U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Greece

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997   Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy with an independent judiciary in which citizens periodically choose their representatives in free and fair elections. In 1996 parliamentary elections, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won a majority of the parliamentary seats, and its leader, Constantine Simitis, was returned to office as Prime Minister. The defeated New Democracy Party retained the role of the main opposition. The national police and security services are responsible for internal security. Civilian authorities maintain effective control of all security forces, and police and security services are subject to a broad variety of legal and constitutional restraints. The Parliament, a vigorous free press, the judiciary, the European Parliament, and Greek and international human rights organizations monitor their activities. Some members of the police and security forces nevertheless committed human rights abuses. Greece has a mixed economy in which the market system is overlaid by a large public sector that accounts for more than 40 percent of gross domestic product. Moderate growth, a high but declining inflation rate, a large but also declining budget deficit, and a 9.8 percent unemployment rate characterize the economy, which nevertheless provides residents with a relatively advanced standard of living. To promote further economic development, Greece relies heavily on the European Union for subsidies, grants, and loans, the latter two directed mainly toward major infrastructure projects. The Government generally respected the human rights of most citizens, but problems remained in some areas. There continued to be credible reports that security force personnel sometimes abused suspects during arrests and interrogations and abused Albanian illegal aliens. Relations between Greece and Albania improved substantially, however, and an agreement was reached to regulate the flow of Albanian seasonal workers to Greece. The Government continued to use Article 19 of the Citizenship Code to revoke the citizenship of Greek citizens who are not ethnically Greek, and Article 20 of the same code was used to revoke the citizenship of Greek citizens abroad who have asserted a "Macedonian" ethnicity. On occasion the Government placed international and domestic human rights monitors under surveillance. Information about their private meetings and activities subsequently appeared in the press. Responding to criticism, the Government continued to take corrective action to relieve severe overcrowding and harsh living conditions in some prisons and police holding centers. Problems remain, however, as evidenced by violent prison riots in March and June. There are some restrictions on freedom of religion; four persons were prosecuted for proselytizing, two persons were prosecuted for illegal operation of a "house of prayer," and a number of Jehovah's Witnesses were harassed by authorities. Discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem. The Government formally recognizes only one minority, the Muslim minority referred to in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. It refuses to acknowledge formally the existence of any other ethnic groups under the term "minority" and denies members of the Slavophone community the right to identify themselves as a minority. As a result, some individuals who define themselves as members of a minority find it difficult to express freely their identity and to maintain their culture.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings. There were several reports of shootings at the Greek-Albanian border of illegal Albanian migrants being apprehended by Greek authorities. The Albanian Government protested four separate incidents to the Greek Government, including alleged shootings on the border in June and August and elsewhere in the country in January and April. At least two migrants were killed in these incidents. According to the Greek Government, each of the incidents was investigated, and criminal proceedings were initiated against the responsible officers. The Government emphasized that the incidents represented violations of an official policy against the use of force. According to press reports, a man who died in police custody had suffered a heart attack after being beaten. An internal investigation concluded that he died of natural causes (see Section 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution specifically forbids torture, and a 1984 law makes the use of torture an offense punishable by a sentence of 3 years' to life imprisonment. However, this law has never been invoked, even though a 1993 report by the Council of Europe (COE) Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) concluded that certain categories of persons detained or arrested by the police, particularly persons arrested for drug-related offenses or for crimes such as murder, rape, or robbery, run a significant risk of being mistreated and are occasionally subjected to severe mistreatment or torture. The Government continued its own internal review of the CPT charges and as of September reported that of the 33 lawsuits filed against policemen in the period 1989-93 for abuse, torture, and mistreatment, 10 cases were still pending in court or under investigation. One case was closed when the police officer was found innocent. Five police officers were under internal investigation following allegations that they severely beat a man arrested in January in Iraklion, Crete. Criminal charges filed by the individual were pending at year's end. Press reports claimed