No End Yet to Housing Rights Abuses in Greece

02 August 2005

NGOs Again Appeal for Stop on Forced Evictions as Greece Fails to Implement European Social Charter Decision

For the second time since the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) found Greece in violation of the European Social Charter for systematically frustrating the rights of Roma to adequate housing – a decision made public less than two months ago -- an NGO coalition has appealed to Greek authorities to cease and desist from forcibly expelling Roma from their housing because housing rights abuses of Roma continue apace in Greece.

In a letter sent on July 29 and addressed to the mayor of Athens, nine NGOs urged Greek authorities to withdraw plans to forcibly evict approximately 70 Albanian Roma families currently living in squalid conditions in three communities in the area of Votanikos, Athens, and to undertake measures to ensure their adequate housing. No plans to avoid their homelessness had been made available. The full text of the letter.

Earlier, on June 21, 8 NGOs were compelled to undertake joint action after fifteen Romani families living in the Riganokampos settlement in Patras were served with eviction orders on 16 June. Patras has been the scene of repeated and regular forced evictions of Roma since at least 2001. The full text of the letter.

NGOs joining the July 29 action are:

  • Amnesty International (AI)
  • The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
  • The Coordinated Organisations and Communities for Roma Human Rights in Greece (SOKADRE)
  • European Roma Information Office (ERIO)
  • European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC)
  • Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)
  • International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF)
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRGI)
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Background:

A state of illegality currently reigns in Greece with respect to the effective realisation of the right to adequate housing where Roma are concerned. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) decision in the matter of European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) v. Greece, rendered in February 2005 and made public on June 8, held that the Greek policies with respect to housing and accommodation of Roma infringe Article 16 of the European Social Charter due to:

  • The insufficient number of dwellings of an acceptable quality to meet the needs of settled Roma;
  • The insufficient number of stopping places for Roma who choose to follow an itinerant lifestyle or who are forced to do so;
  • The systemic eviction of Roma from sites or dwellings unlawfully occupied by them.

In the decision, the Committee stated that "one of the underlying purposes of the social rights protected by the Charter is to express solidarity and promote social inclusion. It follows that States must respect difference and ensure that social arrangements are not such as would effectively lead to or reinforce social exclusion. ... The imperative to avoid social exclusion, respect difference and not to discriminate applies to all groups of Roma; itinerant and settled. ... the principle of equality and non-discrimination form an integral part of Article 16 as a result of the Preamble."

The Committee also recalled that "the ultimate responsibility for implementation of official policy lies with the [...] state."

In assessing the question of the insufficiency of permanent dwellings of an adequate standard for Roma in Greece, the Committee stated: "The Committee finds that Greece has failed to take sufficient measures to improve the living conditions of the Roma and that the measures taken have not yet achieved what is required by the Charter, notably by reason of the insufficient means for constraining local authorities or sanctioning them. It finds on the evidence submitted that a significant number of Roma are living in conditions that fail to meet the minimum standards and therefore that the situation is in breach of the obligation to promote the right of families to adequate housing laid down in Article 16."

In its review of the problem of an insufficiency of camping sites for Roma who choose to follow an itinerant lifestyle or who are forced to do so, the Committee held: "... the conditions for temporary encampment as well as the conditions regarding the amenities are extremely strict ... in the absence of the diligence on the part of the local authorities to select appropriate sites and on the other the reluctance to carry out the necessary works to provide the appropriate infrastructure, Roma have an insufficient supply of appropriate camping sites. The Committee therefore holds that the situation constitutes a violation of Article 16 of the Charter."

As to forced evictions, the Committee "notes that the government provides no real information on evictions, (either statistics, or remedies for those unlawfully evicted or examples of relevant case law). It fails either to comment on or contradict the information provided by the ERRC on collective evictions of Roma both settled and itinerant without the provision of alternative housing and sometimes involving the destruction of personal property.

"The Committee considers that illegal occupation of a site or dwelling may justify the eviction of the illegal occupants. However the criteria of illegal occupation must not be unduly wide, the eviction should take place in accordance with the applicable rules of procedure and these should be sufficiently protective of the rights of the persons concerned. The Committee considers that on these three grounds the situation is not satisfactory."

In addition to finding three separate violations of the Article 16 guarantees of the European Social Charter, the Committee expressed dismay at the apparent inability of the Greek government to produce statistical data of relevance to any assessment as to the efficacy of policy:

"The Committee notes that, in connection with its wish to assess the allegation of the discrimination against Roma made by the complainant organisation, the Government stated that until recently it was unable to provide any estimate whatsoever of the size of the groups concerned. To justify its position, it refers to legal and more specifically constitutional obstacles. The Committee considers that when the collection and storage of personal data is prevented for such reasons, but it is also generally acknowledged that a particular group is or could be discriminated against, the authorities have the responsibility for finding alternative means of assessing the extent of the problem and progress towards resolving it that are not subject to such constitutional restrictions." 

The full text of the decision by the European Committee of Social Rights.

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