Tilbage Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on Greece

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its eleventh visit to Greece, which took place in April 2013, together with the response of the Greek authorities.

The visit took place two years after the CPT had issued a public statement in which it had expressed serious concerns regarding the lack of effective action to tackle systemic deficiencies concerning the conditions of detention of irregular migrants and the situation in the prisons. Regrettably, the findings of the 2013 visit demonstrate clearly that the situation has not improved. Further, the problem of ill-treatment by the police appears to be growing and there is little evidence that allegations of ill-treatment are investigated promptly and thoroughly, leading to some police officers believing they can act with impunity.

In the course of the 2013 visit, the CPT’s delegation visited 25 police and border stations as well as eight immigration and coast guard detention facilities, where it examined the treatment and conditions of detention of irregular migrants detained under Aliens legislation. Attention was also paid to the treatment of persons apprehended by the police. Further, the delegation examined the situation in seven prison establishments, including the provision of health care and the programme of activities offered to inmates. 


Summary of the visit report and response

The report describes the totally unacceptable conditions in which irregular migrants are held in police establishments all over the country for prolonged periods. For example, in one station, two or more women were held for months in a dark, mouldy and dilapidated basement cell of a mere 5m² with no access to outdoor exercise or hygiene products. The CPT called upon the Greek authorities to take urgent steps to transfer detained irregular migrants to specially designed centres and to no longer hold them in police stations. The conditions of detention at the Port Authority of Igoumenitsa are also criticised.
As regards pre-departure centres, the CPT recognises them as a step in the right direction towards creating an immigration detention estate but it is critical of the security approach within these centres which treats detainees in many respects as criminal suspects. The report recommends that in addition to improving the conditions in these centres much more be done to provide a programme of activities given that many of these persons spend up to 18 months in these centres.
The CPT is particularly critical of the treatment of unaccompanied minors. The reports states that the Amygadelza facility in Athens for unaccompanied minors was run like a police detention facility offering neither appropriate material conditions nor a supporting environment. It recommends that it no longer be used for the detention of minors. More generally, the report states that the interests of unaccompanied minors should be better protected.
As regards prison establishments, the report notes that the measures taken to tackle overcrowding have not had a lasting effect. The report notes the cramped conditions of detention in the prisons visited as most of them were operating at between 200 and 300% of their capacity; in some establishments, prisoners had to share beds or sleep on mattresses on the floor. Further, there was a serious lack of hygiene in all the prisons visited. The report also highlights the lack of health-care staff in prisons and the makes several recommendations to improve medical confidentiality, medical screening upon admission and drug treatment in prisons.
The report cites the lack of staff in the prisons as impeding efforts to maintain effective control, as stronger groups of prisoners exercise their powers unchecked over other inmates. For example, at Korydallos Men’s Prison, a wing of some 400 inmates was staffed by only two prison officers during the day. The insufficient numbers of prison officers made it nearly impossible to provide appropriate activities for prisoners in any of the establishments visited. Overcrowding and lack of staff were primary reasons permitting the bullying and intimidation of juveniles at the Avlona Special Detention Facility to continue unchecked. The report notes that the CPT’s delegation had requested at the end of the visit that the juveniles be transferred to a safe environment, which the Greek authorities had subsequently arranged.
The report states that a great number of detailed coherent and consistent allegations of physical ill-treatment of persons by police officers were received. The allegations concerned mainly kicks, slaps, punches and blows with batons and other objects upon or after apprehension. Several cases are cited in the report. Further, the CPT notes the flaws in the current system of investigations into allegations of ill-treatment notably as regards the lack of promptness and thoroughness in carrying out investigations. It recommends that the mandate of the Office on Arbitrary Incidents be reviewed in order to ensure its independence and to strengthen its investigative and oversight capabilities. Recommendations are also made regarding the recruitment and training of police officers and on improving the application of safeguards against ill-treatment such as access to a lawyer, access to a doctor and improving the conduct of interrogations.
In their response to the report, the Greek authorities provide information on the measures taken to implement the CPT’s recommendations. The response reiterates that police stations are only for short stays and that all necessary measures are being taken to provide conditions in accordance with Greece’s obligations. Updated information is also provided on the development of the Action Plan on Asylum and Migration Management and the steps taken to improve conditions in the pre-departure centres. As regards the Amygdaleza facility for unaccompanied minors, the response states that efforts are being made to improve the material conditions and to provide constructive activities and better support mechanisms for minors.
In respect of prisons, the response provides information on the action being taken to address overcrowding through increasing the capacity in the prison estate and through early release measures, for which all prisoners including foreign nationals are eligible, as well as the introduction of house arrest and expanding community service. The Greek authorities reject the CPT findings that the prisons are understaffed and that staff are not in a position to maintain effective control. On the other hand, they accept the shortcomings in the provision of health-care in prisons and hope that new legislative acts providing for agreements with the National Health System should lead to improvements.
As regards allegations of ill-treatment by police officers, the response refers to the strict criteria in place for the recruitment of officers and refers to the training provided. It also states that the investigations into the cases raised by the CPT are ongoing. Information is provided on the various measures being taken to address racist or xenophobic violence and on the safeguards surrounding the detention of all persons apprehended by the police.
The visit report and the response have been made public at the request of the Greek authorities and are available on the CPT’s website: www.cpt.coe.int.

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