U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Greece
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||6 March 2007|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Greece , 6 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f0568c1a.html [accessed 1 August 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007
Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy, with an estimated population of 11 million. In March 2004 the New Democracy Party won the majority of seats in the unicameral Vouli (parliament) in free and fair elections, and Konstantinos Karamanlis became the prime minister. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in several areas. The following human rights abuses were reported: abuse by security forces, particularly of illegal immigrants and Roma; overcrowding and harsh conditions in some prisons; detention of undocumented migrants in squalid conditions; limits on the ability of ethnic minorities to self-identify; restrictions on freedom of speech; restrictions and administrative obstacles faced by members of non-Orthodox religions; detention and deportation of unaccompanied or separated immigrant minors, including asylum seekers; domestic violence against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and Roma; substandard living conditions for Roma; inadequate access to schools for Romani children; and child exploitation in nontraditional labor.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed any politically motivated killings; however, in September there were reports that coast guard authorities threw detained illegal migrants overboard and six of them drowned. After an investigation, authorities denied the reports.
By year's end authorities had taken no action in the 2004 killing of an Albanian immigrant beaten to death by a person whom witnesses identified as a policeman.
In March police officer George Dimitrakakis, charged with the 2003 murder of a person who failed to stop at a routine automobile checkpoint in Crete, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two police guards also associated with this case were acquitted of murder charges but received two-year sentences with a three-year suspension for violating the law pertaining to law enforcement officers' use of arms.
In June a border policeman identified in the Greek press as Pavlos Papageorgiadis was convicted of a felony – reckless homicide – in the September 2003 shooting and killing of an Albanian trying to cross illegally into the country. He received a suspended prison sentence of two years and three months.
During the year two migrants were killed in minefields along the border with Turkey. Sixty-eight persons have died over the previous 15 years in the Evros minefields.
The appeals process remained ongoing for 15 members of the 17 November terrorist organization, who were found guilty and sentenced in 2003 for more than 2,500 crimes, including homicide.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; however, security forces abused a few persons, particularly immigrants and Roma (see section 5).
International organizations and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) repeatedly alleged that illegal immigrants and refugees were subjected to violence by border guards and coast guard officers when caught entering the country illegally (see section 1.a.). Violence also occurred as coast guard officials tried to prevent illegal immigrants from leaving the country en route to other European Union (EU) countries.
The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported in December that the rights of persons in police detention centers were not respected in practice and that there continued to be widespread use of violence against persons deprived of their liberty. The CPT delegation doctors found that persons who had alleged ill-treatment during interrogation or while in border guard stations were found to have injuries consistent with their allegations.
NGOs expressed continuing concern over the mistreatment of individuals during arrest and detention and for the failure of judicial and administrative systems to deal promptly and effectively with cases of police misconduct (see section 1.d.).
By year's end no results had been released concerning the investigation of a case of two civilians who alleged in 2004 that police beat them in Pyrgos, Peloponnese, during a routine identity check. Similarly, no results had been announced regarding allegations that three armed forces officers abused and beat 10 illegal immigrants on an islet in the Aegean Sea in 2004.
By year's end no date had been set for the trial of two police officers charged with subjecting a group of Afghan asylum seekers in 2004 to interrogation techniques that allegedly included torture.
In a letter to the Ministry of Public Order made public in January 2005, the deputy ombudsman for human rights noted numerous procedural and substantive shortcomings in the investigation concerning the alleged police torture in 2002 of Nigerian citizen Joseph Okeke and the alleged 2002 beating and torture of Yannis Papacostas in a police station near Athens. The deputy ombudsman called for police to re-evaluate their report on Okeke on the basis that the procedure suffered from gross errors concerning the evaluation and appraisal of the available evidence. At year's end an application based on this case was pending with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) alleging violation of the article in the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In December 2005 the ECHR ordered the government to pay a fine of $13,100 (10,000 euros) to each of two Romani men for inhuman and degrading treatment by police in Mesolonghi in 1998; the government paid the fine during the year.
In December 2004 the ECHR ordered the government to pay a fine of $19,650 (15,000 euros) for failing to carry out an effective investigation of a 1995 shooting incident in which police officers seriously injured an unarmed person; the government reportedly paid the fine during the year.
Police were more likely to abuse Roma than other minority groups. Immigrants, including Albanians, also accused police of abuse (see section 5).
Police beat a protester during the year (see section 2.b.).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh due to continued overcrowding and outdated facilities; however, in December the government appointed a former prosecutor as an Inspector for Prisons and opened one new prison facility. As of September the Ministry of Justice reported that the total prison population was 10,114, while the official capacity of the prison system was 6,019.
Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in the high security Korydallos Prison in central Piraeus. In March three inmates (two Romanians and one Greek) were burned to death and another was seriously injured after setting a fire in their cell at Korydallos. In April inmates in the old section of the Trikala prison, where 350 inmates were housed in a building intended for 125, organized a riot to protest the prison's overcrowding. Since the riot, a new wing has opened at the Trikala prison and the old wing was renovated. Trikala's overall capacity was increased to 400 in the enlarged facility and there were approximately that number incarcerated there at year's end. In August a facility in Chania, Crete, designed for 10 inmates was holding 130, and another in Thessaloniki, built for 80 inmates, was holding 181. The Thessaloniki Bar Association reported that inmates in local police detention facilities did not have access to a yard or basic sanitary items, and they were poorly nourished.
In an August-September 2005 visit, the CPT examined the treatment of persons detained by law enforcement authorities, focusing in particular on detention facilities for illegal immigrants in the eastern Aegean and Thrace. The delegation visited prisons, police detention centers, police stations, holding facilities for illegal immigrants, and psychiatric hospitals. The CPT released its report in December which found that most detention centers for illegal immigrants it visited were in a poor state of repair, unhygienic, and lacking in basic amenities. The CPT noted that prisons remained largely overcrowded and that inter-prison violence appeared to be on the rise. The CPT reported that conditions of detention in police establishments generally were unsatisfactory, and in certain cases amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. The CPT found that facilities designed for holding suspects for short periods were used for holding persons for prolonged periods.
The CPT recommended measures to stamp out ill-treatment by law enforcement officials that included investigating allegations of ill-treatment thoroughly and, where appropriate, imposing disciplinary and criminal sanctions. The committee also recommended the establishment of an independent police inspectorate and rigorous recruitment and training programs for the police.
The CPT also found that detention establishments of the Coast Guard on the islands of Chios and Mytilini were unacceptable, because metal containers lacking functioning hygienic facilities and natural light and ventilation were used to hold irregular immigrants. The CPT recommended that containers should never be used to hold persons for more than a few hours and should always be equipped with suitable facilities and ventilation.
In November-December 2005, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights examined the treatment of persons detained by law enforcement authorities, focusing on detention facilities for illegal immigrants in Attica. The delegation visited police detention centers, holding facilities for illegal immigrants, and Romani camps. The commissioner noted that overcrowding in prisons had increased. The deputy ombudsman for human rights described conditions in the detention centers as "an insult to human dignity." During a separate mission, in December 2005, the commissioner noted that the situation had not improved. Although the Attica police station was no longer used as a holding center due to its poor conditions, the replacement, a newly constructed facility at Petrou-Ralli designed as a short-term detention and transit facility, was only marginally better. The Council of Europe commissioner and the CPT found that the new facility, used to detain foreigners awaiting deportation, was unsuitable for stays over two days. In practice foreigners were confined for three months in cells that contained up to eight persons with only bunks for furniture, very limited access to showers, and only brief exercise possibilities. The CPT noted that the design of the facility was extremely poor, that it was suffering from a total lack of communal spaces, and characterized it as a missed opportunity for authorities to construct an appropriately designed center for administrative detention of aliens.
In its 2006 annual report, Amnesty International (AI) and the CPT stated that detention conditions for aliens, including asylum seekers, irregular migrants, and unaccompanied minors, in some cases "may have amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," and that overcrowding remained a serious problem (see section 2.d.).
