Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Presents Report on Greece
13 November 2006
On 29 March 2006, Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, then Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, presented a report to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly on his official visit to Greece from 30 November to 2 December 2005. The report provided an analysis of actions undertaken by the Greek government following an initial report issued by the Commission for Human Rights in 2002. The following excerpts from the Commissioner's 2006 report highlight the continuing precariousness of the situation of Roma in Greece:
"47. During his visit in 2002, the Commissioner had paid close attention to the living conditions and the respect of the basic rights of the estimated 150 to 200,000 Roma dwelling in Greece, after having received alarming information. […]
49. In order to gain a personal impression of the situation, the Commissioner visited a Roma settlement in Aspropyrgos in the outskirts of Athens. He found people living "under conditions very remote from what is demanded by respect for human dignity, in particular without running water supplies among other essential services". […]
50. Another concrete case which the Commissioner looked into himself in 2002, were the alleged forced evictions of Roma families from their dwellings in the vicinity of sites for the then forthcoming Olympic Games, as for example in Amaroussia. The Commissioner was assured by the Greek authorities that all families needing to be moved because of the Games would be relocated on state-owned land.
51. When the Commissioner presented the report on his visit to Greece to the Committee of Ministers in September 2002, he had already received precise details concerning the measures taken by the Greek authorities following his visit and decided to annex them to his report. These details given by to him by the Greek authorities, and of which the Commissioner took note with satisfaction, were the following:
- All necessary measures had been taken in order that the Roma settlement of Aspropyrgos be provided with all public facilities;
- 20 Roma families residing in a site near the Olympic stadium belonging to others were asked to relocate […]. The authorities had assured the families that special measures would be taken for their re-settlement. In fact, an agreement was signed between the Mayor of Amaroussia and a representative of a Roma association (Elpida) under which the local municipality undertook the following: provisional re-settlement in apartments belonging to the municipality, subsequent permanent settlement in houses to be built by the municipality, economic assistance between 440-1150 Euros (depending on the number of family members), special assistance in terms of food and clothing; a special plan was elaborated by the municipality of Amaroussia for their integration in the local society. [...]
55. Thanks to the assistance of a very dedicated Greek NGO, the Commissioner's delegation was able to return to the Roma settlement in Aspropyrgos which the Commissioner had visited in 2002 and with respect to which precise commitments had been made by the Greek authorities to the Commissioner (see above). The delegation noted that absolutely none of the measures announced had been taken: There were still no basic public utilities, including water, electricity or a basic sewage system.
56. The mayor of Aspropyrgos organised a meeting in his office with the Commissioner's delegation and the major parties involved (the mayor, representatives of the Roma and a representative of owners of the land which the Roma occupy). Two factors would appear to continue to prevent the Roma from benefiting of any improvement of their intolerable situation, even though funding was available from the central authorities:
- many land owners tolerate the occupation of their land by Roma – including its pollution by activities linked to the recycling of garbage – but they are not ready to implicitly accept durable settlement of the Roma by water and electricity adduction or the construction of sewage systems; also, in order to avoid any rights to be granted to the Roma by virtue of a prolonged, unchallenged situation, they were now trying to obtain eviction orders from the courts;
- local politicians and local authorities are not ready to use even State funds that are proposed to them for the benefit of the Roma, so as not to be seen by their voters as accepting the permanent settlement of Roma in the municipality or, "worse", attracting additional Roma to come. […]
58. As to the other specific file in which the Commissioner had taken interest in 2002 and where concrete assurances had been given to him (re-lodging of the Roma families evicted from the Olympic site of Amaroussia), the development has been the following: Six months or so after their eviction and resettlement in apartments for which the Ministry of the Interior and the municipality were to pay the rents until houses would be built for the Roma in question, the municipality invoked financial difficulties, ceased to pay its part of the rents and apparently gave up the construction plans for the benefit of the Roma. The Roma concerned had to leave the flats and trace has been lost of them.
59. A growing number of reports of evictions of Roma people from settlements, including on private properties, all over Greece, with no alternative solutions offered to them, has reached the Commissioner's Office over the last years."
In the report, the Commissioner expressed continuing concern regarding respect for the rights of Roma in Greece. Whilst noting the availability of significant amounts of money from European Union and national sources for the improvement of Romani living conditions, the Commissioner stated:
"62. The results on the ground, however, at least in respect of the two concrete cases previously highlighted by the Commissioner have not been very encouraging. In both cases precise promises were made but not kept, mainly, it would appear, because of resistance on the local level. It must be recalled, however, that the responsibility for the respect of international human rights standards throughout the country lies with the Governments of member States. Under international law, resistance at local level is not a valid reason for exonerating a Government from responsibility for human rights breaches persistently occurring at local level. The Commissioner urges the new Greek Government to take all adequate action to ensure that the basic human rights of Roma citizens are now rapidly respected in places like Aspropyrgos, Amaroussia, Patras or elsewhere."
The full report on Greece can be found HERE.