New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras led his Syriza party to victory in national elections on January 25 with the slogan, “Hope is on its way.” The message was focused on ending austerity measures and renegotiating Greece’s debt, but Tsipras’s choice of ministers and their rights-friendly background gives room also for cautious hope that the new government will tackle long-standing human rights violations in the country.
If Tsipras is really serious about turning a new page on human rights in Greece, here’s a few suggestions of where to start:
Combat Xenophobia: Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos should prioritize reforms to combat alarming levels of xenophobic violence. Greece’s hate crime laws should be strengthened to ensure police and prosecutors investigate bias in crimes against certain groups or individuals, including when it may be one of many motives, and require courts to consider evidence of any bias. The government should also encourage reporting of crimes by giving prosecutors legal authority to grant humanitarian residence permits to undocumented victims and witnesses of hate crime. Undocumented immigrants we interviewed have repeatedly expressed that fear of detention and deportation prevented them from reporting racist violence to police.
Rein in Police: New Citizen Protection Alternate Minister Giannis Panousis should put an end to abusive police sweep operations against groups perceived as unpopular, including migrants, drug users, and the homeless, in the center of Athens. Working with the justice minister, Panousis should propose legislative reform to limit overly broad police stop and search powers, and ensure that police stops are conducted in accordance with national and international law prohibiting discrimination, ill-treatment, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty. More generally, the government needs to address law enforcement abuse by improving human rights training, establishing an independent complaints mechanism, and ensuring accountability.
Stop Abuse of Migrants: Tasia Christodoulopoulou, alternate minister for migration policy, will have the challenge of defining a comprehensive, rights-respecting migration and asylum strategy. She should first move to remedy serious human rights violations in this area: abolish immigration detention beyond the 18 months permitted by EU law, end immigration detention of children, and improve abysmal detention conditions. The new government must put an end to the illegal practice of pushbacks at its borders.
Lacking an absolute majority in parliament, Tsipras has formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks (Anel), a right-wing populist party. Though in sync with Syriza on macroeconomic issues, Anel may otherwise prove a difficult partner, including on issues related to human rights.
Given this tricky coalition, it remains to be seen if hope for human rights reform is on its way too.