At the Hellenikon holding center for irregular immigrants a man has been detained for almost one and a half years without being able to communicate with anyone; he appeared to have developed symptoms of mental illness. The CPT delegation reported that this man had been placed in a cage-like cell for several months.
In April 120 alien detainees in the main Thessaloniki detention center protested overcrowding conditions and lack of access to proper sanitation in the facility.
Disciplinary actions were initiated in late September 2005 against two police officers who disturbed four jailed Muslims during prayer at the police detention center in Aspropyrgos.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reiterated observations about overcrowding and poor conditions in detention centers during the year.
The CPT reported that conditions in Peplos (Thrace) and the island of Mytilini (Aegean) detention centers were unacceptable, and found multiple shortcomings at the Chios Judicial prison.
There were reports that juveniles seeking asylum were held with adults.
The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights reported that local and international independent human rights observers were not consistently permitted access to prisons, police detention centers, or detention centers for illegal immigrants. The commissioner recommended the authorities increase and improve cooperation with NGOs, permitting regular access to all facilities where foreigners were detained. International human rights observers reported fewer problems receiving permission for visits than did local human rights groups, and the International Committee of the Red Cross had a regular program for prison visits. There was insufficient access to detention centers for independent organizations wanting to screen for victims of trafficking in persons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. However, police conducted large-scale sweeps and temporarily detained large numbers of foreigners, often under crowded and squalid conditions, while determining their residence status.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The police are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country and are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Order. The coast guard is responsible for law enforcement in territorial waters and is under the authority of the Ministry of Mercantile Marine. While the country's law enforcement agencies were generally effective, police did not adequately deal with self-styled "anti-imperialist" anarchists, who used crude gas canister bombs and Molotov cocktails to attack property, government offices, targets representing "Western interests," and the police, particularly in central Athens.
Police corruption continued to be a problem. While a police anticorruption unit in the Ministry of Public Order's Bureau of Internal Affairs investigated alleged abuses, human rights and antitrafficking groups asserted that anticorruption efforts needed to be given higher priority. The ombudsman for human rights and NGOs noted that the Bureau of Internal Affairs' investigations determined culpability in very few cases and that the penalties handed down were disproportionately lenient. The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights reported that few cases against law enforcement personnel were brought before the courts and that there was leniency in the courts when addressing cases involving law enforcement personnel. The commissioner noted that the widely reported failure of authorities to examine cases of ill treatment by law enforcement personnel remained of particular concern and the mechanisms in place to address anticorruption and law enforcement abuse claims needed to be reviewed.
During the year the Bureau of Internal Affairs took several disciplinary measures, including dismissal and suspension, against officers involved in corruption, primarily for forging documents and taking bribes. Most charges against police involved violation of duty, false certificates, abuse of power, corruption, violations with arms and explosives, illegal release of persons in police custody, procuring, and violations related to alien registration.
As of December the trial of the Charilaou precinct commander on charges of blackmail, fraud, and illegal possession on firearms was pending.
In April a police officer identified in published reports as Nikos Kanellopoulos was convicted and given a three-year suspended sentence for mistreating a Roma in August 2001.
The Ministry of Public Order conducted regular training to address a variety of problems, including corruption and police abuses. The ministry also issued a new code of conduct, new booklets, and other material to police officers to promote reform.
Arrest and Detention
The law requires judicial warrants for arrests except when they are made during the commission of a crime, and it prohibits arbitrary arrest orders. Authorities generally respected these provisions in practice. Police must bring persons who are detained or arrested before an examining magistrate within 24 hours. The magistrate must issue a detention warrant or order their release within three days unless special circumstances justify a two-day extension of this limit. Bail is available for defendants detained or arrested on felony charges, unless the judicial officer determines that such incentives would not adequately assure the defendant's appearance at trial or that the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Under the law persons in detention had the right to inform a close relative or another third party, to have access to a lawyer and to have access to a doctor; however, the CPT found that the government did not respect these rights in practice. The CPT heard a number of claims that access to a lawyer had been delayed for periods up to three days, and that in most of these cases the persons detained, mostly foreigners, alleged that they were ill-treated during arrest and interrogation. The CPT received a number of complaints from irregular immigrants in detention that the information sheets with explanations of their rights that they received were only in the Greek language and that they were either coerced physically or threatened with ill-treatment in order to ensure the slips were signed (in Greek).
Defendants have the right to legal counsel. In felony cases the bar association provides lawyers to defendants who prove they cannot afford legal counsel.
Defendants brought to court on the day following the alleged commission of a misdemeanor may be tried immediately under expedited procedures. Although legal safeguards, including representation by counsel, apply in expedited procedure cases, the short time period limited defendants' ability to present an adequate defense. Defendants may request a delay to prepare a defense, but the court is not obliged to grant the request. Expedited procedures were used in less than 10 percent of applicable cases.
There continued to be reports that police took citizens to detention centers for arbitrary identity checks, used insulting language and threats of force, and conducted bodily searches in public. Police reportedly targeted persons based on their race, color, nationality, or their presence in "high-crime" areas (see section 5).
In December 2005 the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court opened investigations into allegations made by 28 Pakistanis resident in the country that they were abducted in July 2005, hooded, held for up to seven days in a secret location, and interrogated by persons who claimed to be police officers. One of the claimants also alleged that he was beaten. The minister of public order reported that up to 5,000 foreign national residents were legally questioned in the aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings but that no such abuses took place. In May the prosecutor filed abduction charges against unidentified suspects after completing a four-month investigation and established that at least 14 Pakistanis were abducted.
While members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses reported having difficulties with harassment and police detention due to antiproselytizing laws, they noted a marked improvement during the year (see section 2.c.).
The law allows pretrial detention for up to 18 months for felonies and nine months for misdemeanors. Defense lawyers asserted that pretrial detention was excessively long and overused by judges. A panel of judges may release detainees pending trial, with or without bail. Pretrial detainees made up approximately 30 percent of those incarcerated and contributed to overcrowding, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Justice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice. Observers reported that the judiciary is subject to influence. On several occasions in the last three years, the ECHR has penalized the government for the unreasonably long lengths of trials and found the Greek court system to be inefficient. During the year a number of judges were under investigation or had been dismissed on corruption-related charges (see section 3). The judiciary acted more leniently toward those claiming a political motivation for their acts of property destruction (so-called anarchists) than it did for those who claimed no political motivation (such as hooligans). For example, anarchists were given suspended prison sentences in lieu of prison time or punitive fines.
The judicial system consists of three levels of civil courts (first instance, appeals, and supreme), three levels of criminal courts (first instance, divided into misdemeanor and felony divisions; appeals; and supreme), appointed judges, and an examining magistrate system, with trials by judicial panels.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are public in most instances, and juries are used in all first and second-degree felony cases. An antiterror statute permits denial of the right to a jury trial in cases of violent terrorism. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. An attorney is provided at public expense if indigent defendants face serious criminal charges. Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal. Defendants who do not speak Greek have the right to a court-appointed interpreter. According to several immigrant associations in Athens, the low fees paid for such work often resulted in poor interpretation. Foreign defendants who used these interpreters frequently complained that they did not understand the proceedings at their trials. Defendants often were not advised of their rights during arrest in a language that they could understand. Several complained that they were not shown the Hellenic Police Informational Bulletin, which contains prisoners' rights in a variety of languages, and that they were forced to sign blank documents later used for their deportation.
The government recognizes Shari'a (the Muslim religious law) as the law regulating family and civic issues of the Muslim minority in Thrace (see section 5).
In March the ECHR ordered the government to pay $11,259 (9,000 euros) to an applicant who had been subjected to a criminal proceeding that lasted an "undue length of time." The ECHR court ruled that a proceeding of six years and eight months was excessive and did not comply with the reasonable time requirement of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government paid the fine during the year.
In May 2005 the ECHR ordered the government to pay $18,000 (15,000 euros) for nonpecuniary damages to an applicant for the undue length of a criminal proceeding; the government paid the fine during the year.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is a generally independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. There are no administrative remedies available beyond the judicial remedies for alleged wrongs.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits the invasion of privacy and searches without warrants, and permits the monitoring of personal communications only under strict judicial controls; however, these provisions were not always respected in practice.
