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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


Human Rights Developments

Greece, a member of the European Union (E.U.) since 1981, continued to experience persistent human rights abuses, especially related to ethnic minorities and migrants. Other areas of concern included restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of worship. The government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won parliamentary elections in September 1996, took some positive steps, including working to legalize the presence of an estimated 500,000 illegal Albanian migrants and to increase infrastructure investments in Turkish villages in Thrace. In February, Prime Minister Simitis openly acknowledged the problem of racism in Greece, a first for a Greek prime minister.

In 1997, Greece finally ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and signed the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Nevertheless, the government of Greece continued to recognize only one minority, the "Muslim" minority protected under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The government refused officially to acknowledge the existence of a Turkish minority, although today the vast majority of the "Muslim" minority identify themselves as Turks, regardless of their Turkish, Pomak, Roma or other origin. Other ethnic minorities legally denied recognition included Slavic-speaking Macedonians. Ethnic minorities that are not officially recognized often suffered restrictions on their freedom of expression and association.

The Greek government appeared to take a dual policy toward the Turkish minority in 1997: it continued to deny its identity-including forbidding the use of the word "Turkish" in official titles of organizations-while at the same time increasing funding for infrastructure in ethnic Turkish areas. The government also continued its policy of affirmative action for Turkish students applying to universities. But few ethnic Turks were employed by municipalities, and none in senior positions. Despite being guaranteed by the Lausanne Treaty, Turkish-language secondary schools remained few in number and of poor quality, there were inadequate numbers of translators for court proceedings, and repair of some mosques was problematic. What is more, although the Simitis government pledged to amend article 19 of the citizenship law, which is sometimes used arbitrarily to deprive non-ethnic Greeks of their citizenship, 7,000 non-ethnic Greek citizens lost their citizenship between 1981 and 1996. While the apparent intent of article 19 was to force those deprived of citizenship to migrate to Turkey, some stayed in Greece. Some estimate that as many as 1,000 stateless persons who were formerly Greek citizens still reside in the country. They have difficulty receiving social services like health care and education and are even denied the rights of the 1954 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons ratified by Greece in 1975.

Another area of concern is a 1990 law that gave the state the right to appoint the mufti; previously muftis were appointed following consultation with community leaders, although this contravened a 1920 law requiring that they be elected. Currently, there are two muftis in Xanthi and Komotini-one appointed and one elected. The elected mufti has been repeatedly prosecuted for "pretense of authority" for using the title of mufti.

In Florina, capital of the Florina district of northern Greece where most ethnic Macedonians live, four Greek Macedonians were put on trial in October 1997 for "inciting citizens to commit acts of violence." In September 1995, a mob led by the Florina mayor had attacked and ransacked the offices of the ethnic Macedonian Rainbow Party after the four men hung a sign in Greek and in Macedonian stating "Rainbow-Florina Committee." No charges were filed against those who attacked the offices. However, the party was prosecuted for using the Macedonian language on the sign in a clear violation of the right to free expression. At an October 1997 hearing, the trial was postponed until September 1998.

Ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece as a result of the 1946-49 civil war were more easily able to visit Greece during 1997 than in previous years: throughout 1996, such individuals-who number in the tens of thousands-were not allowed to enter Greece, even briefly to visit relatives or attend funerals. Ethnic Greek political refugees, on the other hand, were regularly allowed to return to the country. Greece's Roma (Gypsy) minority, estimated at some 350,000, continued to be the most marginalized societal group, subject to discrimination in employment and housing and to police abuse. In April, municipal authorities forcibly removed Roma living in the Ano Liosia area. Reportedly, inhabitants lost personal possessions when bulldozers raised their settlements. Roma having valid residence permits were moved to a new settlement, surrounded by a wire fence andguarded by a armed watchman. Throughout 1997, Roma were expelled or threatened with expulsion in many other sites by the municipal authorities and sometimes the courts, while the often announced plan to find appropriate living quarters for them was never implemented.

While Greece's varied and lively press is largely free, there were violations of freedom of the press in 1997. Mr. Abdulhalim Dede, the director of a Turkish-language radio station, Radio Light (Radio Isik), and a newspaper, Voice of Thrace (Trakya'nin Sesi), had criminal charges brought against him on four occasions in 1997. On two occasions he was charged with "defamation" and "dissemination of false information;" in each of the remaining two cases, he was charged with "broadcasting without a license." Although most private radio stations in Greece operate without a license, Radio Isik was the only one charged. The director was convicted of aggravated defamation and sentenced to six months of imprisonment. In July, two journalists of the newspaper Niki were sentenced to thirty-three months for "defamation" of the justice minister.

Migrant workers in Greece-the majority of whom are illegal immigrants from Albania-continued to suffer police abuse and discrimination. Sentences meted out to ethnic Albanians were excessively harsh when compared with those given to Greeks: in February, for example, an Albanian illegal immigrant received six and one-half years for theft of a wallet and illegal entry; in March, a Greek citizen received three and one-half years for attempted manslaughter against four Albanian immigrants. Despite promises by the Greek government, migrant workers from Albania were still not able to obtain legal status in Greece.

The Greek constitution gives the Eastern Orthodox church the status of an official religion, relegating other religions to a disadvantaged status. In September 1996, the European Court criticized Greek legislation, noting " a clear use these provisions to restrict activities of faiths outside the Orthodox Church." The constitution also prohibits proselytism, but does not define the term. In December 1996, the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported that the closing of the Church of Scientology also violated freedom of religion.

The Right to Monitor

In August and September, state security forces openly followed a joint Greek Helsinki Monitor/Human Rights Watch mission in Thrace. The delegation met with many people whose phones appeared to have been tapped. After complaining to authorities, however, the tailing ceased. In June, the Greek Helsinki Monitor reported that its mail had been tampered with, reportedly by state authorities.

The Role of the

International Community

United States

Relations between Greece and the United States were good in 1997, although the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 was frank about human rights violations by Greece. For FY 1997, Greece received U.S.$3.23 million in loan subsidies and $122.5 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) loans. The U.S also appointed former Bosnia negotiator Richard Holbrooke to work toward a settlement on the divided island of Cyprus.

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