 years to 1-8 years. This is Article 85 in the new Penal Code that is more favorable to the convicted than the previous Article 85 that did not allow for the accumulation of two reductions when there were two mitigating circumstances. In the aforementioned case where the ECtHR eventually found a violation by Greece for the inadequate low sentence (Sidiropoulos and Papakostas against Greece – app. 33349/10) the police officer convicted for the use of electroshock on two (young) persons taken into police station for alleged traffic violations, i.e. convicted for aggravated torture with an in principle sentence of imprisonment for at least ten years, was finally sentenced to 5 years which he was allowed to buy off for 5 euros per imprisonment day to be paid off in 36 instalments. There is only one remedy that the Committee is urged to recommend: for sentences in cases of convictions under Article 137A, Article 82 on mitigating circumstances should not apply in view of the gravity of these crimes.
Obviously the Committee should also ask for the amendment of Article 137A.5 on the definition of torture to make it compatible with the Convention (and the ECtHR case-law) also with the inclusion of rape. GHM also agrees with the recommendation of the Ombudsman that the other violations of human dignity punished under Article 137A.3 with sentences 3-5 years (and hence a short prescription of 5 years) become felonies (i.e. punished with more than 5 years) which will also mean that there will be a 15 –year prescription.
2. Cassation of judgments for the benefit of the law
Greece, rightly so, presented to the Committee as a positive development the Supreme Court’s cassation of a domestic acquittal of persons accused for trafficking in human beings. In our joint report to the Committee we “advise the Committee to consider the very positive development in the execution of another ECtHR judgment in Chowdury and others v. Greece. The Supreme Court Prosecutor issued a press release on the 30 October 201833 (translated in English by Greek Helsinki Monitor – GHM) explaining that after the ECtHR judgment, a Deputy Prosecutor filed an application for the cassation for the benefit of the law of the judgment of the Mixed Jury Court of Patras, No. 75-128/30-7-2014 which declared innocent the accused of trafficking in human beings, in violation of Article 4(2) of the European Convention, “for wrong interpretation and wrong application of the provision of Article 323A of the Penal Code, and for lack of specific and detailed reasoning”. On 18 June 2019, the Supreme Court Penal Plenary with its Judgment 2/2019 accepted the application and annulled that domestic judgment.” We then stated that Greece should apply consistently the procedure of an application for cassation for the benefit of the law by the Supreme Court Prosecutor as a fundamental remedy to execute ECtHR judgments and Treaty Body Views so as to remove domestic judgments held by the ECtHR or Treaty Bodies to be in violation of the ECHR or the Treaties. We add here that this was not a unique application of that procedure by the Supreme Court. In July 2017, for example, the Supreme Court issued judgment 2/2017 of cassation for the benefit of the law of a first instance court judgment that had acquitted a swindler (Artemis Sorras) confirming his claim that he had 600 billion dollars with which debt of thousands of people could be paid. In the certainly not exhaustive Supreme Court website, one can find additional judgments (5/20025, 10/2005, 1/2008, 9/2008 and 1/2009) leading to cassation for the benefit of the law of lower court judgments or indictment chamber decisions. The Committee is therefore asked to urge Greece to request from the Supreme Court the cassation of judgments or other judicial decisions that caused the impunity which in turn led to the finding of violations for torture or other violations of human dignity or violations for human trafficking by the ECtHR or the Human Rights Committee.
3. Compensation for victims vindicated by the Human Rights Committee
First, it is important to request that the Committee takes note that the Supreme Court ruled that the European Court of Human Rights judgments and by analogy the Human Rights Committee views constitute res judicata. However, in one case that the acts had not become time-barred at the time of the HRCttee views, the case was reopened and led to a trial but the local court rejected the res judicata, dismissed as irrelevant the views, and found the defendant mayor and deputy mayors of Patras innocent of the eviction of the Georgopoulos Roma family.
Secondly, in our joint report, we have provided information about the three cases that led to Human Rights Committee views in favor of Roma who had been ill-treated or forcefully evicted (Kalamiotis, Georgopoulos and Katsaris). Greece was asked to provide them inter alia with adequate compensation through a friendly settlement but Greece refused it. We were shocked to hear the Greek delegation claim before CAT that for such compensation, in addition to seeking it through administrative courts, there is a possibility for friendly settlements through the Legal Council of State that the representative of the authors of the communication had not pursued. This was a slander against Greek Helsinki Monitor that was the representative in all three cases (falsely) accused to have ignored a procedure favorable to the authors.
The Committee should bear with GHM that will present here relevant details and attach a related document. In the “Follow-up progress report on individual Communications, adopted by the Committee at its 112th session (7-31 October 2014)” (where Greece has been graded “C1” for (absence of) remedies and non-repetition in all three cases) it is mentioned that Greece for the cases of Kalamiotis stated that “The author could file an application for compensation with the relevant administrative tribunal, under article 105 of the Introductory Law of the Civil Code.” For the case of Katsaris Greece stated again that “An action for damages before the administrative courts, based on the Committee’s findings, would be the most appropriate remedy for the author in the circumstances.” For the case of Georgopoulos, Greece expressly denied the possibility of a friendly settlement through the Legal Council of State following a formal application by GHM on behalf of the authors, stating that “The means and processes of reparation must be determined under domestic law. In the present case, the Legal Council of the State determined that it lacked jurisdiction to award compensation for the actions of the Municipality of Patras.”