Police and prosecutors regularly conducted raids and searches of Romani neighborhoods, frequently entering Roma homes without authorization in search of criminal suspects, drugs, and weapons. Local authorities threatened to evict, and evicted, Roma from camps and tent dwellings during the year (see section 5).
Unlike in the previous year, Turcophone and Slavophone activists did not complain of police surveillance.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice; however, legal restrictions on free speech remained in force. The law prohibits exposing to danger of disturbance the friendly relations of the state with foreign states, spreading false information and rumors liable to create concern and fear among citizens and cause disturbances in the country's international relations, and inciting citizens to rivalry and division leading to disturbing the peace or acts of violence. However, these prohibitions were very rarely invoked. In most criminal defamation cases, defendants were released on bail pending appeal without serving time in jail.
By year's end the results had not been made public of an inquiry by the Mercantile Marine Ministry into 2004 allegations by two foreign journalists that members of the coast guard arrested and beat them when they attempted to film a restricted security area during the Olympic Games.
There were numerous independent newspapers and magazines in circulation. Throughout the year, and consistent with past years, satirical and opposition newspapers routinely criticized state authorities. Members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups were generally able to publish materials freely, including in their native languages.
The law provides that the government exercise "immediate control" over radio and television and establishes ownership limits on media frequencies. The Ministry of Press and Mass Media has authority over radio and television licensing, while the National Radio and Television Council (ESR) maintains an advisory role.
Independent radio and television stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little government restriction. State-operated stations tended to emphasize the government's views but also reported objectively on other parties' programs and positions. Turkish-language television programs were widely available via satellite in Thrace.
The law allows for seizure, by order of the public prosecutor, of publications that insult the president, offend Christianity "or any other known religion," contain obscene articles, advocate violent overthrow of the political system, or disclose military and defense information. There were no such seizures during the year.
In February a court in Patras convicted and sentenced a journalist and a cameraman to eight months imprisonment and a fine of $37,530 (30,000 euros) each for conducting an interview with an Albanian migrant who was arraigned for allegedly driving drunk in a stolen car. The conviction was based upon a law that prohibits photographing or filming individuals while they are pending trial; however, the Albanian individual requested the interview in order to denounce a racial attack that occurred while he was being arrested. The Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) alleged that this was the first invocation of the law, despite the fact that newspapers and television stations routinely violated it.
In February 2005 police arrested an Internet artist on charges of Internet fraud for creating a satirical web site entitled "Dirty Works in Greece." The site described corruption in the civil service hiring process. Police confiscated his computer, notes, and other materials. The artist was released on bail after three days. There were no further developments in the case during the year.
Unlike in the previous year, no newspapers censored articles regarding the Slavophone dialect.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Internet use was widely available throughout the country.
Individuals and groups could generally engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. However, in June Athens police arrested a search engine blog administrator and confiscated his computer hard drive. He was charged with libel and defamation based upon comments that appeared in one of the blogs under his administration. The comments allegedly used the word "stupid" to describe a nationalistic television religious evangelizer who claimed that all things on earth come from Greece and from ancient Greeks. The administrator, however, was not the author of the comments. He was released on bail and then suspended the operation of the blog. A lawsuit was filed against him, and his trial was still pending at year's end.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
In November police severely beat a 24-year-old Cypriot student during a student protest commemorating the 1973 student uprising against the military junta. The incident was caught by television cameras and caused a public outcry. The government condemned the incident, apologized for it, and ordered a judicial investigation, the results of which had not been announced by year's end. The Ministry of Public Order suspended two police officers and ordered the transfer of a police director and three low ranking officers.
A human rights activist was held at a police station for four hours in October 2005 and was told that he was under arrest after having participated in demonstrations against the expulsion of Romani children from their school. A parent lodged a complaint against him for libel and defamation, but at year's end the case was still pending, and no trial date had been set.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association; however, the courts continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations involving certain ethnic minorities.
In February 2005 the Supreme Court announced its rejection of the appeal of the Turkish Union of Xanthi, upholding the 1983 lower court decision to dissolve the association because it used the adjective "Turkish" in its title. The same court rejected the application for registration of the Rodopi Turkish Women's Cultural Association for the same reason. The Supreme Court ruling ended a 20-year legal struggle for recognition by the Turkish Union, which had normal legal status from 1927 to 1983. The Turkish Union of Xanthi and the Rodopi Cultural Association applied to the ECHR for redress, but by year's end, no decision had been reached.
In October the Home of Macedonian Culture (Stegi Makedonikou Politismou) filed an appeal to a previous decision denying to the organization legal status; however, the appeals court in Florina rejected the appeal in September. Having exhausted all state avenues of redress, the only avenue left for the group is to file an appeal with the ECHR.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion; however, non-Orthodox groups at times faced administrative obstacles or legal restrictions on religious practices.
The law establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ (Greek Orthodoxy) as the "prevailing" religion. The Greek Orthodox Church continued to exercise significant political and economic influence. The government financially supported the Greek Orthodox Church and also paid the salaries and some expenses of the two official Muslim religious leaders in Thrace. Jewish leaders requested that the government pay rabbis' salaries, given its practice of paying Orthodox priests' and Muslim muftis' salaries; the government had not responded to this request by year's end.
The government, by virtue of the status of the Greek Orthodox Church as the prevailing religion, recognizes de facto its canon law. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions. Orthodox Church officials refused to enter into dialogue with religious groups that they considered harmful to Orthodox worshippers, and they instructed their members to shun followers of these faiths. In June an Orthodox Bishop in the Dodecanese group of islands reportedly harassed and verbally abused an Old-Calendar bishop (a separate sect of Orthodoxy) who was conducting a liturgy in a private church on Kalymnos island.
Several religious denominations reported difficulties dealing with authorities on a variety of administrative matters, including gaining recognition as a "known religion," opening new houses of worship, and moving a house of worship from one location to another.
Only Greek Orthodoxy, Islam, and Judaism are recognized as "known religions." No formal mechanism exists to gain recognition as a "known religion." Recognition is granted indirectly by applying for and receiving a "house of prayer" permit from the Ministry of Education and Religion. In July the government repealed a law that allowed the ministry to base its decisions on the issuance of house of prayer permits on the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop. New religions had problems obtaining these permits.
According to Ministry of Education and Religion officials, applications for additional places of worship were numerous and were approved routinely once a recognized religion received a permit; however, members of the Church of Scientology have not been able to register or build a house of prayer. A group that follows the ancient polytheistic Hellenic tradition applied twice in the last three years for a house of prayer permit, but by year's end the group had not received an official response to its applications. The Jehovah's Witnesses have several pending house-of-prayer permit requests, but they have not taken the cases to the ombudsman because they received a verbal commitment from the Ministry of Education and Religion that it would approve their applications. In addition non-Orthodox religious groups must provide separate and lengthy applications to authorities on such matters as gaining permission to move an official house of prayer to a larger facility.
In 2004 a former Greek Orthodox priest who became a priest of the Macedonian Orthodox Church was issued a three-month prison sentence, later suspended, for holding religious services without a house of prayer permit. The priest's sentence could not be appealed in the country and for this reason he intended to appeal to the ECHR.
Although parliament approved a bill in 2000 allowing construction of the first Islamic cultural center and mosque in the Attica area, no construction had started by year's end. In October the government passed legislation providing for the establishment of a mosque in central Athens, as opposed to the initial site chosen in an outlying suburb in Attica. In the meantime, Muslims in Athens continued congregating in dozens of unofficial prayer rooms and were forced to travel to Thrace for official weddings and funerals because there were no official Muslim clerics outside of Thrace.
Muslims are accorded the status of an official minority in Thrace, and the government selects two official Muslim religious leaders, or muftis, there. While part of the community accepted the two officially appointed muftis, some Muslims "elected" two different muftis. In the past, the courts repeatedly convicted one "elected" mufti for usurping the authority of the official mufti; however, his sentences remained suspended. The "elected" mufti appealed to the ECHR which found in July the government had violated his right of freedom of religion (article 9 of the European Human Rights Convention on freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and ordered the government to pay $3,930 (3,000 euros) in court costs. The government paid the fine during the year.
