Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 13:06 GMT

Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Greece

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Greece, 24 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fbe393927.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Head of state: Karolos Papoulias
Head of government: Loukas Papademos (replaced George Papandreou in November)
Death penalty status: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 11.4 million
Life expectancy: 79.9 years
Under-5 mortality: 3.4 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 97.2 per cent

Reports continued of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. People detained for immigration purposes were held in inhuman and degrading conditions. European courts concluded that Greece did not operate an effective asylum system. There was an escalation of racially motivated attacks.

Background

The financial crisis continued and the country was driven into deeper recession.

A series of demonstrations took place in June and October ahead of the Parliament voting on a series of austerity measures. In addition, from May until August the Greek movement of "the indignant" staged peaceful sit-ins against the austerity measures in the main squares of Athens and Thessaloniki.

On 26 October, the Eurozone leaders and the International Monetary Fund reached an agreement with banks and other creditors for the latter to take a 50 per cent loss on the face value of their Greek loans. Following the decision of the Prime Minister to step down, and intense negotiations between Greece's major political parties, a transitional coalition government was formed in November.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in immigration detention facilities and police stations, during arrest and/or detention, persisted.

A law was enacted in January to pave the way for a police complaints mechanism. Concerns remained, however, over the office's independence and effectiveness of mandate.

  • In December, the Mixed Jury Court of Athens found a former police officer guilty of torturing two young men on separate occasions with an electric shock device in August 2002 at the Aspropyrgos police station. The Court handed down a six-year prison sentence, suspended on appeal.

  • In December, two police officers were found guilty of causing bodily harm under the torture provision of the Criminal Code to two refugees in Aghios Panteleimon, Athens in December 2004. The officers were also found guilty for causing unprovoked bodily harm to five other Afghans. One officer was sentenced to five years and five months imprisonment and the other, five years. Both sentences were suspended on appeal. Concerns were expressed by NGOs that the Court had converted the original charge of torture in relation to the treatment of the two refugees to the lesser offence of violations against human dignity proscribed under the torture provision.

There was a large a number of allegations of ill-treatment by police during demonstrations.

In April, police withdrew from the town of Keratea where clashes between police and residents protesting against the creation of a landfill site had been ongoing since December 2010. There were reports of excessive use of tear gas and other chemicals by the police, and allegations of ill-treatment of town residents. The authorities also reported a large number of injuries to police officers.

There were mounting allegations of excessive use of force, including the use of chemicals, by police during the anti-austerity demonstrations that took place during the year. On several occasions, the otherwise peaceful demonstrations became violent when a minority of rioters clashed with police. Video footage, pictures, press reports and witness testimonies pointed to the repeated use of excessive force by police in the demonstrations in Athens on 15, 28 and 29 June, including the extensive use of chemicals, against largely peaceful protesters. A criminal investigation was ordered by the Athens Prosecutor's Office into the allegations.

  • On 11 May, riot police reportedly used excessive force and chemicals against a large number of peaceful protesters, in Panepistimiou Street in Athens. More than 30 protesters sought hospital treatment, mainly for head injuries, including two who were seriously injured and required further hospital treatment. A criminal investigation began into the case of Yiannis Kafkas, one of the protesters seriously injured.

  • Manolis Kypraios, a journalist, suffered total loss of hearing after a riot police officer threw a stun grenade in front of him while he was covering the demonstration in Athens on 15 June. A criminal and disciplinary investigation began into his case. At the end of the year, the Athens Prosecutor's Office filed charges against as yet unidentified police officers for intentionally causing the journalist serious bodily harm.

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

Inhuman and degrading detention conditions in immigration detention facilities, particularly in the Evros region, persisted. Asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, including unaccompanied minors, continued to be detained for prolonged periods.

In March, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture took the exceptional step of publicly condemning Greece's continued failure over many years to take measures to improve very poor detention conditions.