In fact, in the 22 October 2013 submission of Greece [Annex] the signatory as “Representative for the Greek Government” was indeed “Senior Advisor to the Legal Council of State” Ioannis Bakopoulos who stated that “In all three cases the adequate compensation could be sought from the authors by addressing the competent administrative Tribunal through an action for compensation according to the provision of article 105 of the Introductory Law of the Civil Code.”
GHM had also stated specifically in its 6 January 2014 reply to Greece’s comments on the follow-up procedure that “the Authors suggest again that the Human Rights Committee urges the State party to follow the example of the compensation agreement between the State party and the author during the implementation of the Human Rights Committee’s Views in the case Bodrozic v. Serbia and Montenegro, Communication Nº 1180/2003 and seek compensation agreements with the authors in the three cases for which provision of compensation is still pending.”
Finally, on 23 April 2017, GHM wrote to then General Secretary for Human Rights Maria Yannakaki (letter with protocol number of her office 318/24-4-2017) asking her to mediate so that the Greek government pays adequate compensation to the Roma authors in these three cases. She never replied…
This is why GHM was appalled to hear during the Committee’s review Greece claiming that GHM had ignored the possibility of friendly settlements via the Legal Council of State when it had indeed expressly sought them only to be rejected by the Legal Council of State which referred GHM to the administrative courts.
Hence, the Committee is requested again to ask Greece to provide effective remedy including adequate compensation to Roma people victims of violence and discrimination, according to HRCttee Views on Katsaris, Kalamiotis and Georgopoulos and others cases though the friendly settlement procedure Greece has stated to be available.
4. Apologies to the vindicated victims of torture and other violations of human dignity
As we wrote in the joint report, the CoE Committee of Ministers last examined the Makaratzis group of cases in December 2018 and issued a decision in which it “welcomed the authorities’ intention to request the heads of the services involved in torture and other forms of ill-treatment to issue written apologies to the applicants; invited the authorities to inform the Committee by 1 September 2019 of any further development.” A month before that deadline, GHM that represents the large majority of the applicants can ascertain that no such apology has been received by any of them. In the report by the Greek Ombudsman as National Mechanism for the Investigation of Arbitrary Incidents published in June 2019 and submitted to your Committee by GHM it is stated that “With regard to the old pending, and already statute-barred cases, the Mechanism is working to propose as a general measure of compliance to the Government that a written expression of apology be issued by the head of the administration of the competent department, that could work both as a moral compensation for the victim and as a practical commitment by the administration that there will be no repetition of similar irregularities in the disciplinary process in the future.” We therefore urge the Committee to ask Greece to promptly issue written expressions of apology to those who have been vindicated by ECtHR judgments and HRCttee views.
Greece claimed that they had returned to the Albanian government 18 of the 502 missing “Aghia Varvara” Albanian Roma street children. As the local-court-recognized civil claimant in the related criminal investigation, GHM would like to ascertain that such information is most likely false. First, because it was never included, let alone documented, in any report by Greece. Secondly because in the information on this case that the Albanian authorities have provided to two Albanian NGOs cooperating with GHM there is absolutely no reference to such action from the Greek authorities. This is why the Committee is requested to ask Greek authorities to promptly create an effective mechanism to investigate these cases in order to establish the whereabouts of the missing children, in cooperation with the Ombudsmen of both countries and relevant civil society organizations; and to acknowledge the failures that led to impunity and the disappearances of a very large number of at the time children and offer a public apology to the victims’ families.
6. Alleged judgments on trials on torture
Greece claimed in its oral presentation to the Committee that there have been five convictions in trials for torture. GHM suspects that they concern inter alia one conviction to eight years at first instance in 2015 for torture of a person with mental disabilities which is pending on appeal with the police officers convicted set free in the meantime. Also, they could concern convictions for (severe) bodily harm but not for torture even if, as in one very recent case, the youth bullied by those convicted eventually committed suicide. The Committee should ask Greece to provide and make public relevant documentation.
7. Restraints in psychiatric institutions
Greece claimed that restraints in psychiatric institutions are illegal; yet they are reported from time to time, even by CPT quoted in our joint report. As recently as on 22 July 2019, it was reported in Peloponnisos that in the notorious Child Care Center (KEPEP) of Lehaina institution a child’s legs were strapped to his wheelchair. The Committee should ask Greece to stop all uses of restraints under any circumstances.
8. Criminalization of solidarity with migrants and refugees
The Committee is requested to take into consideration, as relevant also for Greece, the 26 July 2019 joint appeal of 101 NGOs: “The EU must stop the criminalization of solidarity with migrants and refugees.” The most crucial paragraph in that statement reads: “Independent judges have found no sound evidence for convictions in most of these cases. This suggests that prosecutions are often being politically used to deter solidarity and create a hostile environment for migrants. Policing solidarity further involves suspicion, intimidation, harassment and disciplining against civil society, with long-term consequences for the rule of law, democratic accountability, social cohesion, freedom of association and fundamental rights in the EU. These misguided investigations fuel the negative image of migrants as criminals and perpetuate the perception of chaos at Europe’s borders.”