Non-Orthodox citizens claimed that they faced career limits in the military, police, fire-fighting forces, and civil service due to their religion.
The law specifically prohibits proselytizing and stipulates that religious rites must not disturb public order or offend moral principles. Police conducted arbitrary identity checks and arrested and detained Mormons and members of Jehovah's Witnesses, usually after witnessing or receiving complaints that they were engaged in proselytizing. In most cases, police held persons for several hours and then released them without filing charges. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses arrested and held by the police reported that police did not allow them to call their lawyers and verbally abused them for their religious beliefs. However, the proselytizers reported a marked improvement during the year due to increased training and instruction given to police officers.
Legislation providing for religious worker visas was passed in 2005, remedying the difficulty reported in the past by some religious denominations in renewing the visas of non-EU citizen religious officials.
Religious instruction is mandatory for all Greek Orthodox students in primary and secondary schools, but not for non-Orthodox students. Some government-approved religious textbooks made derogatory statements about non-Greek Orthodox faiths. Since schools did not supervise non-Orthodox children while Greek Orthodox children were taking religious instruction, non-Orthodox parents complained that they were effectively forced to have their children attend Greek Orthodox classes. In Thrace the government subsidized public schools for the Muslim minority and two Koranic schools. Turcophone activists criticized the quality of instruction at the minority schools and the state-sponsored Pedagogical Academy that trains teachers. In September the government began a pilot program of teaching Turkish as a foreign language in five public high schools in Thrace. Turkish teachers expressed reservations about the program and ultimately refused to teach Turkish in these public high schools.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Members of non-Orthodox faiths reported incidents of societal discrimination, such as local Greek Orthodox bishops warning parishioners not to visit clergy or members of these faiths and requesting that police arrest missionaries for proselytizing. Some non-Orthodox religious communities encountered difficulty in communicating with officials of the Orthodox Church and claimed that the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward their faiths has increased societal intolerance toward their religions. However, with the exception of the growing Muslim population, most members of non-Orthodox faiths considered themselves satisfactorily integrated into society.
The Orthodox Church maintained on its Web site a list of religious groups – including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, evangelical Protestants, Scientologists, Baha'is, and others – and practices that it considers sacrilegious.
The Jewish community has approximately 5,000 members. Anti-Semitism continued to exist, particularly in the extremist press. The mainstream press and public often did not clearly distinguish between criticism of Israel and comments about Jews. In 2004 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and GHM criticized the press for carrying anti-Semitic stories and cartoons on several occasions. For example, on August 16, Eleftherotypia, the second largest daily newspaper, published a cartoon depicting an Israeli soldier praying with a rifle that was firing swastikas. Candidates for the political party LAOS, the fifth largest party, have made anti-Semitic statements during the campaign for municipal offices in the Fall. The party's weekly paper A1 published strongly anti-Semitic articles accusing the Israelis of genocide against the Lebanese people. A July editorial stated that if "the Jews continue this way, they will beat Hitler's number of victims." Anti-Semitic references as well as comparisons with the Holocaust were common in the press during the July-August conflict involving Israel and Lebanon, while some major media promoted the image of Israel as the "Nazi-state." On the other hand, Hezbollah fighters were often seen as "freedom fighters" and "resistance groups."
Vandalism of Jewish monuments decreased, although the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki was vandalized during an antiwar demonstration in August; the government condemned the vandalism. As of December, police had not found the perpetrators of the 2004 desecration of Holocaust memorials in Komotini in Thrace. Several times throughout the year extreme right-wing groups painted anti-Semitic graffiti along with their symbols and organization names at multiple locations, including the busy Athens-Corinth and Athens-Tripoli highways, and other public structures. In February the prosecutor filed a lawsuit against "Golden Dawn" for defacing public property and painting anti-Semitic graffiti during the course of the last several years.
In April the Central Board of the Jewish Communities of Greece continued to protest the Easter tradition of burning a life-size effigy of Judas, sometimes referred to as the "burning of the Jew," which they maintained propagated hatred and fanaticism against Jews. One Greek Orthodox bishop, a local NGO, and the Wiesenthal Center expressed formal written objections to this tradition. The Jewish Community also protested anti-Semitic passages in the Holy Week liturgy and it reported that it maintained a dialogue with the Orthodox Church about the removal of these passages.
Some schoolbooks carried negative references to Roman Catholics, Jewish persons, members of Jehovah's Witnesses, and others.
Negotiations continued between the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and the government to find acceptable restitution for the community's cemetery, expropriated after its destruction during the Holocaust. Aristotle University, a public institution, was built on top of the expropriated cemetery.
Jewish community leaders condemned anti-Semitic broadcasts on small private television stations, but authorities did not bring charges against these largely unlicensed operators.
The government co-sponsored commemorative events in Athens and Thessaloniki in January for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This was followed two weeks later by the visit of Israel's President Moshe Katsav, the first official visit of an Israeli head of state. The Ministry of Education distributed materials to schools on the history of the Holocaust to be read in all schools on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and teacher-training seminars on the Holocaust were held.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for free movement or residence in the country as well as free entry and exit of citizens and noncitizens. The government generally respected these rights in practice.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.
The law permits the government to remove citizenship from persons who commit acts contrary to the interests of the country for the benefit of a foreign state. While the law applies to citizens regardless of ethnicity, it has been enforced in all but one case against persons who identified themselves as ethnic "Macedonians." The government did not reveal the number of such cases, but it was reported to be low, and there were no reports of new cases during the year. There were reports that citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the Republic of Macedonia were prevented from entering the country because their names appeared on a blacklist of people who had taken an anti-Greek political position on the Macedonia issue.
The Ministry of Interior reported to parliament in May 2005 that 46,638 Muslims from Thrace and the Dodecanese islands lost their citizenship when they left the country between 1955 and 1998. The law that permitted this divestment of citizenship was repealed in 1998, and the "stateless" residents are eligible to recover their citizenship as long as they live in Greece. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by December 2005 there were 64 persons in possession of government-issued identification documents characterizing them as "stateless." By December the ministry reported that approximately 55 applications were pending for citizenship through naturalization by these residents. In March the ombudsman for human rights noted that delay in processing applications for recovering citizenship was "excessive and unjustified." According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior has made no decisions on the applications. Stateless persons continued to be denied access to state benefits such as social security, medical care, and pensions.
Due to serious bureaucratic problems in the legalization process for immigrants, many aliens were in a semilegal status (have expired permits but have filed for renewal or are entitled to renewal, but a renewal stamp had not yet been placed in their passports). Many of these were subject to deportation without legal process following police sweeps. In August 2005 a new immigration law was passed providing for legalization of undocumented migrants who can prove by a visa stamp or possession of a tax roll number that they entered the country before December 31, 2004. Immigrants and human rights organizations complained that out of an estimated population of 450,000 undocumented immigrants, only 180,000 immigrants had successfully legalized under the new law because many immigrants did not meet the qualification of legal entry into the country or due to stringent application requirements.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. However, the government largely has not implemented a 1999 presidential decree that brought the law into compliance with the standards of the UNHCR with regard to asylum procedures. In practice the government provided some protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. Although the UNHCR observed an attempt by the government for a more realistic and humanitarian approach to refugees during the year, they, together with the Greek Council for Refugees, the ombudsman for human rights, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, AI, and the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, expressed concern that very few applicants were granted asylum and that new arrivals that might include potential asylum seekers were at risk of refoulement. In March the ombudsman for human rights noted that the asylum application process remained problematic, primarily due to selective acceptance and processing procedures for asylum applications by the police Aliens Directorate. During 2005 the government granted refugee status to 39 out of 4,624 applicants, whereas the overall recognition rate, including humanitarian status (granted to 49 persons) stood at 1.9 percent. The UNHCR remained concerned that the refugee recognition rate remained very low.