that a man found dead the same month in a police detention center in Vyron had died of a heart attack after being beaten. An internal investigation determined that he had died of natural causes and resulted in no disciplinary action; a related court case was also pending. In February a man arrested on robbery charges in Thessaloniki filed assault charges against several police officers. The charges and an internal investigation were pending. Some police also abused suspects during interrogations (see Section 1.d.). In February a security team raided a Romani settlement near Athens in search of a murder suspect. Television coverage of the raid showed heavily armed team members dragging camp residents, including the elderly and juveniles, from their shacks, forcing them to lie face down in the dirt, and kicking them. Seventy persons were arrested, but the murder suspect was not found. A subsequent internal police investigation cleared the chief of police of wrongdoing, but it resulted in the dismissal of two other officers and the reprimand of a third officer for violations of police procedures and the use of excessive force. Prison conditions remained poor. Despite several changes in the law to permit earlier parole of prisoners, substantial overcrowding continued to plague prisons throughout the country. Overcrowding contributed to unrest in six provincial prisons in March, and there were violent prison riots in March and June. While the capacity of Korydallos (the largest prison, located in Athens) is 480 inmates, some 960 were housed there in the first 10 months of the year. As of September 1, the Ministry of Justice reported that the number of prisoners was 5,178 (of whom approximately 2,000 were foreigners), while the total capacity of the prison system was 4,302. The Government has instituted new training programs for wardens and new vocational training programs for inmates. The Ministry of Justice announced plans to begin construction of two major new prisons in 1997 in order to reduce overcrowding. Prison conditions for conscientious objectors continued to improve as a result of government actions to reduce overcrowding and to increase work opportunities in prisons, which reduced the time of imprisonment. A law passed in June granted voting rights to certain inmates. In past years there were credible reports of rape by inmates (including rape of juveniles by other juveniles), physical abuse by prison guards, and violence perpetrated by inmates, including against foreign prisoners. There were no press reports of such incidents in 1996. In August, however, the Albanian Government protested mistreatment of inmates in the Patras and Iwannina prisons that was reportedly condoned by prison officials. Albanian consular officials were denied permission to visit either prison. Several inmate disturbances over conditions occurred. A 1995 bilateral agreement between Greece and Albania provides for the transfer of Albanian inmates to Albanian prisons. Although there are approximately 1,000 Albanian prisoners in Greek jails, only 23 were repatriated under the agreement during the first 9 months of the year. The Government attributed low participation in the repatriation program to the unwillingness of Albanian prisoners to consent to repatriation. The Government is inconsistent in granting permission for prison visits by nongovernmental organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution requires judicial warrants for all arrests, except during the actual commission of a crime, and the law prohibits arbitrary arrest orders. Police must, by law, bring a person arrested on the basis of a warrant or while committing a crime before an examining magistrate within 24 hours. The magistrate must issue a detention warrant or order the release of the detainee within 3 days, unless special circumstances require a 2-day extension of this time limit. Defendants brought to court before the end of the day following the commission of a charged offense may be tried immediately, under a "speedy procedure." Although legal safeguards, including representation by counsel, apply in speedy procedure cases, the short period of time may inhibit the defendant's ability to present an adequate defense. Defendants may ask for a delay to provide time to prepare their defense, but the court is not obliged to grant it. The speedy procedure was used in less than 10 percent of misdemeanor cases. It does not apply to felonies. The police sometimes violated these legal safeguards. CPT team members stated that the police, during investigation of serious crimes, occasionally interrogated suspects as "witnesses," allegedly because witnesses do not have the right to legal representation during police questioning. Statements made to the police in these circumstances may be used against these persons in court if they are later charged and brought to trial. Witnesses do not have the legal right to remain silent, although they are not required to testify against themselves. In such cases access to a lawyer can be effectively denied until after interrogation, which in some cases has resulted in torture or mistreatment and the subsequent signing of a statement. These circumstances were reportedly most likely to occur in cases of serious crimes, including drug offenses, in which the police did not have sufficient evidence to convict without a confession. The Government did not prosecute and punish any officials for such misconduct during the year. The effective maximum duration of pretrial detention is 18 months for felonies and 9 months for misdemeanors. Defense lawyers complain that pretrial detention is overly long and overused by judges. A panel of judges may grant release pending trial, with or without bail. Pretrial detainees made up 32 percent of those incarcerated, according to government sources. A person convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to 2 years or less may, at the court's discretion, pay a fine in lieu of being imprisoned. Exile is unconstitutional, and no cases have been reported since the restoration of democracy in 1974. However, Greek citizens not of ethnic Greek origin who travel outside the country may be deprived of their citizenship and refused readmittance to the country under Article 19 of the Citizenship Code. Article 20 of the Code permits the Government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." Article 19 was applied in 84 cases in 1996; the Government would not reveal the number of Article 20 cases it pursued in 1996 (see Section 2.d.