24 – 25 July 2019 [videos at the bottom of this page]
25 July 2019 – The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Greece on the efforts made by the State party to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Introducing the report, Panos Alexandris, Secretary General for Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice of Greece, said that it was his deepest belief and duty to ensure that, during his tenure as a political appointee in this Ministry, all policies concerned should be enhanced, aiming at further respecting, promoting and protecting human rights. Greece attached particular importance to the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The prevention and elimination of such phenomena had been and continued to be a high priority for the Government. He stressed that parliamentary elections had been held on 7 July, and that a new parliamentary majority had been formed. The new Government was sworn in on 9 July; consequently, the present review of Greece’s periodic report coincided with a transitional phase concerning decision-making, the shaping of policies, and the undertaking of new legislative initiatives. Since the second half of 2014, a policy to curb prison overcrowding, further developed in April 2015, had been implemented. Police officers were subjected to strict disciplinary control. Actions amounting to torture or other insults to human dignity incurred the penalty of dismissal.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts welcomed the participation of various State and other entities in the preparation of the report. Starting with the definition of torture, they said multiple sources had told the Committee that Parliament had voted on the complete text of the new penal code in June 2019 which would render it incompatible with the Convention. The Committee was particularly concerned about the requirement that suffering be inflicted in a “planned manner,” which excessively reduced the scope of the crime of torture and seemed to limit its applicability to situations where the practice was systematic, thus excluding isolated cases of torture. This contravened the provisions of the Convention. On legal safeguards, they said that it seemed that they were not implemented sufficiently. There was no system of regular medical visits to examine patients in police stations. They asked what measures, legislative or otherwise, had the State party adopted to implement the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture regarding legal safeguards. Were all detained persons registered from the outset of the detention?
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Alexandris thanked the Committee. The dialogue had been frank, open and constructive. The delegation was looking forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations, which would be carefully examined and taken into consideration in the development of human rights policies.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the replies and the diligent manner in which they had been provided. Three of the most urgent recommendations would be identified by the Committee for follow-up within a year, he added.
The delegation of Greece consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Citizen Protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy, and the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 26 July, at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the initial report of Togo (CAT/C/TGO/3).
The Committee has before it the seventh periodic report of Greece (CAT/C/GRC/7)
Presentation of the Report
PANOS ALEXANDRIS, Secretary General for Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice of Greece, said that it was his deepest belief and duty to ensure that, during his tenure as a political appointee in this Ministry, all policies concerned should be enhanced, aiming at further respecting, promoting and protecting human rights. The periodic report was based on the Committee’s list of issues. Greece attached particular importance to the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The prevention and elimination of such phenomena had been and continued to be a high priority for the Government. Parliamentary elections had been held on 7 July, and a new parliamentary majority had been formed. The new Government was sworn in on 9 July; consequently, the present review of Greece’s periodic report coincided with a transitional phase concerning decision-making, the shaping of policies, and the undertaking of new legislative initiatives.
Since the second half of 2014, a policy to curb prison overcrowding, further developed in April 2015, had been implemented. Thanks to the overall reduction of the prison population by 20 per cent within two years, and the subsequent stand-still policy, the number of prisoners had been stabilized, and stood between 10,000 and 10,500 — an affordable and manageable population for the current size and capacity of the Greek prison system. Further, police officers were subjected to strict disciplinary control. Actions amounting to torture or other insults to human dignity incurred the penalty of dismissal. The Greek Ombudsman, an independent authority, had been designated as the national mechanism for the investigation of arbitrary incidents allegedly committed by law enforcement personnel. All persons deprived of liberty were treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person: they were informed of their rights and allowed to establish contact with their legal representatives and family members; particular attention was given to the situation of vulnerable persons.
Police officers were given specific instructions and orders regarding the protection of the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees, paying special attention to vulnerable groups. All the procedures that fell under the responsibility of the Hellenic Police were implemented in accordance with national and international law. Within this framework, officials of the Hellenic Police were constantly monitored and evaluated by the chain of command.
Greece remained under a disproportionate migratory pressure, despite the significant decrease of flows following the European Union-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had enacted the framework for the institution of guardianship of unaccompanied and separated minors. Other necessary legislative regulations were being forwarded to facilitate the full implementation of the guardianship of unaccompanied minors. The Hellenic Coast Guard deployed enormous efforts during emergency situations at sea, with a focus on the protection of vulnerable individuals or groups. A new curriculum included a specific module for the protection of fundamental rights and a chapter on the prevention of torture. Greece pursued a comprehensive and victim-centred action plan to combat trafficking in persons. On gender issues, there had been significant steps taken by the Government, such as the emphasis on support for women belonging to vulnerable social groups, including refugees. As far as the fight against racism was concerned, a robust legislative framework had been created.
Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for Greece, started by welcoming the representatives of the State party. He welcomed the participation of various State and other entities in the preparation of the report. Starting with the definition of torture, he said multiple sources had told the Committee that Parliament had voted on the complete text of the new penal code in June 2019 which would render it incompatible with the Convention. The Committee was particularly concerned about the requirement that suffering be inflicted in a “planned manner,” which excessively reduced the scope of the crime of torture and seemed to limit its applicability to situations and instances where the practice was systematic, thus excluding isolated cases of torture. This contravened the provisions of the Convention.