Although the government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers, the UNHCR and others expressed concern over the country's asylum policy and practices. They cited its insufficient reception facilities, underdeveloped systems for providing for refugee welfare, insufficient counseling to assist integration of refugees and asylum seekers, and lack of appropriate treatment for unaccompanied minors who were potential asylum seekers. In February the UNHCR issued a position paper on refugee protection with 25 recommendations for the government regarding: improvement of reception capacity and living conditions; provision of legal counseling; and protection for asylum-seeking children, women, and victims of human trafficking. In 2005 the ombudsman pointed out inadequacies in laws for detaining and deporting underage foreign nationals, including asylum seekers, and a lack of infrastructure and services for handling juvenile detainees who tried to enter the country illegally or sought asylum. In June the ombudsman recommended that the Ministry of Public Order add staff to the Aliens Directorate to handle the 50,000 pending asylum applications, simplify asylum procedures, and follow UNHCR recommendations and guidelines; the government had not responded to the recommendation by year's end.
By November two policemen were awaiting trial for allegedly subjecting a group of 40 to 60 Afghan asylum seekers to interrogation techniques that included torture in 2004.
Conditions for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers detained by authorities were sometimes unsatisfactory (see section 1.c.). The UNHCR observed an improvement of detention conditions at border areas, but this improvement was not uniform, and conditions in many areas remained substandard. Moreover, inadequate counseling to ensure the accurate identification of asylum seekers was prevalent. In May AI charged that several irregular immigrants, who arrived on the island of Chios in April 2005, were detained in conditions that amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including being held in a metal container close to the island's main harbor. In April 2005 human rights activists on the island demonstrated against the use of the metal container to hold migrants. Human rights groups reported limited provisions and medical care as well as lack of hot water at some facilities. Improvement was noted in some parts of the Evros region, but old warehouses continued to be used to house illegal immigrants.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution and law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
In the most recent elections, held in 2004 and considered free and fair, the New Democracy Party won the majority of seats in parliament. Opposition parties functioned freely and had broad access to the media.
Romani representatives reported that local authorities often deprived Roma of the right to vote by refusing to register them. Many Roma had difficulty meeting municipal residency requirements to register to vote. There were a few complaints that the government harassed the Rainbow Party, a small political party that included Slavophone activists, prior to the 2004 elections.
Voting is mandatory for citizens over age 18, according to the law; however, there are many conditions under which citizens may be exempted, and the government did not apply a penalty for not voting.
There were 38 women in the 300-seat parliament and one woman in the 19-member cabinet. A quota system requires 30 percent of all local government candidates to be women. At the three high courts, there were 14 women out of 61 council of state justices, 28 women out of 59 supreme administrative court justices, and three women out of 62 Supreme Court justices.
There was one member of the Muslim minority in the 300-seat parliament. There were no Muslim minority members in the cabinet.
A government-appointed regional administrator of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace has statutory responsibility for oversight of rights provided to the Muslim minority in Thrace, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs retains an important advisory role.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Corruption was a problem. International and domestic NGOs stated that anticorruption efforts needed to be a higher government priority, and opinion polls suggested widespread public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches. Mutual accusations of corruption between political parties were a daily staple of political life.
By December. 13 justices had been dismissed, 14 were temporarily suspended from duty, two were detained and being prosecuted for money laundering and receiving bribes, 33 were indicted, and disciplinary action had been initiated against 49 for charges related to corruption. In October the immunity of a member of parliament was lifted on allegations of corruption. The deputy minister of national economy and finance was fired based on the public allegations of corruption; however, he was not prosecuted.
The constitution provides for the right of access to government-held information, and the government granted access for citizens.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Cooperation with domestic groups varied; some received government funding, while others received no official or unofficial cooperation. The government usually cooperated with international human rights groups and made an effort to be responsive to their views.
A CPT delegation, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, and the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography visited the country during the year (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 5).
The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, after a November 2005 visit, called on the government to foster a more efficient and cooperative relationship with NGOs "to make children a recognized priority for the country beyond political, institutional, and ideological disputes"; appoint a focal point on children's issues; improve institutional capacity for protecting unaccompanied minors, street children, and victims of trafficking; and complete the pending bilateral child repatriation agreement with Albania. He further recommended that the state take specific measures to improve the living conditions of Roma and give Romani children alternatives to street work and prostitution as survival strategies. He also recommended the creation of an advisory board of civil society and public authorities to coordinate children's policies as well as the creation of a joint Greek-Albanian commission to investigate the "disappearances" from a children's institution from 1998 to 2003 (see section 5). He called NGOs an "indispensable asset" in implementing the measures. The government did not take any steps to implement his recommendations during the year.
The law provides for an independent ombudsman, whose office provided an effective means for citizens to address human rights and religious freedom problems. The widely recognized office was granted adequate resources to perform its functions: mediating between private individuals and public administration and defending and promoting children's rights. There were five deputy ombudsmen who dealt respectively with human rights, children's rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life. The Department of Human Rights received 2,506 complaints in 2005, 983 of which were pending in January. Problems included complaints regarding residence and work provisions for immigrants, overcrowding in prisons and aliens' detention centers, unjustified procedural difficulties to acquire citizenship, excessive and unjustified delays in processing applications for recovering citizenship for "stateless" persons, arbitrary acceptance of applications of asylum seekers and negative references to non-Orthodox religions in schoolbooks.
The government-funded National Human Rights Committee is an autonomous human rights body that operates independently of government or party control or influence. The committee is the government's advisory organ on the protection of human rights and had adequate resources. It cooperated effectively with the government to promote legislation protecting and enhancing human rights. During the year it produced a major report on Roma which found that Roma remained the most discriminated against and marginalized social group in the country. In 2005 it produced two television spots against racism and promulgated reports and recommendations on human rights problems, including teenage violence, gender equality, affirmative action, and refugee matters.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status; however, government respect for these rights was inconsistent in practice. Violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against ethnic minorities (particularly Roma) and homosexuals were problems.
Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, continued to be a problem. The government passed legislation in August that charges spousal rape as a felony, prohibits corporal punishment of children, and provides for ex relatione prosecution (prosecution by force of law) for all domestic violence crimes. Penalties provided range from two years to 10 years depending on the gravity of the crime. The General Secretariat for the Equality of the Sexes (GSES), an independent government agency, estimated that only 6 to 10 percent of domestic violence victims contacted the police, and only a small fraction of those cases reached trial. The GSES claimed that police tended to discourage women from pursuing domestic violence charges, instead encouraging them to undertake reconciliation efforts, and that courts were lenient when dealing with domestic violence cases. The GSES, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Order, continued courses to train police on ways to deal with domestic violence victims.
The GSES provided counseling and assistance to domestic violence victims. Two GSES shelters for battered women and their children, in Athens and Piraeus, offered services including legal and psychological help. The GSES operated a 24-hour emergency telephone hotline for abused women. A unit of the Ministry of Health and Welfare also operated a hotline that provided referrals and psychological counseling. There were additional shelters operated by the municipality of Athens, the Orthodox Church, and various NGOs for domestic violence victims.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime according to a law passed in August. Conviction rates for rape were low for first-time offenders, but sentences were harsh for repeat offenders. According to the Ministry of Public Order, 127 rapes and attempted rapes were reported in the first six months of the year. In December an academic researcher estimated that approximately 4,500 rapes occurred annually in the country, of which only 270, or 6 percent, were reported to the police. Of the reported rapes, only 183 resulted in an arrest, and of the 47 cases that reached the Felony Court, only 20 ended in conviction. Medical, psychological, social, and legal support from the government and NGOs for victims of maltreatment was also usually available to rape victims.
Prostitution is legal at the age of 18. Prostitutes must register at the local prefecture and carry a medical card that is updated every two weeks. It was estimated that fewer than 1,000 women were legally employed as prostitutes. Approximately 20,000 women, most of foreign origin, were engaged in illegal prostitution. According to academics, many illegal prostitutes may be trafficking victims (see section 5, Trafficking). While there were reports that prostitutes were abused and subjected to violence and harassment by pimps and clients, there were no reports that prostitutes were specifically targeted for abuse.