  • In January, in a landmark ruling in the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece (see Belgium entry) the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that M.S.S., an Afghan asylum-seeker whom the Belgian authorities had returned to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation, had been denied effective determination of his asylum claim because of major structural deficiencies in the Greek asylum procedure, and concluded that Greece did not have an effective asylum system in place. The Court found that Greece had violated the applicant's right to an effective remedy, and that his detention conditions, and the destitution in which he was left in Greece upon his release, amounted to degrading and inhuman or degrading treatment respectively. In December, in two linked cases arising from the crisis of the Greek asylum system, the Court of Justice of the EU reiterated that asylum-seekers transferred to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation risked grave human rights violations there.

New legislation enacted in January provided for the creation of a new asylum-determination authority with no police involvement. It was due to start operations in 2012. Until then, however, the continued role of the police as the sole authority responsible for the first stage examination of international protection claims gave rise to concern.

The new legislation also provided for the establishment of "first reception centres" where third country nationals, arrested for "irregular entry" into Greece, could be detained for up to 25 days. However, among other things, the legislation failed to provide a remedy for those detained in such centres to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court.

The erection of a fence along over 10km of Greece's border with Turkey in the Evros region, announced in January, gave rise to profound concern that it would physically prevent people seeking international protection from reaching safety.

In September and October, seven asylum-seekers, who had expressed their wish to apply for asylum, were reportedly forcibly returned to Turkey under the Readmission Agreement with Turkey, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.

Concern remained over the long delays experienced by asylum-seekers before being able to lodge an asylum application in Athens and Thessaloniki.

In February, 300 migrants in Athens and Thessaloniki started a hunger strike prompted by their irregular status and demanded to be regularized, among other things. The strike continued for 43 days, with many migrants being hospitalized as a result. It ended after the authorities and the hunger strikers reportedly came to an agreement over, among other things, the provision of temporary six-month residence permits.

Prison conditions

Poor detention conditions and severe overcrowding continued to be reported in many prisons including Chania, Korydallos, and Thiva women's prison.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights found against Greece, regarding an application lodged in 2009 by 47 prisoners held in Ioannina prison (Taggatidis and others v. Greece), and that the conditions there amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Racism

There were reported failures by police officers to protect third country nationals from racially motivated attacks.

In June, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, observed a "dangerous escalation in phenomena of racist violence targeting indiscriminately aliens, based solely on their skin colour or country of origin". In particular, in May and June, after two migrants were suspected in connection with the killing of a man as he prepared to get his wife to the maternity hospital, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were reportedly attacked nearly every day by far-right groups in certain areas of Athens.

  • On 16 September, three Afghan asylum-seekers were subjected to a reportedly racially motivated attack outside their house in the neighbourhood of Aghios Panteleimon in Athens. One of them was hospitalized after being stabbed in the chest. Three individuals were arrested in relation to the attack and were referred for trial.

Discrimination – Roma

The living conditions in many Roma settlements in Greece continued to be a cause of concern. A community of around 800 Roma in the village of Examilia (Korinthia) reportedly lacked access to clean water, drainage and electricity and lived in appalling sanitary conditions.

The NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor reported that Romani children continued to be segregated or excluded in education in various areas of Greece. The European Court of Human Rights communicated to the authorities two applications concerning the continuing educational segregation of Romani children in schools in Aspropyrgos and Sofades, in March and October respectively. In 2008, the Court had already found that Greece had excluded and then segregated Romani children in the Aspropyrgos school. In September, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers decided to close their examination of the execution of the case.

Conscientious objectors

The repeated prosecution of conscientious objectors continued.

In February, a ministerial decision set the length of alternative service at 15 months. However, the length remained effectively punitive for the vast majority of conscripts.

  • In March, the Review Military Court of Athens rejected the appeal of religious conscientious objector Nikolaos Xiarhos against the decision of the Judicial Council of the Pireus Naval Court, which referred him to trial for a second desertion charge. Nikolaos Xiarhos was a professional soldier who became a conscientious objector after his baptism as a Jehovah's Witness.

Human rights defenders

There were concerns about the criminal prosecution and trial in January of human rights defenders on charges of false accusations and aggravated defamation against Kostantinos Plevris, the author of the book Jews – The Whole Truth. The trial was postponed until 2012.

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