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary, but there have been charges that judges sometimes allow political criteria, including the desire to obtain promotion, to influence their judgments. The judicial system includes three levels of courts, appointed judges, an examining magistrate system, and trial by judicial panels. The Constitution provides for public trials, and trial court sessions are open to the public, unless the court decides that privacy is required to protect victims and witnesses, or the cases involve national security matters. According to defense attorneys, the latter provision has not been invoked since the restoration of democracy in 1974. The defendant enjoys the presumption of innocence, the standard of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to present evidence and witnesses, the right of access to the prosecution's evidence, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to counsel. Lawyers are provided to defendants who are not able to afford legal counsel only in felony cases. Both the prosecution and the defense have the right of appeal. Although non-Greek speaking defendants have the right to a court-appointed interpreter, the low fees paid for such work often result in a poor quality of translation; foreign defendants complain that they do not understand their trials. The legal system does not discriminate against women or minorities, with some exceptions: Article 19 of the Citizenship Code (see Section 2.d.) applies only to Greek citizens who are not ethnically Greek; Orthodox and non-Orthodox religions have different legal procedures for applying for a "house of prayer" permit (see Section 2.c.); nonethnic Greek citizens are legally prohibited from settling in a large "supervised zone" near the frontier (in practice this prohibition is not enforced); and a 1939 law prohibits the functioning of private schools in buildings owned by non-Orthodox religious foundations. (However, in practice this prohibition is not enforced.) Although laws that limit freedom of expression remain in force (see Section 2.a.), no one has been imprisoned as a result of such charges in the last year. Those convicted in the past were allowed to convert their convictions into a fine of approximately $14 per day. Amnesty International reported several derogations from international standards in group trials of students stemming from violent demonstrations in late 1995 at Athens Polytechnic University. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits the invasion of privacy and searches without warrants, and the law permits the monitoring of personal communications only under strict judicial controls. However, the number of persons and groups subjected to government surveillance in recent years raises questions about safeguards. The security services continued to target human rights activists, non-Orthodox religious groups, and minority group representatives and to monitor foreign diplomats who met with such individuals. On several occasions, information about such private meetings, including official government documents, was published by the press. Human rights activists also reported the continuation of suspicious openings and diversions of mail, some of which was never delivered but was subsequently published in newspapers with apparent links to security services. As far as is known, the Government took no steps to stop such practices or to prosecute those involved.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and the press is provided for in the Constitution, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice, but with some exceptions. Some legal restrictions on free speech remain in force; the Government continued to use such laws against individuals who raise politically sensitive topics such as the assertion of nonrecognized ethnic minority identification. Articles of the Penal Code that are at times used to restrict free speech and the press include Article 141, which forbids exposing the friendly relations of the Greek state with foreign states to danger of disturbance; Article 191, which prohibits 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 disturbance of the peace; and Article 192, which prohibits inciting citizens to acts of violence or to disturbing the peace through disharmony among them. These laws were invoked in September when the public prosecutor of Florina ordered the Rainbow Party to remove a bilingual sign outside its office that used a Slavic place name for a Greek city, on the grounds that it "promoted divisiveness." The public prosecutor pressed charges against the Rainbow Party for the display of a similar sign in 1995. In addition, an official of the Rainbow Party was charged with a criminal offense under Article 191 for attempting to import two wall calendars in March that identified Greek cities by their Slavic names. No trial date