A new law on sexual harassment was passed in August. The law implements an EU directive on sexual harassment that provides guidelines for sanctions, legal action, and compensation for victims. Labor unions reported that lawsuits for sexual harassment were very rare and that only four women had filed such charges in the past seven years. In all four cases, the courts reportedly imposed very lenient civil sentences. KETHI reported that the vast majority of women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace quit their jobs and did not file charges. KETHI estimated that 30 to 50 percent of working women and 10 percent of working men have experienced sexual harassment at their work place.
The government recognizes Shari'a (the Muslim religious law) as the law regulating family and civic issues of the Muslim minority in Thrace. The first instance courts in Thrace routinely ratified decisions of the muftis who have judicial powers in civic and domestic matters. The National Human Rights Committee, an autonomous body that is the government's advisory organ on protection of human rights, stated that the government should limit the powers of the muftis to religious duties and should stop recognizing Shari'a, because it can restrict the civic rights of the citizens it is applied to. In 2005 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern regarding the impediments that Muslim women in Thrace face under Shari'a law. In March the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights and the UN special rapporteur reported that they were informed of cases of both early marriages and marriages by proxy. Muslim female activists claimed that because all Muslim women in Thrace were married under Shari'a, they were therefore obliged to acquire mufti consent to obtain a divorce. These decisions were based on interpretations of Shari'a law that do not exist in written form and therefore cannot be appealed. The courts routinely ratified these mufti decisions.
The law provides for equal pay for equal work; however, according to official 2005 statistics, women's pay amounted to 81 percent of men's pay. Although relatively few occupied senior positions, women continued to enter traditionally male-dominated professions such as law and medicine in larger numbers. Women were underrepresented in labor union leadership.
The government was strongly committed to children's rights and welfare.
The law provides for free and compulsory education for a minimum of nine years. According to the 2001 census, 99.4 percent of school-age children attended school, and most children completed secondary education. However, noncompliance with the compulsory education requirement was a significant problem in the Romani community. Research conducted by the Aghlaia Kyriakou state hospital showed that 63 percent of Romani children did not attend school. There were reports of non-Romani parents withdrawing their children from schools attended by Romani children, and of non-Romani parents attempting to prevent Romani children from studying at the same schools that their children attended. In February the European Roma Rights Centre and the International Helsinki Federation expressed concern about the placement of Romani pupils in segregated classes in Aspropyrgos, Attica.
Violence against children occurred, particularly against street children. The law prohibits the mistreatment of children and sets penalties for violators, and the government generally enforced these provisions effectively; however, government-run institutions were understaffed, and NGOs complained that they did not have available positions for all children in need of alternative placement. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children and seek to ensure the availability of alternative family care or institutional placement. However, children's rights advocacy groups claimed that government residential care centers provided inadequate and low quality protection for children at high risk of abuse due to a lack of coordination between welfare services and the courts, inadequate funding of the welfare system, and poor staffing of the care centers. In March the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, who visited in November 2005, reported that children's social protection institutions lacked sufficient resource capacity and that there was no centralized child protection system.
Child marriage was common within the Romani community. Additionally, there were limited numbers of marriages of persons under 18 among the Muslim minority in Thrace and Athens. The state-appointed muftis, who may apply Shari'a law in family matters, noted that they did not allow marriage of children under age 15. In November 2005 the official mufti of Komotini reported issuing instruction to imams in Thrace not to conduct underage marriages; however, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights reported that he was informed of cases of both early marriages and marriages by proxy of underage persons. The government has youth centers, parent counseling, and programs that address poverty and lack of education, two factors which were believed to contribute to child marriage.
There were reports that trafficking of children, mainly for forced labor and sexual exploitation, was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking, and section 6.d.).
The Police Division for Internet Crime dismantled 25 networks dealing in child pornography through the Internet in the period between July 2004 and June of this year. They arrested 35 citizens identified as members of networks, and charged them with buying and selling child pornographic materials. The country does not have legislation punishing possession and circulation of pedophiliac materials. The Internet Crime Police Division arrested nine persons and filed lawsuits against 19 others for dealing in internet child pornography during the coordinated EU "Operation Purity" in April 2005. The division reported a 600 percent annual increase of crime through the Internet.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and local NGOs, the majority of street children (often indigenous Roma or Albanian Roma) were exploited by family members who forced them to work in the streets, usually begging or selling small items (see section 6.d).
In 2004 the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern that inadequate measures had been taken to protect 502 Albanian children who remained unaccounted for after being picked up by the security police and kept in state custody at the Agia Varvara orphanage between 1998 and 2003. The prosecutor accepted a criminal complaint submitted by the GHM and an appeal by the UN Committee Against Torture, and in 2004 it pressed felony charges against members of the administration of the institution relating to the case; however, no action was reported on the case during the year. The UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography who visited in November 2005 noted a "deficiency in the design of the educational and social methodology" of the Agia Varvara institution.
During the year the government, the UNHCR, and the deputy ombudsman for children's rights announced guidelines for the management of separated children seeking asylum, based on internally agreed upon principles of separated child protection. Among the 11 detailed guidelines is one specifying the appointment of a special temporary guardian as soon as a separated child is identified as an applicant for asylum. However, by November, there remained problems with the implementation of the guidelines, and the UNHCR, Greek Council for Refugees, and deputy ombudsman for children's rights called on the government to improve protection for separated migrant children, notably potential asylum seekers and victims of trafficking, and appoint legal guardians for them.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, the country was both a transit and destination country for significant numbers of women, children, and smaller numbers of men trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Major countries of origin for trafficking victims included Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Albania, Moldova, Romania, and Belarus. Women from many other countries were trafficked to the country and in some cases were reportedly trafficked on to Italy and other EU countries as well as to the Middle East.
According to an academic observer in 2005, trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation in the country decreased from approximately 20,000 victims in 2003 to approximately 10,000 during 2005. Unofficial NGO estimates placed approximately 13,000 to 14,000 trafficked persons in the country at any given time.
NGOs reported a decrease in the number of Albanian children trafficked to the country in 2005 and 2006; however, there were reports that Albanian Roma children continued to be trafficked for forced begging and stealing. Albanian children made up the majority of children trafficked for forced labor, begging, and stealing. NGOs reported that the practice of "renting" children had dramatically decreased in recent years as it became easier for Albanian parents to immigrate to the country. In February the government concluded a protocol with Albania on the repatriation of Albanian child trafficking victims which by year's end remained unratified by the parliament.
Problems persisted with police detaining minors trafficked into the country as criminals or repatriating them without ensuring proper reception by their home country authorities.
Women and children arrived as "tourists" or illegal immigrants and were lured into prostitution by club owners who threatened them with deportation. There were reports that traffickers kidnapped victims, including minors, from their homes abroad and smuggled them into the country, where they were sold to local procurers. Some rescued victims reported being given small stipends, mobile phones, and limited freedoms but nevertheless they coerced, threatened, and abused by their traffickers.
A few police officers reportedly were involved in trafficking rings or accepted bribes from traffickers, and a few Greek diplomats abroad reportedly facilitated trafficking by issuing visas with little documentary evidence and no personal interviews to women subsequently identified as trafficking victims, according to a lawsuit filed in April by the Greek Helsinki Monitor.
The law considers trafficking in persons a criminal offense and provides for imprisonment of up to 10 years and fines of approximately $12,000 to $60,000 (10,000 to 50,000 euros) for convicted traffickers. Penalties are harsher for traffickers of children.
The government continued to investigate cases of trafficking and secured convictions for traffickers. In January the government established 12 additional anti-trafficking task forces throughout the country and funded specialized training for over 1,000 police officers.
In the first half of the year the government investigated several trafficking cases and arrested 95 suspected traffickers. In 2005 there were nine convictions and sentences for these convicted traffickers ranging from one to 12 years. The government could not, however, confirm whether any traffickers were actually serving the time sentenced. While the government reported that over 95 illegal-alien defendants were awaiting prosecution on trafficking charges, courts released and deported the majority of such foreign defendants.
