Human Rights Developments
A number of human rights abuses continued to plague Greece during 1998, especially regarding the treatment of the Turkish and Macedonian minorities, as well as of migrants. There continued to be government-imposed restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of worship. The government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis took some positive steps, including legalizing the presence of more than 400,000 mostly-Albanian migrants and abolishing article 19 of the citizenship law.
As in previous years, the government recognized only one minority, the Muslim minority living in Thrace and protected under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The government continued to deny the existence of a Turkish minority, although most Muslims identify themselves as Turks, regardless of their ethnic origin. In August, the speaker of the parliament stated that the Muslim and Christian population of Thrace should be homogenized. Ethnic minorities that are not officially recognized often suffered restrictions on their freedom of expression and association. Among these ethnic minorities legally denied recognition are Macedonians.
Article 19 of the citizenship law, which had sometimes been used arbitrarily to deprive non-ethnic Greeks of their citizenship, was abolished in June. According to government statistics, 60,000 Greek citizens, mostly ethnic Turks, had been deprived of their citizenship and had become essentially stateless since the introduction of article 19 in 1955. While the apparent intent of the law was to force those deprived of citizenship to migrate to Turkey or Germany, as many as 1,000 former Greek citizens remained in the country after their citizenship had been revoked. As a result, they faced difficulty receiving social services such as health care and education and were denied the rights guaranteed in the 1954 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons ratified by Greece in 1975. Moreover, the abolition of article 19 was not retroactive: those who had their citizenship revoked prior to the laws adoption have not been able to have their citizenship reinstated. In January 1998, the state finally gave 150 stateless persons identity documents, which allowed them to travel abroad, as well as to receive social benefits and education. However, in August, the government refused to issue identity cards to another group in direct breach of the law.
The government continued to ban use of the word Turkish to identify the minority or any of its associations. Rasim Hint, formerly a primary school teacher at the school in Xanthi, was suspended for one year in July for having referred to the school as Turkish rather than minority in 1996. For the same reason, Hint had also received punitive transfers from the city of Xanthi to distant mountain villages between 1996-1998.
In Florina (northern Greece) where most ethnic Macedonians live, four ethnic Macedonians were put on trial in September 1998 for inciting citizens to commit acts of violence. The charges stem from an incident in September 1995 when a mob led by the mayor attacked and ransacked the offices of the ethnic Macedonian Rainbow party after the four defendants hung a sign in Greek and in Macedonian stating Rainbow-Florina Committee. Those who attacked the offices were never indicted, although a complaint was filed by the Rainbow party. By contrast, the party was prosecuted for using the Macedonian language on the sign in a clear violation of the right to free expression. However, the party was acquitted on September 15 due to intense international pressure. As of this writing, another Rainbow leader is awaiting trial on similar charges of incitement for having brought calendars from Macedonia bearing the names of Greek towns in Macedonian and praising the inter-war pro-Macedonian policy of the Communist party.
Many ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece as a result of the 1946-49 civil war were not allowed to enter Greece in 1998, even for brief visits, or to attend events related to the fiftieth anniversary of their exodus in July, despite written commitments to the contrary by the Greek government. In July 1998, the European Court of Human Rights found that Greece had violated article 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because the Greek courts had not allowed the establishment of the association Home of Macedonian Civilization in 1990.
The countrys estimated 350,000 Roma continued to face widespread societal and governmental discrimination in employment and housing and were frequent targets of police brutality. As in 1997, many municipal authorities tried to expel Roma from their jurisdictions or threatened to do so during the year. Such initiativesalthough in clear violation of Greeces domestic and international obligationswere sometimes upheld by local courts. Most dramatic was the expulsion from Evosmos, near Salonica, in mid-1998, of a large, destitute Roma community, made up of 3,500 people: four mayors threatened to prevent the group from settling in a former military camp allocated by the state and to prevent the public contractor from carrying out the necessary infrastructure work therein; as a result, the group wandered from place to place until it finally settled near a river, after having been expelled from three additional sites. Although local officials sometimes promised to provide alternative housing for the displaced Roma, such housing was rarely if ever allocated. No alternative living quarters were ever provided for Roma who had been forcibly moved from Ano Liosia to a settlement surrounded by a wire fence in 1997.
There were frequent allegations of excessive police violence against Roma throughout the year, and an environment of impunity surrounded police brutality. In two cases the murder of a twenty-nine-year-old Roma in the Partheni region on April 1 and the torture of two Roma teenagers in Mesolongi on May 8forensic evidence supported allegations of police responsibility. Despite such evidence and calls by NGOs for the police to be held accountable, no disciplinary action had been taken against the police officers as of this writing.
Although Greece generally enjoys broad press freedom, independent journalists are often prosecuted for libel for having expressed opinions critical of public officials. On September 3, for example, Yannis Tzoumas, a journalist and publisher of the daily Alithia (Chios), was sentenced to four months in prison for having written an article that was critical of Stavros Soumakis, Minister of the Merchant Marines, in August 1997. Similarly, on September 17, journalist Makis Triantafyllopoulos was given a suspended sentence of eight months for an article in the daily Kalimera (Athens) criticizing the minister of justice. Kalimera was shut down a few months later. This phenomenon was aggravated in 1998 by the announcement on August 18 of a proposed amendment to introduce prison sentences of at least two years for cases of insult and defamation through the electronic media.
Abdulhalim Dede, a journalist who won a 1998 Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch for past persecution, was again sentenced in September to eight months imprisonment for installing an antenna without a permit. Although more than 3,000 radio stations in Greece function without licenses and many build their antennas without permits, few are prosecuted. Human rights groups believed that Mr. Dede was singled out primarily because he is an ethnic Turk.
In 1998, migrant workers had the opportunity to register and seek residence permits in Greece for the first time: more than 400,000 took advantage of the measure. Nevertheless, many continued to face discrimination, especially in employment, housing, and in government services. Migrants continued to experience bias before the courts and in dealings with police and prosecutors and, in many cases, no adequate translation was provided during judicial proceedings. There were numerous reports during the year of police brutality against migrants, who were rarely able to obtain adequate remedy for such abuses. Few police were convicted or held accountable on allegations of brutality.
The Eastern Orthodox church maintained its privileged status as the only official religion in Greece, creating a number of disadvantages for other religions. In December 1997, the European Court found that Greece had violated article 14 (prohibition against discrimination) and article 6(1) (right to fair and public hearing) of the ECHR by denying the legal personality of a Catholic church. Similarly, in February, the court found that Greece had violated article 9 (freedom of religion) of the ECHR by unjustly convicting Protestants for proselytism. On December 19, 1997, an association of the Church of Scientology was dissolved for having carried out business practices outside the scope of its statutes. Independent NGOs in Greece, however, pointed to a lack of evidence to support the decision and criticized the courts focus on the churchs proselytizing activities.
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