(London) – The Greek government should immediately drop plans that would deter migrant victims from reporting law enforcement abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also reintroduce measures to protect undocumented victims and witnesses of crimes, including racist violence. Parliament is debating these issues as it examines a draft immigration code.
“The government’s last minute proposals targeting migrants who report law enforcement abuse go in exactly the wrong direction,” said Eva Cossé, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of encouraging victims to come forward, the changes would have a chilling effect and increase existing obstacles for justice.”
On March 19, 2014, Interior Minister Giannis Michelakis introduced an amendment to the draft immigration code providing for the arrest, prosecution, and deportation of migrants who accuse government employees of using violence against them if a prosecutor determines the accusations were false or that there is insufficient evidence to press charges. The controversial amendment was removed twice from the bill last week amid criticism from opposition parties and the government coalition partner, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PA.SO.K.). But the government has indicated it will submit a new version of the amendment this week.
The provision would violate the principle of nondiscrimination by limiting access to justice for migrant victims of law enforcement abuse, Human Rights Watch said. It would also reverse the presumption of innocence at the expense of victims and witnesses of law enforcement abuse, by creating a statutory presumption of the guilt of the person filing the complaint if the prosecutor decides to not press charges against a law enforcement officer.
At the same time, the government removed a provision from the bill that would have given prosecutors the authority to grant humanitarian visas to undocumented victims and witnesses of felonies and other serious crimes, including hate crimes. Human Rights Watch has heard repeatedly from victims of racist violence in Greece that the threat by police of possible detention and deportation deterred them from reporting a racist attack or pursuing the case.
The government should immediately reintroduce the humanitarian clause, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, law enforcement officials should be required to suspend any immigration law actions arising from the undocumented status of a victim or witness of an alleged attack, pending a prima facie assessment by a prosecutor of the merits of the complaint about the attack. These provisions would be consistent with the EU directive on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime.
“It’s in everyone’s interest in Greece to hold anyone responsible for a violent crime accountable – and that should include law enforcement officers,” Cossé said. “The government should encourage reporting, not threaten victims with arrest, detention, and deportation.”