There is an interministerial committee to coordinate antitrafficking efforts. During the year, the government participated in international investigations in cooperation with regional authorities, including the Southern European Cooperative Initiative.
Police officers reportedly were involved in trafficking rings or accepted bribes from traffickers, including organized crime networks. During the year charges were filed against three police officers – two of them senior – relating to trafficking complicity. As of year's end, no trial date had been set. The Ministry of Public Order's Bureau of Internal Affairs investigated charges of police involvement in trafficking cases.
While the immigration law provides for a "reflection period" for trafficking victims facing deportation, the screening and referral process did not adequately identify and protect most vulnerable potential victims in the country. Some trafficking victims were prosecuted for immigration violations, sometimes alongside their traffickers. A few trafficking victims and NGOs that supported them stated that inadequate police protection for victims who were witnesses in trials meant that those victims lived in constant fear of their traffickers. A few victims were provided with the reflection period and testified against their traffickers.
During the year the government granted 15 new and 24 renewed residence permits for trafficking victims. In the first half of the year the government identified 48 trafficking victims, 28 of whom accepted assistance and protection; however, anecdotal reports indicated that trafficking victims continued to be deported.
A number of domestic NGOs worked on trafficking problems, but victim protection measures and referral mechanisms remained weak. In November 2005 the government signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with 12 NGOs and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to improve government-NGO coordination in a screening and referral process for trafficking victims. The government supported a 24-hour hotline for trafficking victims, operated by an NGO.
There were several NGO-operated shelters. The GSES produced a television ad which appeared in the media in February, March, and April targeting commercial sex procurers, trafficking victims, and citizens, and distributed information materials in Greek, English, Albanian, Russian and French. The campaign encouraged the public to report incidents of trafficking.
In May the IOM, in conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led a training program for approximately 200 prosecutors on the subject of dealing with and prosecuting human trafficking cases. In November the Ministry of Public Order initiated an antitrafficking transborder police action plan on regional police cooperation. The Secretariat for Gender Equality held a joint conference with the Council on Europe on combating trafficking and the GSES conducted a series of seminars for civil servants and local administration officers in various cities to alert them to and educate them about trafficking. In October the IOM, in conjunction with the Ministry of Employment, led a training program for labor inspectors to learn how to identify victims of labor trafficking.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the GSES launched a development assistance project to combat trafficking in persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo that empowered female trafficking victims, raised the public's awareness of trafficking, and educated relevant agencies.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other government services and the government effectively enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities; however, authorities enforced this law poorly. In May members of parliament, rapporteurs to a special parliamentary committee on the disabled reported that the lack of accessibility forced persons with disabilities to stay home and led to serious social exclusion. Only five percent of public buildings were fully accessible to persons with disabilities; most buildings with special ramps did not have special elevators and lavatories. The deputy ombudsman for social welfare handled complaints related to persons with special needs, especially related to employment, social security, and transportation.
The Ministry of Welfare estimated that there were 180,000 to 200,000 children with special education needs, of whom only 18,585 were attending school in 2004 due either to a lack of special schools in their area or deficient accessibility. The National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities reported that the education system for the persons with disabilities fostered discrimination and social exclusion. The confederation noted that education was not available for persons with serious disabilities and that many persons with disabilities were either forced to leave schools due to lack of accessibility or were receiving very low quality education at the special schools.
In July 2006 the deputy ombudsman reported that nearly 60 percent of persons with disabilities had been barred from the benefits of affirmative action employment to which they were entitled because they were misinformed or inadequately informed about the supporting documents they should provide and because of unclear interpretations of the law itself. The deputy ombudsman stated that unemployment of persons with disabilities estimated by the National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities and the Human Resources Employment Organization at approximately 80 percent, was the greatest social problem for persons with disabilities and recommended that the government prepare new legislation or improve existing laws.
Albanian immigrants, who made up approximately five to seven percent of the population, faced widespread societal discrimination, although Albanian community representatives said that it was slowly decreasing. Immigrants accused police of physical, verbal, and other mistreatment. They also reported the confiscation and destruction of personal documents, particularly during police sweeps to apprehend illegal immigrants. The media blamed Albanians and immigrants for a reported rise in crime in recent years. AI, GHM, and the deputy ombudsman for human rights alleged that complaints of police ill-treatment of Albanians were rejected as unfounded, although the authenticity of the complaints was supported by documents such as certificates from state hospitals concerning recent injuries and issued shortly after the complainants' release from police stations. Moreover, Albanian community leaders reported that it was difficult to be granted citizenship, even after all objective citizenship requirements had been met.
The citizenship application approval procedure is secret, and as a result the Ministry of Interior is not obliged to substantiate or to explain the reasons for rejection. Community leaders stated that persons who believed they met all criteria for citizenship saw their applications rejected. Reapplication is discouraged by the fact that an applicant has to pay a $1,251 (1,000 euro) non-refundable application fee.
A September 2005 deputy ombudsman's report on police abuse found that police took citizens to detention centers for arbitrary identity checks, used insulting language and threats of force, conducted bodily searches in public, and did not inform citizens on the progress of internal investigations unless cases were made public through the press. The report found that the police conducted arbitrary identity checks on the basis of stereotypes, targeting persons based on their race, color, nationality, or who happened to be in "high-crime" areas (see section 1.d.).
In February the minister of development issued a decree prohibiting immigrants from selling items in the street-markets. The communities appealed to the country's highest administrative court; however, the appeal remained pending at year's end.
In May a felony court in Patras sentenced the person charged with the September 2004 killing of an Albanian immigrant in Zakynthos following a soccer game to life imprisonment.
A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks (Slavic speaking Muslims), Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites (Orthodox Christians who speak a dialect of Albanian), or Macedonians. While some members of these groups sought to be identified as "minorities," or "linguistic minorities," others did not consider that these identifications made them members of a "minority." The government considers that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne provides the exclusive definition of minorities in the country and defines the rights they have as a group. In accordance with its view of the treaty, the government recognizes only a "Muslim minority." It does not officially confer status on any indigenous ethnic groups nor does it recognize "ethnic minority" or "linguistic minority" as legal terms. However, the government affirmed an individual right of self identification.
Many individuals who defined themselves as members of a "minority" found it difficult to express their identity freely and maintain their culture. Use of the terms Tourkos and Tourkikos ("Turk" and "Turkish") is prohibited in titles of organizations, although individuals legally may call themselves Tourkos (see section 2.b.). To most Greeks, the words Tourkos and Tourkikos connote Turkish identity or loyalties, and many objected to their use by Greek citizens of Turkish origin.
The government did not recognize the Slavic dialect spoken by persons in the northwestern area of the country as "Macedonian," or as a language distinct from Bulgarian. Most speakers of the dialect referred to themselves as "natives." A small number of Slavic speakers insisted on the use of the term "Macedonian," a designation that generated strong opposition from the ethnic Greek population. These Slavic speakers claimed that the government pursued a policy designed to discourage use of their language. Government officials and the courts deny requests by Slavic groups to identify themselves using the term "Macedonian," because approximately 2.2 million ethnic (and linguistically) Greek citizens already use the term to identify themselves.
In October 2005 the ECHR ordered the government to pay $42,294 (35,245 euros) to the Rainbow Party for violations of two ECHR articles: the right to a fair hearing and the right to freedom of assembly and association; the government paid the fine during the year.
Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination including systematic police abuse; mistreatment while in police custody; regular raids and searches of their neighborhoods for criminal suspects, drugs, and weapons; and educational discrimination. Organizations substantiating these reports included a UN special rapporteur , the European Committee of Social Rights in 2005, the International Helsinki Federation in 2005, AI, the European Roma Rights Center, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the ombudsman for human rights, the National Commission for Human Rights, and GHM.
