Greece criticised by the UN for its treatment of Roma

15 August 2001

The ERRC expressed continued concern about the Greek government's treatment of Roma in a letter addressed to the United Nations Committee against Torture, submitted on the occasion of the Committee's review of that country's compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on May 2 and 3, 2001. The letter accompanied a 44-page compilation of ERRC's published documentary information pertaining to the situation of Roma in Greece, submitted for consideration by the Committee. The text of the ERRC letter to CAT members, amended to provide access to the relevant ERRC website files, follows:

Dear Committee Member,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation based in Budapest, respectfully submits published documentary information concerning the human rights situation of Roma in Greece for consideration by the Committee against Torture ("the Committee") at its 26th session on May 2 and 3, 2001.

During extensive field research and regular monitoring of the human rights situation of Roma in Greece since its establishment in 1996, ERRC has documented what we believe to be significant breaches of Articles 10, 11, 12, 13 and 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("the Convention"). ERRC's concerns are elaborated in the enclosed collection of news items and articles pertaining to Greece entitled "Focus: Roma in Greece," compiled and published in March 2001. In particular, we would like to call your attention to the following:

Roma throughout Greece report being subjected to systematic police abuse. Excessive use of firearms by Greek police has in recent years resulted in at least two deaths and several cases of serious injury of Roma. (Please see, e.g., Police Excesses against Roma in Greece and Greek court acquits police officer in killing case).

Ill-treatment of Roma in police custody is commonplace. ERRC has documented cases in which Romani detainees have been beaten with iron bars, kicked and threatened with asphyxiation by police officers. (Please see especially Police killing and abuses in Greece). Cases of illegal detention of Roma are also common. For example, during a police operation and failed search for a Romani crime suspect in 1997, the police reportedly arrested the suspect's mother and sister instead, both of whom were released a few hours later without being charged with any crime. (Please see Police Excesses against Roma in Greece).

Police raids are regularly carried out on entire Romani neighbourhoods for a variety of purposes, including supposed searches for criminal suspects, drugs and weapons. While the police apparently often fail to uncover drugs or weapons, they routinely subject Romani inhabitants, including women and children, to various forms of intimidation and abuse. Greek police officials have been reported targeting Roma because, in the words of one officer, "they are Gypsies; they are prone to steal." (Please see, e.g., Police Excesses against Roma in GreeceGreek authorities resettle Roma of Ano Liosia in restrictive campGreek Roma settlements: police raids, inhuman conditionsOrthodox priest in Greece refuses to baptize Romani children; and Greek authorities evict Roma).

Notwithstanding the frequency of reported police abuse in Greece, victims remain without remedy. Judicial authorities have repeatedly failed to bring charges against police officers who abuse Roma. With the exception of one case in which two police officers were indicted for shooting and killing a Romani man in April 1998 - only to be acquitted by the Council of Judges of the Magistrates Court of Thessaloniki on the grounds of self-defence, despite unequivocal, forensic evidence that the victim had been killed by a shotgun wound in the back - none of the cases of police violence documented by ERRC have resulted in prosecution, let alone conviction of the officers involved. (Please see, e.g., Greek court acquits police officer in killing case).

We hope that the documentation provided by the ERRC on the situation of Roma in Greece will assist the Committee in examining Greece's compliance with the Convention.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

CAT members voiced concerns and asked questions relating to abuse of Roma during discussion of the government report. They noted that "Roma and foreigners were harshly treated by Greek police" and asked the delegation whether "the Government [had] designed measures to deal with such police behaviour." More specifically, members requested that the delegation "provide examples of cases involving disciplinary measures against police officers1."

In response to the Committee's concerns, the Greek delegation stated with remarkable bluntness that "Roma often lived in isolation in tent-camps where they kept arms and dealt with drug-trafficking." Furthermore, according to the delegation, this "situation obliged police to intervene according to a 'plan' with the use of special forces and depending on the danger the police personnel faced each time2." When asked by one expert whether such "sweeping general reference to an ethnic group" "might not be akin to […] racial profiling3," a representative of the government delegation assured her that "[t]here was no racial motivation behind these police operations4." He further stated that "his delegation had not intended to imply that all Roma were criminals, but rather that in that particular closed community of the tent camps, crimes involving drugs and the use of weapons were common. It was not a question of racial discrimination, and a general statement was not being made; it was simply a necessary matter of risk assessment5."

The Committee found the Greek government's replies unsatisfactory; in its "Conclusions and Recommendations" on Greece, issued on May 8, 2001, the Committee "expresse[d] concern" about "evidence that the police sometimes use excessive or unjustifiable force in carrying out their duties particularly when dealing with ethnic and national minorities and foreigners" and about "the lack of comprehensive training of medical personnel and law enforcement officers at all levels, on the provisions of the Convention." It recommended that the Greek government undertake, inter alia, "such measures as are necessary, including training, […] to ensure that in the treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular foreigners, ethnic and national minorities, law enforcement officers do not resort to discriminatory practices6.

Other organisations contributing to the CAT review include the Athens-based Greek Helsinki Monitor/Minority Rights Group, as well as the international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch. Persons wishing to receive more information about the Committee against Torture, or who wish to receive copies of the ERRC compilation on Roma are urged to contact the ERRC. All ERRC publications pertaining to Greece are also available on the ERRC Website at: www.errc.org. Further information on Roma in Greece can also be obtained from the ERRC's local monitor in Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor:

Greek Helsinki Monitor
P.O. Box 60820
GR-15304 Glyka Nera
Greece

Tel. +30-1-347.22.59;
Fax +30-1-601.87.60

e-mail: panayote@greekhelsinki.gr

Internet Addresses:

Balkan Human Rights Web Pages: http://www.greekhelsinki.gr
The Balkan Human Rights List: http://www.egroups.com/group/balkanhr
The Greek Human Rights List: http://www.egroups.com/group/greekhr

Endnotes:

  1. United Nations Press Release, "Committee against Torture Starts Consideration of Report of Greece," CAT, 26th Session, 2 May 2001, Morning.
  2. United Nations Press Release, "Committee against Torture Hears Response of Greece to Questions on its Third Periodic Report," CAT, 26th Session, 3 May 2001, Afternoon.
  3. United Nations Committee against Torture, "Summary Record of the First Part of the 463rd Meeting: Greece," CAT/C/SR.463, May 9, 2001, para. 34.
  4. United Nations Press Release, "Committee against Torture Hears Response of Greece to Questions on its Third Periodic Report," CAT, 26th Session, 3 May 2001, Afternoon.
  5. United Nations Committee against Torture, "Summary Record of the First Part of the 463rd Meeting: Greece," CAT/C/SR.463, May 9, 2001, para. 35.
  6. United Nations Committee against Torture, "Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture: Greece," CAT/C/XXVI/Concl.2/Rev.1, May 8, 2001 (unedited version), paras. 5-6.

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