On legal safeguards, he said that it seemed that they were not implemented sufficiently. A number of foreign detained persons were not informed of their rights or the reasons of their detention in a language that they could understand, according to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. There were situations in which lawyers advised their clients not to report abuse. There was no system of regular medical visits to examine patients in police stations. Detainees failed to receive adequate information on existing complaint mechanisms to which they had access. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture said that several foreign persons that it had interviewed had not been able to contact a lawyer or family members, and had not been entitled to access to a doctor throughout the detention period. Access to a lawyer was dependent on the defendant having the financial means to hire one, leaving those who did not without judicial support. Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón asked what measures, legislative or otherwise, had the State party adopted to implement the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture regarding legal safeguards.
Were all detained persons registered from the outset of the detention? He asked how the right to be brought before a judge without delay was implemented. He sought clarification on the status of the Criminal Procedure Code. What had led the committee responsible for drafting it to refrain from modifying the maximum length of pre-trial detention, notably that of minors? What measures was the Government implementing to address the scarcity of penitentiary centres, which was preventing it from complying with rules regarding the separation of different types of prisoners?
The Committee had received information on the excessive use of force, notably against unaccompanied minors. He asked the delegation to comment on the persistence of such instances of excessive violence and indicate what measures were being adopted to ensure this would not continue. Could the delegation provide updated information on the criminal proceedings against the perpetrators of the assassination of 15-year-old Alexis Gregoropoulos? He also asked if the victim’s family had received compensation and reparation.
Turning to gender-based violence, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón requested information on steps undertaken by the State party to address this issue, notably to combat sexual and domestic violence; establish evaluation mechanisms; ensure that victims could fully exercise their right to denounce such violence before courts and receive abortion services and post-exposure prophylaxis, amongst others; and put in place additional security measures in the islands, or hotspots, to prevent gender-based and sexual violence. The Committee would also need information on human trafficking, including up-to-date statistical information on this practice, including on the number of prosecutions related to sexual exploitation and forced labour.
What measures had been adopted to prevent the pushback of individuals who may wish to seek asylum, asked Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón. Had the monitoring of officials exercising control over the borders in the Evros region been strengthened in light of reports of informal forced returns? He asked the delegation to indicate the reasons why administrative investigations did not include alleged victims or complainants. It was preoccupying that the applicable asylum system in the hotspots differed from the one that was in place on the continent. The Committee had received information to the effect that, in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement, individuals from certain countries were automatically detained to be deported because they came from “pre-determined countries” that were deemed to produce “economic migrants” rather than refugees. Such “pre-determination” amounted to presumption against the asylum request. The Committee wanted to know if this was indeed how the State party proceeded. Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón also requested information on diplomatic assurances.
ABDELWAHAB HANI, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for Greece, noted that the report had been submitted with a slight delay. The Committee would like Greece to make up for that delay in the presentation of future reports. He asked for information about the training programmes put in place so that all individuals who were involved in the implementation of the law understood their responsibilities with regard to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. Had an evaluation of this training been conducted? Regarding the memorandum of understanding that the Government had signed with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on the training of prosecutors, could the delegation provide the Committee with updated information? The Committee echoed concerns expressed by non-governmental organizations regarding the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, notably in hotspots. Could the delegation provide information on the training programmes for law-enforcement officials that dealt with the Mandela Rules and the Istanbul Protocol?
Had there been an evaluation of the implementation of the European Union-Turkey agreement in light of the State party’s obligations under international law? The national prevention mechanismdid not seem to have enough resources to fully implement the Optional Protocol. How did the Government intend to overcome this lack of human and financial resources? Within the Ombudsman’s office, were there staff members working on prevention issues and carrying out preventive work?
Mr. Hani asked how the Government ensured the cooperation and coordination of the three mechanisms working on the deprivation of liberty. How did the Government ensure that their interlinked work met its obligations under international law? He requested information about the involvement of civil society organizations in monitoring practices as well as on the announced and unannounced visits conducted in detention centres, including those where migrants were held. Turning to overcrowding issues, he asked for information on transfers to rural prisons and the way in which the efficiency of this measure had been evaluated.
Could the delegation provide statistics on the detention of minorities and additional information on the detention of foreigners and asylum seekers, in light of allegations that the latter were systematically detained? According to some figures, the reception and identification centres for asylum seekers held twice as many persons as they had been designed to. Could the delegation comment on these numbers and give the Committee an idea of the average duration of detention in these centres? The deplorable living conditions of migrants amounted to a form of unacceptable treatment. How was the State party addressing this issue?
Citing the principle of the “right to hope” put forth in the European Court of Human Rights decision, Mr. Hani asked about the number of people who had been condemned to life sentences. Turning to mental health, he requested information on the transfer of patients to community-based centres, which had been enacted following the adoption of a circular in November 2018. Had the Government examined other similar policies implemented in other countries, such as South Africa? It was important that such practices did not lead the State party to shirk its responsibility. Could civil society organizations visit psychiatric institutions? How did the State ensure that non-governmental organizations with which it had partnered had the scientific and technical expertise to provide adequate mental care? It was important to avoid the mistakes that had been made in South Africa.