In August the European Committee of Social Rights held that government policies regarding housing and accommodation of Roma infringed upon the European Social Charter, due to an insufficient number of dwellings to meet the needs of settled Roma, an insufficient number of stopping places for Roma who follow an itinerant lifestyle, and the systemic eviction of Roma from sites or dwellings. The International Helsinki Federation found in June 2005 that approximately half of the Roma population lived segregated from non-Roma in substandard housing conditions. A UN special rapporteur noted in March that families in a Romani settlement in Athens lived in unacceptable conditions, lacking access to running water and sanitation and other basic services, while children were denied entry to schools. The Council of Europe commissioner, who visited the largest Romani settlement in Aspropyrgos, Attica, found that measures formerly promised to remedy the situation had not been taken, and he noted the situation was intolerable, citing a lack of access to basic public utilities, including water, electricity and sewage systems.
In May AI published a report criticizing the government for its treatment of Roma, stating that Romani families continued to be targeted for eviction and home demolition and that Roma faced discrimination and racist attacks by both representatives of local administration and society.
The law prohibits the encampment of "wandering nomads" without a permit and forces Roma to establish settlements outside inhabited areas and far from permanent housing. There were approximately 70 Romani camps in the country. Local and international NGOs charged that the enforced separation contravened the country's commitments under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
There were frequent police raids on Romani settlements and reported harsh police treatment of Roma. In March the ombudsman for human rights, after visiting areas in Athens, Patras, and Thessaloniki, reported a series of cases that reflected inherent societal and law enforcement discrimination against Roma. The visits revealed poor housing conditions and lack of access to medical care and education.
The UN special rapporteur's statement after his November 2005 visit called the housing and sanitation conditions of the Romani settlement he visited unacceptable, highlighting that "access to health and education is limited or lacking and social programs are not providing assistance to the community." He recommended that the state take specific measures to develop and improve living conditions in Romani communities to give Romani children alternatives to street work or prostitution as survival strategies for them and their families. The government had not taken any action in response to the rapporteur's recommendations by year's end.
Local authorities continued to harass and threaten to evict Roma from their camps or other dwellings. In July and in August, GHM and the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights reported that the Municipality of Patras demolished the homes of 18 Greek and Albanian Romani families in two settlements near the city while the owners were away for seasonal work. The municipality also served the two settlements' remaining families with notices of emergency police eviction and proceeded to conduct forced evictions. In June all Romani families of the Riganocambos, Patras district were served notice to appear in a criminal court for illegal squatting on state land and were told to leave. For some of the homeless Roma, this was the fourth actual or threatened eviction since August 2004. In June municipal crews assisted by police, demolished the homes of 14 Romani families in Kladissos, Chania.
Nine local and international NGOs, including the European Roma Rights Center, appealed to the mayor of Athens in July 2005 over the announced evictions of approximately 70 Albanian Romani families living in squalid conditions in communities around Votanikos, Athens, to make way for a new soccer stadium. Authorities had made no provision for resettlement of the families. By year's end the evictions were still planned, but no action had been taken.
Roma frequently faced societal discrimination in employment and in housing, particularly when attempting to rent accommodations. The illiteracy rate among Roma was estimated at 80 percent. Poverty, illiteracy, and societal prejudice were most severe among migrant Roma or those who lived in quasi-permanent settlements. Most Romani camps had no running water, electricity, garbage disposal, or sewage treatment. For example, in 2005 the approximately 400 Romani families in Tyrnavos, Thessaly, lived in tents because authorities refused to include the area in city planning. The municipality of Rachoula in Larissa took action to delay the permanent settlement of Roma in the region on property owned by Roma.
Romani representatives reported that some local authorities have refused to register Roma as residents or that the Roma were unable to satisfy the requirements to be registered. Until registered with a municipality, a citizen cannot vote or exercise other civil rights, such as contributing to social security or obtaining an official marriage, commercial, or driver's license. It was estimated that 90 percent of Roma were not insured by the public social security system because they were unable to make the required contributions. Indigent Roma were entitled to free health care provided all citizens; however, at times, the distance between their encampments and public health facilities hindered their access.
The government considered the Roma to be a "socially excluded" or "sensitive" group, not a "minority." As a result government policy encouraged the integration of Roma. For example, the Ministry of Education has instructed school principals to promote integration.
The Ministry of Interior headed an interministerial committee that coordinated projects for the 85,000 to 120,000 Roma the government estimated were in the country (unofficial estimates ranged from 250,000 to 350,000). In 2005, due to low local authorities' participation, the government suspended a Romani housing project that required cities with Romani populations to identify areas suitable for building housing for Roma. During the year the government provided approximately 5,000 low-interest housing loans of $75,060 (60,000 euros) each to Roma living in tents to enable them to obtain appropriate housing.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued projects to address the chronic problems of the Romani community, including training courses for civil servants, police, and teachers to increase their sensitivity to Romani problems; the development of teaching materials for Romani children; the establishment of youth centers in areas close to Romani communities; and the deployment of mobile health units and community social workers to address the needs of itinerant Roma. However, Romani community representatives reported that these programs either did not always reach their communities or were of limited effectiveness.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The NGO Greek Homosexual Community (EOK) alleged that police often abused and harassed homosexuals and transvestites and subjected them to arbitrary identity checks and bodily searches in public places.
The government took no action regarding a Gay and Lesbian Community of Greece and EOK complaint that the government made a discriminatory decision when it fined a radio station in 2004 for using insulting language on a radio show presented by a lesbian.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides that all workers, with the exception of members of the military, have the right to form and join unions of their choice without any previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers exercised this right. Approximately 26 percent of nonagricultural salaried employees were union members. Approximately 30 percent of the total labor force was unionized. There were no unionized agricultural employees.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government protected this right in practice. The law generally provides for the right to bargain collectively in the private sector and in public corporations, and unions exercised this right freely. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers in the private sector and in public corporations exercised this right in practice. Police have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.
There are some legal restrictions on strikes, including a mandatory notice period of four days for public utilities and 24 hours for the private sector. The law mandates a skeleton staff during strikes affecting public services. Courts may declare a strike illegal; however, such decisions were seldom enforced. Unions complained that this judicial power deterred some of their members from participating in strikes. Courts declared some strikes (of transportation workers, air-traffic controllers, garbage collectors, and others) illegal during the year for reasons such as failure of the union to give adequate advance notice of the strike or a union making new demands during the course of the strike, but no workers were prosecuted for striking.
In February the government invoked the civil mobilization act, which required workers to return to work, in order to break a seamen's strike.
There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country's three free trade zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The laws protect children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibit forced or compulsory labor; however, the government did not adequately protect children who were exploited in nontraditional environments, such as begging on the street.
The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15 years, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age is 12 years in family businesses, theaters, and the cinema. These limits were enforced by occasional spot checks and were generally observed. However, families engaged in agriculture, food service, and merchandising often had younger family members assisting them at least part time.
Child labor was a problem, although international and local observers agreed that the number of working children had decreased in recent years. A number of children begged or tried to persuade persons to buy small items in the streets. The government and NGOs reported that the majority of beggars were either indigenous or Albanian Roma.
There were reports that children from Albania were trafficked and forced to beg; however, antitrafficking NGOs reported a decrease in this abuse as more Albanian parents entered the country legally with their children (see section 5). A few parents forced their children to beg for money.
The labor inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of labor legislation; however, trade unions alleged that enforcement was inadequate.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage of approximately $35 (29 euros) daily and $779 (649 euros) monthly provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Officially, wages should be the same for local and foreign workers, but in practice there were some reports of undocumented foreign workers being exploited by employers, receiving low wages and no social security contributions.
The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours in the private sector and 37.5 hours in the public sector. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on overtime. Premium pay and authorization by the Ministry of Employment is required by law for overtime work.
The law provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety. The Greek General Confederation of Labor characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the labor inspectorate was inadequate. Workers do not have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that they believe endanger their health; however, they have the right to lodge a confidential complaint with the labor inspectorate. Inspectors have the right to close down machinery or a process for up to five days if they see safety or health hazards that they believe represent an imminent danger to the workers. In 2005 the labor inspectorate conducted a nationwide campaign against noise at work places, made 25,477 inspections and imposed 4,459 sanctions and penalties that included lawsuits, fines, and closing down of machineries and processes.