ERRC/IHF: Harassment of Roma in Greece

20 May 2003

European Roma Rights Center/International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Joint Statement on Ongoing Threats of Eviction of Roma in Greece

On May 15, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Constantine Simitis expressing concern about ongoing threats of eviction of Roma in Aspropyrgos, near Athens. The Romani settlement in Aspropyrgos was the site of the launching of a comprehensive report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece only a few weeks before the most recent threats of eviction of Roma took place. The report, entitled Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece, details the inhuman and degrading treatment of Roma in Aspropyrgos, as well the impunity enjoyed by local authorities responsible for grave violations of international and domestic law. The May 15 ERRC/IHF letter urges the Greek government immediately to ensure inter alia that all persons responsible for human rights violations against Roma in Aspropyrgos and other parts of Greece are brought to justice. For more information on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece, see http://errc.org/publications/indices/greece.shtml. The text of the ERRC/IHF letter follows:

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rigths (IHF) are concerned about the continuous harassment of the Roma living in the Nea Zoe Romani settlement in Aspropyrgos, near Athens, by local authorities threatening to evict them.

Most recently, according to information received by the ERRC partner and IHF member organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), from Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou, Mr Nikos Aristopoulos, and Mr Georgios Panayotopoulos, members of the Romani umbrella organisation Coordinated Organisations and Communities for Roma Human Rights in Greece (SOKADRE) in the Nea Zoe Romani settlement in Aspropyrgos, a Greek police (ELAS) patrol car with three police officers, a jeep with three to four police officers, and a police van with about eight police officers in military style police fatigues, visited their settlement on Sunday, May 11, 2003, at around 4 PM. The three police vehicles entered the settlement and some police officers asked several Roma, among them Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou, Mr Nikos Aristopoulos, and Mr Georgios Panayotopoulos, for how long they had been staying there. Then the police officers told the Roma that they should leave because the mayor has decided that you should leave. The police officers did not present the Roma with any eviction protocols. The police officers left the settlement shortly thereafter.

In another recent incident, on April 21, 2003, at around 3 PM, two police officers entered the Nea Zoe Romani settlement and threatened Roma living in the settlement that they would be evicted. According to the testimony of Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou, the officers informed local Roma that the owner of the land on which they lived without legal permits planned to clean up the area and fence it off. The police reportedly did not present the Roma with an eviction order, but gave them a two-week deadline to gather their personal property and vacate the land. According to Mr Nikos Aristopoulos, several days earlier, a man claiming to be the owner of the land had visited the settlement and ordered the Romani inhabitants to leave within twenty days, "or he would be forced to turn to the police." On April 22, 2003, a representative of SOKADRE called the Aspropyrgos Police Station to ascertain whether the actions of the officers had been authorised. SOKADRE informed the ERRC/GHM that the officer-on-duty was reportedly unaware of the incident. The officer-on-duty added that the police frequently received complaints by residents in the surrounding area, asking the police to take actions to drive away Roma in the area. Officers acting on such requests do so illegally in that the law requires a civil court order such an action. On April 23, 2003, the SOKADRE submitted a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman's Office, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Gil-Robles, the Greeck European Parliament Member, Ms Anna Karamanou and Greek Parliament Member Ms Maria Damanaki. On April 24, 2003, the Commander of the Aspropyrgos Police Station informed the SOKADRE that he was unaware of any such action by officers under his command.

The threat of eviction of the Roma in Aspropyrgos came just days after the publication on April 6, 2003, of the Country Report Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece, produced jointly by the ERRC and GHM, which was officially launched in the Aspropyrgos settlement. The report details four attempted and actual forced evictions of Roma in Aspropyrgos carried out successively in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, in violation of international and domestic law. Furthermore, the report describes the inhuman and degrading treatment to which the Aspropyrgos Roma are subjected by Greek authorities who have failed to ensure that the Roma have access to basic public facilities such as running water and electricity. Ms Anna Karamanou, Member of the PASOK Parliamentary Group in the European Parliament, who was present at the launch of the ERRC/GHM report, stated at that event that she believed there was a need for urgent measures to remedy the situation of the Roma in Aspropyrgos. In a subsequent statement on the occasion of International Roma Day, April 8, Ms Karamanou stated, "There are serious problems of discrimination and violation of fundamental rights, the most serious ones being the lack of fundamental public facilities such as running water and sanitary conditions (in the settlement in Aspropyrgos)".

The ERRC/IHF recall the statement made by the Greek authorities to the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights in September 2002 that, "all necessary measures have been undertaken in order that the Roma/Gypsy settlement of Aspropyrgos is provided with all public facilities". Despite these assurances, the ERRC/GHM monitoring of the situation in Aspropyrgos indicates that the inhuman and degrading conditions under which Roma in the settlement live persist to date. Inadequate housing conditions, as well as the continuous efforts to forcibly evict Roma from the settlement stand in stark contrast to the Greek government's commitments under international human rights law.

Finally, the ERRC and IHF welcome the response by the Greek government via document Ref. No. 19148, dated April 24, 2003, to the question posed by the Greek Member of Parliament Ms Maria Damanaki concerning the lack of public facilities in the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos. This document makes clear that the Greek government is aware of the gravity of the situation of Roma in Aspropyrgos and has proposed solutions to ensure that Roma have access to adequate standard of living. The ERRC and IHF, however, note with concern that the Greek government - which bears the ultimate responsibility to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights to all - has not enforced its own policies with regard to Roma, neither has it ensured that the mayor of Aspropyrgos and other local authorities have been sanctioned for their failure to respect the
decisions of the Greek state authorities.

The ERRC/IHF urge you to intervene immediately and guarantee that:

  • The Roma in Aspropyrgos enjoy the right to an adequate standard of living -- including adequate housing -- without any discrimination, as mandated by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
  • The Roma in Aspropyrgos enjoy a degree of security of tenure, including legal protection from forced eviction, harassment and other threats as mandated by the International Covenant on Economic, Social
    and Cultural Rights;
  • The Roma in Aspropyrgos have access to facilities essential for the health, security, comfort and nutrition as mandated by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • Investigations into the allegations of the threats of eviction on May 11, 2003 and April 21, 2003 are carried out and the individuals responsible are brought without delay to justice;
  • Investigations into all allegations of instances of forced eviction and/or threat of eviction of Roma and other harassment by public authorities, as detailed in the ERRC/GHM report, are carried out and the
    individuals responsible are brought to justice.

We kindly request to be informed of any and all measures undertaken by Greek authorities in connection with the issues raised above. We are grateful for your attention to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director, ERRC
Aaron Rhodes, pp Savelina Danova
Executive Director, IHF

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Constantine Simitis,
Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic
Fax: ++30 210 724 17 76

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

Mr Evangelos Kroustallakis
Prosecutor of the Supreme Court
Fax: ++30 2106411523

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

Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles
Commissioner for Human Rights
Council of Europe
Fax: + 33 3 90 21 50 53

Mr Miloon Kothari
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
Fax: + 41 22 917 9011

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