The frequent use of certain interrogation techniques had been criticized by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. How was the State party addressing this situation? Mr. Hani sought clarifications on the efficacy of the complaint system, and asked for statistics on the number of complaints filed and their outcome. He also enquired about the assistance offered to victims of torture. Did the State party intend to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture? Were victims of torture or ill-treatment able to seek reparation in the country? Odious crimes should not fall under statutes of limitations. Given that a high percentage of migrants and asylum seekers had been victims of torture (up to 35 per cent of the global migrant population according to Doctors without Borders), had the State party taken steps to provide this segment of the population with rehabilitation services?
Mr. Hani noted that there was no criminalization of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. He asked for statistics or information on instances where judges had discarded information that had been obtained through torture. Were there adequately trained doctors who acted as experts in judicial proceedings in the context of which allegations of torture were made?
He asked if training on the Convention was provided to personnel interacting with persons with disabilities and if the national prevention mechanism conducted visits to institutions where they stayed. Pointing that there was a trend of criminalization of solidarity, he requested information on steps taken by the State party to address the intimidation of humanitarian workers. He also expressed concern about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and Roma persons.
Questions by Other Committee Members
Other Committee Members asked information on torture and abuse by police officers, notably during demonstrations, and practices targeting minorities held in detention; the detention of adults alongside juveniles; the way in which body cavity searches were conducted and the use of electronic tools in that context; as well as on violence against Roma and refugees, the increase in such attacks involving law enforcement officials, and the way in which they were prosecuted.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation, addressing the issue of legal safeguards, explained that all detained persons, as soon as they were taken to the police station, were fully informed of the reasons of their detention, as well as of the rights they could exercise during their detention. If the detained person was a foreign national who did not understand the Greek language, care was taken to explain their rights to them in the most appropriate way. The Hellenic Police ensured that detained persons could establish telephone and personal communications with their lawyer. Regarding the issue of registration of detainees, it must be understood that all persons who were detained were fully registered as per internal regulations, the implementation of which was constantly monitored by heads of services. With regard to allegations of excessive use of force,the police undertook investigations into complaints made by foreign citizens, whether they were detained or not, if they alleged ill-treatment, affront to their personality, or physical abuse by police officers. Turning to the use of chemical products by the police during demonstrations, the delegation said that it should be noted that the decision had been made to use tear gas rationally and not abusively, in full respect of the principle of necessity. It was only used in open spaces when it was considered absolutely necessary.
When foreigners were in police custody, they were required to be escorted by the police when circulating outside of places of detention. Any allegations of breach of the non-refoulement principle were thoroughly investigated. Body searches were sometimes necessary, such as when electronic detectors were not available. The role of the police was to preserve peace and bring before justice any person who behaved in an unlawful manner. On ethnic profiling, the delegation explained that, in Greece, there was only one recognized religious minority, people of Muslim faith.
Moving on to the definition of torture, the delegation said that for there to be torture as per the Greek law, it must be proved that the crime had been committed for specific purposes such as obtaining a confession, a testimony, information or punishing the victim or intimidating them or any other third parties. The Greek legislation’s requirement for the acts to be carried out in a methodical manner could correspond to the term “with intent” used in article 1 of the Convention. Regarding penalties, the delegation said that the crime of torture continued to be punished with the same degree of severity even though the overall length of imprisonment had changed — it was now 5 to 15 years as opposed to 5 to 20 years in the previous version of the Penal Code. Under Greek law, the crime of torture was subject to a statute of limitations of 15 years, except for cases where the acts of torture led to the death of the victim, in which case it was 20 years. As in many other countries, the main reason for this provision was the principle of legal certainty. A special provision of the Penal Code stipulated that the victim of acts of torture and ill-treatment was entitled to seek from the irrevocably convicted person, as well as from the State, compensation for the damages suffered, the mental suffering incurred and property damage. The penal case of Alexis Grigoropoulos was on its way to completion. After using the available remedies, his family had finally reached a settlement with the State — approximately 1 million euros.
Pre-trial detention was only imposed as a measure of last resort. Its duration or extension was obligatorily re-examined by judicial authorities every six months or upon the prisoner’s request. It could never exceed 18 months. For children aged 15 to 18 years, the time-limit was 6 months. Rules on the separation and categorization of prisoners according to their legal status were still not implemented due to insufficiency of the prison system structure. Further, other separation needs had been prioritized, namely sex, age, ethnicity, health and religion. Prison and probation officer training included human rights issues, in line with the United Nations and the Council of Europe’s rules and recommendations. For the prison staff, particular attention was given to the Nelson Mandela rules. On overcrowding, it was common knowledge that the number of prisoners had been reduced by 20 per cent over the 2014-2017 period, and then stabilized at approximately 10,000 persons. The reduced number of prisoners had contributed to the improvement of everyday living conditions, in combination with the implementation of various educational, vocational, therapeutic, athletic, cultural and other constructive activities for prisoners. In addition, measures improving prisoners’ social contacts (conjugal visits, children’s visits, teleconferencing, etc.) were gradually being implemented.
All prisons services used electronic metal detectors and drug urine tests to search prisoners, staff and visitors, as alternatives to invasive body searches. When indications existed that illicit substances or objects were hidden in a prisoner’s body, the concerned prisoner was transferred to a public hospital to undergo the necessary examinations.
Prisoners with disabilities were eligible for early conditional release on the basis of their disability. Those of them with serious mobility problems and incapacities were treated at the Korydallos prison hospital while in detention. Prisoners were transferred to agricultural prisons exclusively upon their request and for work purposes only. The treatment in such semi-open conditions had not been evaluated yet.