had been set by year's end. On matters other than those involving the question of ethnic minorities, Greece generally enjoys a tradition of outspoken public discourse and a vigorous free press. In 1993 the Government repealed a law that forbade "insulting authority" and it proscribed prosecution of otherwise actionable "offenses committed by or through the press." Satirical and opposition newspapers do not hesitate to attack the highest state authorities. The Constitution allows for seizure (but not prior restraint), by order of the public prosecutor, of publications that insult the President, offend religious beliefs, contain obscene articles, advocate violent overthrow of the political system, or disclose military and defense information. Seizures have been rare, however, and none occurred in 1996. Despite the official prohibition on prosecuting offenses committee by or through the press, Muslim journalist Abdul Dede was charged under Article 191 as well as under libel codes for an article he wrote in January concerning extremist groups in Thrace. His trial, originally scheduled for December, was postponed until 1997. The Government is prosecutng Radio Icik, a Turkish-language station in Xanthi, for operating without a license in 1994 and 1995. No other radio stations have been prosecuted under these statutes despite the fact that many operate without licenses. The case is to be heard in February 1997. In April a Turkish-language radio station in the Thracian village of Selero was damaged in a fire that the station owner claimed was caused by arson. He claimed that he had received warnings prior to the fire; he did not produce evidence, however, to refute the finding of the Government's investigation, which was that the cause was electrical. The Constitution provides that the state exercise "immediate control" over radio and television. An independent, government-appointed body with the authority to enact rules governing private broadcasting established procedural regulations for radio several years ago. In 1993 it did so for television as well, issuing licenses to six private stations. Many other private television stations operated without licenses, however. State-run stations tended to emphasize the Government's views but also reported objectively on other parties' programs and positions. Private radio and television stations operated independently of any Government control over their reporting. Members of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities freely publish periodicals and other publications, often in their native language. In Thrace, Turkish-language television broadcasts are widely available. An Athens court acquitted actor Vassilis Diamantopolous and professor George Roussis in May of charges of "praising a criminal act" in conjunction with their defense of rioting students on a television talk show. The public prosecutor appealed the decision, and the case was pending at year's end. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Police permits were routinely issued for public demonstrations, and there were no reports that the permit requirement was abused. The Constitution provides for the right of association, which was generally respected, except in cases involving ethnic minorities. In 1994 the Supreme Court upheld the 1991 decision of lower courts to deny registration to the "Macedonian Cultural Center" in Florina, organized by Greeks who consider themselves of Slavic descent. The 1991 ruling held that "the true goal of the society...is to affirm the idea of the existence of a 'Macedonian' minority in Greece, which contradicts (Greece's) national interests and the law." The organizers have appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, which declared the application admissible in June but had not delivered a judgment by year's end. Government authorities legally recognize the existence of the Muslim minority but not any other minorities (see Section 5). The Government's position is contrary to the 1990 Copenhagen document of the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to which the Government is a signatory, which asserts that "to belong to a national minority is a matter of a person's individual choice."

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution establishes the Greek Orthodox Church, to which perhaps 95 to 97 percent of the population at least nominally adhere, as the prevailing religion, but it prohibits discrimination against adherents of other religions. The Greek Orthodox Church wields significant influence through its relationship with the Ministry of Education and Religion. Religious training is mandatory in public schools for Greek Orthodox pupils. Non-Orthodox students are exempt from this requirement. However, some teachers suspended Jehovah's Witnesses for not participating in school national day parades. The Constitution limits religious practice by prohibiting proselytizing; four Jehovah's Witnesses were prosecuted for proselytizing in 1996. More Jehovah's Witnesses were harassed by authorities who arrested and held them for several hours at police headquarters but subsequently released them without pressing charges. Several cases involving proselytism from previous years resulted in verdicts of acquittal in 1996; one such case was postponed until 1997. Several past convictions for proselytizing were pending before the European Court of Human Rights at year's end. Traditionally, Jehovah's Witnesses ministers were not granted the exemption from military service accorded under the law to clergy of "known religions" and thus served prison sentences for refusing military service. Since 1990-91 the Council of State, the highest court dealing with civil