Amend Presidential Decree to Ensure Effectiveness, Inclusiveness
November 13, 2012
The creation of specialized police units to curb racist violence is an important step, but the authorities need to make sure they start off on the right footing. These units need appropriately trained staff and a clear mandate to investigate all hate crimes properly, no matter the legal status of the victim.
Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher

(Milan) – New police units to address racist violence need a strong mandate, proper staff, and clear guidelines, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Greek minister for public order and citizen protection, Nikos Dendias. The letter proposes amendments to a draft presidential decree to create such units, which were proposed by Minister Dendias in late October, 2012.

The draft presidential decree is being examined by the Council of State, the highest administrative court, and if validated may then be signed into effect by Minister Dendias and President Karolos Papoulias.

“The creation of specialized police units to curb racist violence is an important step, but the authorities need to make sure they start off on the right footing,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These units need appropriately trained staff and a clear mandate to investigate all hate crimes properly, no matter the legal status of the victim.”

The units need to have a broad mandate to cover all hate crimes, including crimes in which racist motivation may be one of multiple motives, Human Rights Watch said. The draft presidential decree presented on October 29 would limit the mandate of the new police units to offenses committed exclusively because of the victim’s racial or ethnic origin or religion. The mandate should include crimes committed in whole or in part because of the victim’s race, ethnicity, or religion, and also due to perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity.

Appropriate staffing, adequate training, and clear guidelines are critical to ensuring the effectiveness of the new units, Human Rights Watch said. The presidential decree needs to clarify how many officers will staff the units, how these officers will be selected, and what kind of training they will receive, Human Rights Watch said. Clear guidelines and standards are needed for the selection of staff and all staff should receive advanced specialized training on dealing with victims of hate crimes, and on detecting, responding to, and investigating such crimes.

Human Rights Watch has documented significant obstacles to reporting xenophobic violence in Greece and activating police investigations. To effectively counter the rising number of hate crimes, the new units need clear guidelines to ensure that interpreters are available to facilitate the reporting of crimes when the victim does not speak Greek, and to make clear that no victim of a possible hate crime will be required to pay a 100 Euro fee, instituted in late 2010 to discourage frivolous complaints.

Undocumented migrants should not face the threat of detention or deportation if they report a hate crime, Human Rights Watch said. A proposal by Minister Dendias to allow the units to receive anonymous complaints is not sufficient to ensure effective police investigations or meaningful access to justice for the victims. Instead, there should be special protection provisions for undocumented victims of alleged hate crimes for which a prosecutor has ordered a full investigation based on prima facie evidence.

The presidential decree rightly acknowledges the importance of collecting accurate data about hate crimes, but more details and guidance are necessary, Human Rights Watch said. The decree should specify the means for recording complaints and the kind of information the specialized police units should record. Annual reports on hate crimes should be public.

In July 2012, Human Rights Watch published Hate on the Streets: Xenophobic Violence in Greece, documenting the failure of the Greek police and judiciary to prevent, investigate, and punish alarming vigilante violence targeting migrants and asylum seekers.

A Human Rights Watch delegation was in Athens on November 5 and 6 for high-level government meetings to discuss efforts to tackle xenophobic violence, including the proposed specialized units, and proposals to toughen penalties for hate crimes.