Since 2011, Greece had proceeded to overhauling the country’s asylum system, as reflected in its national legislation and operational capacity. Over 1 million refugees had crossed through Greece. The flows had significantly decreased following the European Union-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016. However, it was worth noting that Greece remained under disproportionate migratory pressure. The Asylum Service had registered approximately 235,000 applications for international protection as of 30 June 2019. The average recognition rate for refugee status and subsidiary status stood at almost 44 per cent. Third country nationals or stateless persons held in detention facilities or present at border crossing points — including transit zones and external borders — received information on the possibility to submit an application for international protection. There, interpretation services were provided as it was necessary to facilitate access to the asylum procedure.
The safe third country concept corresponded to specific articles of the Asylum Procedure Directive as they had been transposed into Greek legislation. It did not lead to automatic detention. Fair and impartial treatment was guaranteed for all asylum seekers, on the basis of specific criteria and timeframes.
On gender-based violence, the delegation said that women suffering from multiple discrimination, in particular refugee women, benefitted from first line services, including psycho-social support, legal counselling and accommodation. As of July 2019, 612 refugee women had benefited from the services of the counselling centres; and 44 migrant women and 54 children had found safe accommodation in the Network Shelters. The General Secretariat had established a bilateral partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece, which had led to, inter alia, a memorandum of understanding for joint actions to protect refugee women and children at risk, and the translation of the shelters’ documents in Arabic, Farsi, French, Urdu and Sorani. Furthermore, following Greece’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2017, the law on domestic violence had been amended to improve its implementation.
Unaccompanied minors were moved to special accommodation facilities either on the islands or on the mainland, based on the availability of places. Given the urgency of their protection needs, Greece was currently in the process of creating many more accommodation centres, especially for minors. Various recreational and educational activities were organized with a view to offer them opportunities to learn and grow. Regarding reports of doctors refusing to perform abortions on the islands, the delegation stated that no specific provisions applied on the islands; the general Greek law was applied throughout the country. While some doctors had refused to carry out abortions on grounds of conscience, it was not the general practice and there was no discriminatory approach to migrant and refugee women.
Regarding involuntary hospitalization, a Ministry of Health Circular from November 2018 stipulated that all injuries suffered by the patients must be registered in each patient’s medical record as well as in a specific record; the doctor examining the patient had to describe the injury mentioning if, in their view, it was indicative of possible ill-treatment or inter-patient violence; and the director of the hospital must bring to the attention of the relevant prosecutor all aforementioned medical reports.
Hellenic Coast Guard officers received training which included a specific module on the protection of human rights and a chapter about the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This training also included a presentation and analysis of the Convention, focusing on methods that could be used to recognize victims of torture through the observation of behavioural and physical indicators. The Hellenic Coast Guard was also actively participating in the Train of Trainers initiative, which was coordinated by Frontex, and aimed to enhance human rights capacities through the development of a pool of accredited experts that delivered training to other staff members.
Follow-up Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for Greece, said the definition of torture had been targeted by recent reform efforts in Greece. The notion of “planning” torture was problematic. It may result in limiting the application of the relevant legal provisions. He asked the delegation to clarify under which conditions rape could amount to torture under Greek law, and the meaning of “methods” or “methodical” in the Penal Code. Turning to the registration of detainees, he asked if there was a control system in place to ensure the law was applied. Was there a central database?
It was important to see the State as a whole, and avoid laying blame at the feet of one entity or the other. How was the State ensuring that the privacy of detainees was respected in hospitals? Noting that various agencies were involved in border control activities in Greece, he asked what was the specific role of Frontex. On extraditions, he requested figures and information on the countries involved. He reiterated that the situation in the hotspots was of great concern and required urgent action to prevent people who were already vulnerable from suffering from gender-based violence.
ABDELWAHAB HANI, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for Greece, noting that the delegation had said that the situation in the hotspot tents was under control, asked which standards had been used to reach such a conclusion. What methods were used for calculating tents’ capacity? He asked about measures, such as guarantees of non-repetition, that had been taken following the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights to address the harassment of humanitarian workers. Highlighting the difficult detention conditions faced by children, he requested the delegation to comment and provide more information on that matter. Regarding the 18 March 2016 European Union-Turkey Statement, he asked for information about safeguards against refoulement, and collective refoulement. What methods were used to calculate the capacity for hosting on islands? He requested information on plans to improve data collection concerning compensation and reparations.
How did the State party approach article 3 of the Convention? Did it take this article and the Committee’s case law in consideration when deciding on extraditions? He asked to what extent the State party’s “special procedure” met the Convention’s requirements and if the State party intended to include the Committee’s case law in the training provided to civil servants?
Follow-up Questions by Other Committee Members
Other Committee Members asked for information about allegations of police violence, notably against children.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation recalled that the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights were legally binding. With regard to individual cases, the Government was following the situation closely. The Government had appointed the Ombudsperson to review cases of allegations of abuse by policemen; it was a very effective body to prevent such abuse. The authors of the complaints filed with the Human Rights Committee could benefit from settlements outside of the courts, a remedy which had not been used by the individuals mentioned by the Committee Members. There had been few recent similar cases.
