Greece must curb hate crime and combat impunity

Report on Greece

Strasbourg 16/04/2013

"Democracy in Greece is seriously threatened by the upsurge of hate crime and a weak state response. Sustained and concerted action, notably by the police and the courts, is necessary to protect the rule of law and human rights in the country" said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, publishing a report based on the findings of his visit to Greece from 28 January to 1 February 2013.

The steep increase in hate crimes in Greece, primarily targeting migrants, is an issue of grave concern. "A number of the attacks have been linked to members or supporters, including parliamentarians, of the neo-Nazi political party "Golden Dawn". Furthermore, rhetoric stigmatising migrants is widely used in Greek politics. The authorities must firmly condemn all instances of hate speech and hate crime and lead by example in public, migration-related debates."

All available means must be used to effectively sanction individuals and organisations which incite or promote intolerance and hate. "Domestic and international anti-racism law has been used inadequately, or not at all, to this end. This is particularly true with regard to hate-crime related activities of political organisations, including parties like "Golden Dawn", on which it is possible to impose effective penalties, and even prohibition if necessary. The authorities must give effect to binding international standards and domestic anti-racism law and accelerate the adoption of the bill concerning racism and xenophobia through criminal law, pending since 2011. Systematic, on-going training for the police, coast guard, prosecutors and judges is also needed."

Commissioner Muižnieks further stresses that it is necessary to urgently address the chronic shortcomings of Greece's justice system concerning in particular excessively lengthy proceedings, lack of an effective remedy and costly court fees. "Human and material resources available to prosecutors and judges should be enhanced. Victims of hate crimes should be exempt from criminal complaint fees and should receive adequate legal aid and assistance."

Another issue of deep concern is the persistent reports of ill-treatment, including torture, committed by law enforcement officials notably against migrants and Roma. "The Greek police's disregard for binding human rights standards has received international criticism. The authorities must eliminate the institutional culture of impunity and address effectively all suspicions of collusion of a part of the police with "Golden Dawn", which have dealt an extremely damaging blow to public confidence not only in the police, but in the Greek state as a whole. An independent, effective police complaints mechanism is long overdue."

The Commissioner recommends that the 70 newly established anti-racist police units be adequately resourced and their staff trained in human rights and anti-discrimination. Moreover, the authorities are called on to expand the mandate of these units in order to include all forms of hate crime.

While welcoming the steps taken by the authorities aimed at rebuilding the national asylum system, the Commissioner urges Greece to remedy certain serious, long-standing gaps which adversely affect the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, and make them easy targets of racist violence. "Greece has to build a humane and efficient asylum system, address scarce reception capacity, the particularly dysfunctional system for lodging asylum applications in the Athens aliens police directorate, and the policy of systematic and prolonged detention of irregular migrants, often in substandard conditions. Law and practice concerning unaccompanied migrant minors also need to be urgently overhauled and substantially reinforced."

The report is also available in Greek.

The Greek authorities' comments on the report are available here (English and Greek).