ERRC letter to Greek prosecutor in eviction case

17 May 2001

On May 17, 2001, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, sent a letter to the Public Prosecutor of Athens in connection with Roma rights violations in the town of Aspropyrgos, just outside Athens. On July 14, 2000, according to investigation by the ERRC and Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor, municipal authorities equipped with a bulldozer entered a settlement of Romani tent-dwellers in Aspropyrgos, approximately 15 km west of Athens and, in the presence of the Mayor of Aspropyrgos and the police, demolished most of the huts there. The huts belonged to Greek and Albanian Roma and contained their personal belongings. According to witness testimony, no eviction protocols were presented to the Romani families. The operation was carried out without the authorisation or presence of a public prosecutor, as is required under Greek law in cases of violation of the privacy of the home. In response to protests by local non-governmental organisations, the authorities of Aspropyrgos reportedly stated that they had carried out a "cleaning operation" to rid the area of garbage. A subsequent report by the Greek Ombudsman found violations of Greek law in the case, but to date no persons responsible for the action have been held accountable. The ERRC letter urges prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the actions of officials of the Aspropyrgos municipality and appeals to the Athens Prosecutor to bring all responsible public officials to justice. Further information on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece can be found on the ERRC website at: http://errc.org. The text of the ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Mr Public Prosecutor,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, respectfully calls your attention to actions carried out by the Aspropyrgos municipality of Athens on July 14, 2000, which resulted in serious violations of the rights of Roma in that town.

Independent fact-finding conducted by the ERRC and the Athens-based Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) established that on July 14, 2000, municipal authorities equipped with a bulldozer entered a settlement of Romani tent-dwellers in Aspropyrgos, approximately 15 km west of Athens and, in the presence of the Mayor of Aspropyrgos and the police, demolished most of the huts there. The huts belonged to Greek and Albanian Roma and contained their personal belongings. According to witness testimony, no eviction protocols were presented to the Romani families. Furthermore, the operation was carried out without the authorisation or presence of a public prosecutor, as is required under Greek law in cases of violation of the privacy of the home. Roma living in the area told the ERRC that the demolished buildings were the only homes available to them. In response to protests by local non-governmental organisations, the authorities of Aspropyrgos reportedly stated that they had carried out a "cleaning operation" to rid the area of garbage.

A subsequent report by the Greek Ombudsman's Office of January 26, 2001, notes the following findings of an investigation by that authority into the event:

"The material actions carried out by a team from the technical services department of the Municipality of Aspropyrgos on the morning of July 14, 2000, in the area next to the rubbish dump of Ano Liosia included, besides the incidental removal of garbage, the demolition of makeshift sheds. Persons belonging to the vulnerable Romani community inhabited these sheds at the time.[...] The material acts that have resulted in the expulsion of Roma are not supported by any official administrative expulsion order requiring them to depart from the specific area. As has already been established, the Municipality of Aspropyrgos has not produced such a document, and it does not appear anywhere that such a relevant decision was ever made by the Municipal Council.[...]"

The Greek Ombudsman's report into the matter additionally states that:

"[...] in view of the aforementioned seriously considered occurrences, it is judged that there are sufficient indications of acts carried out which prima facie present all the necessary objective and subjective elements of a breach of duty (Article 259 of the Criminal Code)."

The ERRC notes that, in addition to violations of domestic law cited by the Greek Ombudsman, in conducting the forced evictions and destruction of property of Roma, local authorities from Aspropyrgos arguably breached international legal provisions, including:

* Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including food, clothing and housing and to the continuous improvement living conditions.[...]" The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors compliance with the ICESCR, has made clear, in its General Comment No. 4, that the concept of "adequacy in the right to adequate housing" includes "the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity." This entails, inter alia, "a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats." The Committee also emphasised in General Comment No. 4 that "instances of forced eviction are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances, and in accordance with the relevant principles of international law."

* Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which states: "[...] States Parties undertake to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without discrimination as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: [...] (e) in particular [...] (iii) the right to housing."

The actions of municipal officials in Aspropyrgos are also arguably in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), particularly:

* Article 8(1), which states, "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence";

* Article 1(1) of Protocol 1 to the ECHR, which states, "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law."

In addition, the long-term failure of Greek authorities to improve the situation of the Roma in Aspropyrgos arguably violates Article 16 of the European Social Charter (ESC), to which Greece is a signatory. Article 16 of the ESC states, "With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is the fundamental unit of society, the Contracting Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangments, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married, and other appropriate means."

Finally, We draw your attention to the fact that the Ombudsman's Report on the findings of case number 11128/2000, and the Deputy Ombudsman's letter calling upon you to examine the case in the light of the report, was forwarded to your office on February 12, 2001 (Ref. No. 11128/00/2.8).

Honourable Mr Public Prosecutor, the European Roma Rights Center appeals to your office to ensure that the alleged violations of domestic and international law on the part of the Aspropyrgos municipal authorities are subject to prompt, thorough and impartial investigation. We urge you without delay to take measures to bring all responsible public officials to justice. We respectfully request to be informed of any actions taken by your office concerning this matter.

Sincerely,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Public Prosecutor of Athens
Former Army Cadet School
Building 16
101 71 Athens
Greece

Fax: (30-1) 883 7983

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