and administrative matters whose opinions are binding on the Government, has ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses were a "known religion" and has ordered the release of ministers who had refused induction. However, the recruiting service of the armed forces regarded these rulings as applying only to individual appellants, rather than as binding precedents for subsequent Jehovah's Witnesses ministers who were called up. It thus continued to rely, in the first instance, on the opinion of the Ministry of Education and Religion, which in turn accepted the view of the Greek Orthodox Church that Jehovah's Witnesses are not a "known religion." As a consequence, for the past few years, ministers of Jehovah's Witnesses have been called up for military service and prosecuted for refusal to serve; only after conviction could they appeal to the Council of State. To open and operate a non-Greek Orthodox house of worship requires approval by the Ministry of Education and Religion. The Ministry bases its decision on the advisory opinion of the local Orthodox bishop. In recent years, such permission has been granted to some groups only after long delays and withheld altogether from other denominations. Two Jehovah's Witnesses were charged in February with the illegal use of a house of prayer in Komotini. In September the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of four Jehovah's Witnesses who had been found guilty by the Supreme Court in 1991 of illegally operating a house of prayer. The Court found that the house of prayer authorization procedure allowed the Government to limit the exercise of religious freedom by members of non-Orthodox religions and was therefore contrary to Article 9 of the European convention on human rights. The Government nevertheless denied after the verdict that any restrictions were imposed. In May an appeals court considering the case of former Greek Orthodox priest Nikodomos Tsarknias overturned three of his previous convictions for "pretense of authority." Human rights monitors note that the language of the court's decision implied recognition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Mosques operate freely in Western Thrace and in the islands of Rhodes and Kos, where most Greek citizens of the Muslim faith reside. However, in December 17 Muslims were arrested in Xanthi province for rebuilding a mosque without a proper permit. Their case had not been resolved by year's end. In accordance with a 1990 presidential decree, the State appointed two muftis (Islamic judges and religious leaders) and one assistant mufti in Greece, all resident in Thrace, based on the recommendations of a committee of local Muslim scholars, religious authorities, and community leaders. The Government argued that it must appoint muftis because, in addition to their religious duties, they perform judicial functions in many civil and domestic matters under Muslim religious law, for which the State pays them. The Muslim minority remains divided on the mufti selection issue. Some Muslims accept the authority of the two officially appointed muftis; other Muslims have chosen two other muftis to serve their communities. The Government prosecuted the two unofficial muftis again in 1996. Mehmet Amin Aga was sentenced in May to 12 months in jail, and again in July to 20 months in prison for usurping the authority of the mufti; he appealed both sentences and was not incarcerated. Ibrahim Sherif was sentenced in October to 6 months in jail on identical charges. He elected to pay a fine instead of serving the jail sentence. Some Muslims claimed that a 1980 law weakens the financial autonomy of the "wakfs," community associations which raise funds used for maintaining mosques and schools and for charitable works, by placing the Wakfs under the administration of appointed muftis and their representatives. Those who object to this system say that it violates the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne. A presidential decree issued in March put the Wakfs under the administration of a temporary committee as an interim measure toward resolving their outstanding problems. Leaders of various non-Greek orthodox religious groups assert that their members face discrimination in reaching the senior ranks in government service. Furthermore, the historical record generally indicates that only those of the Greek Orthodox faith can become officers in the Greek military. To avoid this restriction some members of other faiths resort to declaring themselves Orthodox. Senior government officials, when questioned about such allegations of discrimination, deny that it exists and point out certain persons not of the Orthodox faith who have successful careers in the military. Although only two Muslim officers have been allowed to advance to the rank of reserve officer in the military, insufficient statistical evidence is available to support definitively either side. A 1991 law mandates that citizens declare their religion on European Union (EU) identity cards that – if and when issued – could be used instead of passports to travel freely within the EU. Current national identity cards, which will be replaced when the new EU cards are issued, include reference to the holder's religion, although individuals have the option of leaving that section blank. The law mandating the declaration of religion on the EU cards has caused particular concern among the Catholic and Jewish religious communities in Greece and abroad and has drawn strong criticism from the European Parliament. Despite such criticism and concern, the Government declined to either change the law mandating the declaration of religion on the cards or to issue the new EU cards.