Registration at the hotspots and registration at police stations were two different things, the delegation underscored. The registration of migrants was only amended when it was absolutely necessary. There was no reason to amend registration records at police stations in principle; when it was done, the chain of command had to be informed. Regarding police violence, to provide security, additional staff had been sent to the hotspots. These additional deployments were a burden for the national budget. On pushbacks, the national authorities enjoyed full powers at the borders, notably exclusive power on return operations. European authorities sought to enhance the Greek authorities’ capacities. Frontex had an internal complaint mechanism, to monitor the implementation of fundamental rights in the context of border operations.
The delegation stressed that the bilateral readmission protocol that Greece had signed with Turkey was separate and different from the 2016 European Union-Turkey Statement. On non-refoulement, the delegation said that, when it came to readmissions and returns, decisions were made on a case-by-case basis. On police violence against minors, from the Hellenic police’s perspective, there had been no intention to act in an improper manner. If there had been cases of minors who had been beaten up with batons, the delegation said it was important to understand that when faced with rioters covering their faces, it was not possible for the police to know precisely with whom they were dealing before apprehending them.
PANOS ALEXANDRIS, Secretary General for Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Justice of Greece, thanked the Committee. The dialogue had been frank, open and constructive. The delegation was looking forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations, which would be carefully examined and taken into consideration in the development of human rights policies.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the replies and the diligent manner in which they had been provided. Three of the most urgent recommendations would be identified by the Committee for follow-up within a year, he added.
Consideration of Greece – 1761st Meeting, 67th Session of Committee Against Torture (24 July 2019)
24 July 2019
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee against Torture,
It is a great honor for me and the members of my delegation to be presenting before you Greece’s 7th report on the implementation of one of the most important universal human rights treaties. Our periodic report was based on the List of Issues adopted by the Committee, a method of work that we deeply appreciate and fully support. It incorporates, to a large extent, comments and inputs by the National Commission for Human Rights and the Greek Ombudsman.
Greece attaches great importance to the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Prevention and elimination of such phenomena has been, and continues to be, a high priority for the Government of Greece. Our country is determined to spare no effort to prevent and to punish any instances of abuse or misconduct leading to a violation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and acknowledges, to this effect, the eminent role of the Committee’s monitoring work.
At the outset, I would like to stress that parliamentary elections were held on July 7th in my country, and a new parliamentary majority was formed. The new Government was sworn in on July 9th and received a vote of confidence by Parliament the day before yesterday. Consequently, the present review of Greece’s periodic report coincides with a transitional phase concerning decision-making, shaping of policies and undertaking of new legislative initiatives.
My delegation comprises representatives from practically all sectors of the administration dealing with the issues covered by the Convention who will do their best to reply to the questions that will be raised by the distinguished members of the Committee. The close cooperation and coordination, under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of a large number of Ministries for the preparation of the present review has contributed to further increasing awareness of the relevance and significance of the Convention and the Concluding Observations of the Committee.
I will present the most significant developments in the areas covered by the Convention, with a particular emphasis on the fields of conditions of detention, law enforcement, first reception and asylum and the fight against trafficking in human beings, domestic violence and racism.
Since the second half of 2014, a policy to curb prison overcrowding, further developed in April 2015, has been implemented, mainly with early, conditional release schemes. The important overall reduction of the prison population by 20% within two years and the subsequent stand-still policy stabilized the number of prisoners between 10,000-10,500, an affordable and manageable population for the current size and capacity of the prison system.
A wide range of measures have been taken, such as the organization of various educational, vocational, therapeutic, athletic, cultural and other meaningful activities for prisoners, the strict reduction of custodial measures for juveniles, the entitlement of disabled and seriously ill prisoners to early release, legislative initiatives to broaden the use of community alternatives to imprisonment, etc.
The prison population control is one of the main axes of the currently implemented three-year strategic plan (2018-2020), which is based on four pillars: respect for the human rights of prisoners, prisoners’ social reintegration, staff and prisoners’ safety and security, and transparency.
Further details will be provided to the Committee during the interactive dialogue that will follow.
The Ministry of Citizen Protection and the Hellenic Police Headquarters attach great importance to the fight against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and make significant efforts to enhance their structures to address any instances of violence and ill- treatment on the part of police officers.
Police officers are subjected to strict disciplinary control, prioritized over the investigation of other disciplinary offences. Actions constituting torture or other insults to human dignity incur the penalty of dismissal.
Police officers are obliged to investigate whether offences under disciplinary investigation were motivated by racism against persons belonging to vulnerable groups or against foreign citizens. In such cases, the results of the administrative investigations must obligatorily mention whether or not the existence of racist motives has been ascertained. Strict sanctions are provided for by criminal law provisions in case of arbitrary conduct by law enforcement personnel. The Greek Ombudsman, an independent authority, has been designated as the National Mechanism for the investigation of Arbitrary Incidents allegedly committed by law enforcement personnel.
Police detention may be imposed only as a temporary measure. All persons deprived of their liberty are treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. They are informed of their rights and are allowed to establish contact with their legal representatives and family members. They have access to emergency health care while “particular attention” is given to the situation of vulnerable persons.