d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution calls for freedom of movement within and outside the country and the right to return. However, Article 19 of the Citizenship Code distinguishes between citizens who are ethnic Greeks and those who are not. Most Article 19 cases involve Muslims from Western Thrace, since only the "Muslim minority" is recognized as having non-Greek ethnicity. Citizens who are not ethnic Greeks may be deprived of their citizenship if it is determined that they left Greece with no apparent intent to return. Determination of intent is made without input from the affected individual; in practice, this law is applied to members of the Muslim community considered to be "undesirable" by the security services. However, immigrants who are ethnic Greeks are normally recognized as citizens and accorded full rights, despite years or even generations of absence. The Interior Ministry initiates proceedings under Article 19 on the basis of reports by local authorities or by Greek embassies or consulates abroad. Affected persons are not notified of Article 19 hearings and are not permitted to attend. Those who lose citizenship as a result of such hearings sometimes learn of this loss only when they seek to reenter Greece. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 84 persons lost Greek citizenship under Article 19 in 1996 (compared with 72 in 1995). Of this number, the Government claims that 35 voluntarily relinquished their citizenship (compared with 45 in 1995). Persons who lose their citizenship under Article 19 have the right of "administrative appeal" to the Interior Ministry; they can also appeal to the Council of State and to the Council of Europe. Leaders of the Muslim community complained that the time and expense involved tended to discourage such appeals. In addition, some persons who lose their citizenship under Article 19 do not discover that fact until appeals deadlines have passed. Three persons who lost citizenship in 1994 have filed administrative appeals which are pending. Another section of the Citizenship Code, Article 20, permits the Government to strip citizenship from those who "commit acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." While the law as written applies equally to all Greeks regardless of their ethnic background, to date it has been enforced only against citizens who identified themselves as members of the "Macedonian" minority. The Government would not reveal the number of Article 20 cases it pursued in 1996. Dual citizens who are stripped of Greek citizenship under Article 20 have been prevented from entering the country using the passport of their second nationality. Greece maintains restricted military zones along its borders, including along the northern border with Bulgaria, an area where many Pomaks live. Until 1995 entry into the zone was controlled by authorities even for local inhabitants, causing residents to complain that their freedom of movement was restricted. The Government announced in 1995 that the sole remaining checkpoint into the village of Exinos within the zone would be removed and that restrictions for entry into the zone would be lifted. Although the regulations concerning the zone remain formally in place, in practice they are no longer enforced for Greek citizens. Several foreign groups were, however, turned away from the zone in 1996. Ethnic Greek immigrants, including those who came from the former Soviet Union since 1986 and from the civil war in Georgia, normally qualify promptly for citizenship and special assistance from the Government. The returnees were settled initially in Western Thrace, where government programs encouraging them to remain have met with limited success. Most move to Athens, Thessaloniki, or other cities, where job prospects are better. Greece frequently offers first asylum to a growing number of refugees from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. The Government provides first asylum to an average of over 100 persons per month. However, it reserves the right to refuse first asylum to illegal immigrants who do not apply within 48 hours. If they do not, their applications can be denied at their "admissibility interviews" when and if they are apprehended regardless of the potential merit of claims of persecution. Permanent resettlement is not normally available for refugees who are not ethnically Greek. Approximately 6,000 refugees were officially recognized between 1980 and 1995, including 400 Vietnamese refugees accepted since 1979 for permanent resettlement. Of the 858 individuals who submitted applications for refugee status in the first 9 months of 1996, 86 were approved. The remaining applications, many of which were submitted by ethnic Kurds from Turkey and Iraq, are under review by the Government in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Government continues to apprehend and return to Albania illegal Albanian immigrants. Greece and Albania signed a treaty of friendship in March, followed in May by a seasonal employment agreement designed to regularize the flow of Albanian workers to Greece. The Parliament has not yet passed the implementing legislation necessary for the agreement to take effect.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Greece is a multiparty democracy in which the Constitution provides for full political rights for all citizens and for the peaceful change of governments and of the Constitution. The Government headed by Prime Minister Constantine Simitis of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won in free and fair elections in September. Parliament elects a President for a 5-year term. Voting is mandatory for those over the age of 18, but there are many conditions that allow one not to vote and penalties are not applied in practice. Members of the unicameral 300-seat Parliament are elected to maximum 4-year terms by secret ballot. Opposition parties function freely and have broad access to the media. Although there are no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in government or politics, they are underrepresented at the higher levels of political life. Women held 2 ministerial positions in the Government and only 1 of 29 subministerial positions. Of the 300 Members of Parliament, 17 were women. Women