The Hellenic Police works towards the protection and promotion of fundamental rights while managing effectively the external borders of the EU. Police officers are provided with specific instructions and orders regarding the protection of fundamental rights of migrants, paying special attention to vulnerable groups. Those orders focus on the protection of human life and dignity, the principles of non-discrimination and non-refoulement and the legitimate use of force. Under this framework, the Hellenic Police personnel is constantly monitored and evaluated, by the chain of command.
It is important to recall that Greece has adequately managed more than 1.200.000 third country nationals during the last four years, having as major objective the protection of human life and dignity. At the same time, all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that all the procedures which fall under the responsibility of the Hellenic Police are implemented in accordance with national and international law.
Moreover, in many cases the police personnel has been involved in search and rescue operations and saved in extreme weather conditions hundreds of migrants in danger at the river crossing.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the officers of the Hellenic Police who conduct national border surveillance operational activities, are supported by EU agencies such as Frontex and Europol, in the framework of Joint Operations, which enhance the situation awareness and operational response at the borders.
Greece faced an unprecedented migration influx, as over one million refugees passed through Greece. The flows have significantly decreased following the EU-Turkey Joint Statement of 18th March 2016. However, Greece remains under a disproportionate migratory pressure.
In fact, the Asylum Service has up until 30 April 2019 registered more than 225.000 applications for international protection, which represents a fifty-fold increase since the beginning of the Asylum Service’s operation in 2013. According to the most recent EUROSTAT data, the number of asylum applications places Greece in third position as a country of destination. Almost 72,000 asylum seekers are minors. The average recognition rate, in terms of refugee or subsidiary status, stood at 44, 8%.
The Reception and Identification Service has the mission to effectively carry out the procedures of registration and identification of third-country nationals or stateless persons entering the country, and, by extension, the E.U, to provide information on international protection, as well as health care, medical and psychological support to all incoming refugees and migrants. The service manages the six reception and identification centers located at the land border with Turkey and in Eastern Aegean islands. In this effort to manage the inflows, during the last years, several co-operation projects and memorandums of understanding have been activated, between the national authorities and International Organizations, such as UNHCR and IOM, European Union Organizations such as EASO, Frontex, Europol, and many international, European and national NGOs.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has enacted the framework for the institution of guardianship of unaccompanied and separated minors seeking international protection. This institution is an important tool for the protection of any minor in cases where parental responsibility does not exist. Generally speaking, the guardian is in charge of covering the basic needs of the unaccompanied minors, representing them in judicial and administrative procedures and helping them in emergency cases, such as the provision of health care. At the same time, other necessary legislative regulations are being forwarded, in order to facilitate the full implementation of the guardianship of unaccompanied minors.
The Hellenic Coast Guard deploys relentlessly enormous effort during emergency situations at sea, with focus on the protection of vulnerable individuals or groups. A new amended curriculum includes a specific module for the protection of Fundamental Rights and a chapter about the prevention of torture. There is also an internal disciplinary control mechanism in case of complaints for violation of human rights, while a special independent service, the Internal Affairs Service, has been created.
Greece pursues a comprehensive and victim-centered action plan to combat trafficking in persons. Standard Operating Procedures are currently in place to address the challenges involved, such as the early assessment of vulnerability in populations at high risk of becoming victims of trafficking and exploitation, in particular unaccompanied minors. The Office of the National Rapporteur, fosters a victim-centered approach, emphasizing prevention, identification, protection, rehabilitation and integration of potential victims. The most important initiative is the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for the early identification and referral of victims that also provides a platform for joint interdisciplinary and inter-agency action. Human trafficking indicators are applied to the unified vulnerability assessment of migrants registered in the Reception and Identification Centers. The NRM stakeholders operate a sufficient number of shelters for victims of human trafficking.
Greece ratified in 2018 the Council of Europe Convention against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and strengthened accordingly its domestic legislation. The Ministry of Citizen Protection and the Hellenic Police Headquarters established a new department to deal with domestic violence issues.
More generally, on gender issues, there have been very significant steps, undertaken by the General Secretariat for Family Affairs and Gender Equality such as the emphasis on support for women belonging to vulnerable social groups, including refugees, and women victims of domestic violence through the implementation of the National Action Plan on Gender Equality 2016-2020 and the National Program for the Prevention and Combating of Violence Against Women, which is part of the latter. Finally, a new comprehensive and horizontal Law on substantive gender equality was adopted in 2019, introducing gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting.
As far as the fight against racism is concerned, a robust legislative framework has been created. The Hellenic Police has established two (2) Sections in Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as sixty eight (68) Offices throughout the country to investigate acts of racist violence, also on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity, and to intensify awareness raising activities aimed at the police force and the wider public. Data collection mechanisms have been put in place in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice. The National Council against Racism and Intolerance was created as an inter-ministerial, multi-stakeholder body, with the participation of civil society representatives, tasked, inter alia, with the drafting of a National Action Plan against Racism and Intolerance.
Furthermore, concerning support to victims, a Law was adopted in 2017 which incorporated an EU Directive, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
A number of initiatives have also been implemented concerning capacity building of judges and prosecutors on innovative topics, such as training on selected issues of racism and xenophobia.
Let me conclude by reiterating our deep appreciation to the Committee against Torture for its valuable contribution in the fight against torture and all forms of ill-treatment. My delegation looks forward to an open, frank, in-depth and constructive dialogue with the members of the Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.