are also underrepresented in the leadership of the two largest parties. The head of the Communist Party is a woman. While the Government generally respects citizens' political rights, there are sometimes charges that the Government limits the right of some individuals to speak publicly and associate freely on the basis of their self-proclaimed ethnic identity, thus impinging on the political rights of such persons. It also combined voting districts in Thrace, which had the consequence of making it difficult for Muslims to be elected to regional positions. However, candidates from the Muslim minority and members of the "Macedonian minority" ran in the national parliamentary elections. Three Muslim deputies were elected in Thrace, one each from PASOK, New Democracy, and the Coalition of the Left. Romani representatives report that local authorities sometimes deprive Roma of the right to vote by refusing to register them. In April the Government transferred responsibility for oversight of all rights guaranteed to the Muslim minority under the Treaty of Lausanne, including education, zoning, administration of the "wakfs," and trade, from the governors to the Regional Development Director of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. Because the governors are elected, but the Development Director is appointed by the central government, this reduced the ability of the minority to influence decisions that affect it through the democratic process. The Government stated that it made the change because Greece's treaty obligations could be administered more effectively by the central authorities.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government allows domestic human rights organizations to operate, but cooperation with them varies. In principle it does not prohibit foreign diplomats from meeting with officials and other citizens, including critics of official policy. However, the security services on occasion monitor contacts of Greek human rights groups, including listening in on conversations held between those groups and human rights investigators and diplomats. The security services have also questioned monitors' interlocutors in the aftermath of meetings, reports of which have subsequently appeared in the press. Official government documents regarding the activities of human rights monitors have also been reproduced in the press. Monitors view this activity as a form of intimidation which deters others from meeting with investigators.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equality before the law and the full protection of individual life, honor, and freedom irrespective of nationality, race, language, or religious or political belief. Government respect for these rights in practice is uneven. Violence against homosexuals is not common. However, police occasionally harass gay bar owners and gay men, including detaining them at police stations overnight and sometimes physically mistreating them.


The incidence of violence against women reported to the authorities is low, but Athens' Equality Secretariat – which operates the only shelter for battered women – believes the actual incidence is "high." According to the Ministry of Public Order, 234 cases of rape were reported in 1995. No other statistics were available. The General Secretariat for Equality of the Sexes (GSES), an independent government agency, asserts that police tend to discourage women from pursuing domestic violence charges and instead undertake reconciliation efforts, although they are neither qualified for nor charged with this task. The GSES also claims that the courts are lenient when dealing with domestic violence cases. As a result of pressure from women's groups, the Government established a center for battered women in Athens in 1988, and a residential facility for battered women and their children opened in 1993. These centers provide legal advice, psychological counseling, information on social services, and temporary residence for battered women and their children. Battered women can also go to state hospitals and regional health centers, although these facilities are often not adequately staffed to handle such cases properly. According to the police, trafficking in women for prostitution, mostly from the former Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, has increased sharply in recent years. Of the 118 foreign women arrested in Attica province (which includes Athens) during the first 9 months of the year for prostitution without a license, 60 were from Albania, 19 were from Russia, and 25 were from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Police estimate that foreigners constitute 2,000 of the 5,000 prostitutes in Greece. Although information on this subject is fragmentary, January press reports indicated that Greek and Cypriot police were cooperating to break up a prostitution ring specializing in Russian women. There are broad constitutional and legal protections for women, including equal pay for equal work. However, the GSES and the unions maintain that women receive lower salaries overall than men because they are hired for lower-level jobs. The National Statistical Service's most recent data (the fourth quarter of 1995) show that women's salaries in manufacturing were 71 percent of those of men in comparable positions; in retail sales, women's salaries were 83 percent of those of men in comparable positions. These same groups claim that women face a "glass ceiling" when they are considered for promotions in both the public and private sectors. A GSES report shows that although women make up 42 percent of permanent civil servants, only 10.6 percent hold directors' positions. Women represent 60 percent of the unemployed and 69 percent of those affected by long-term unemployment. Although there are still relatively few women in senior positions, in recent years women have entered traditionally male-dominated occupations such as the legal and medical professions in larger numbers.


The Government is committed to providing adequate basic health and education services for children. Education is compulsory through the ninth grade and free through university. However, some social groups, such as Roma and illegal immigrants, are underserved, according to child health specialists. Welfare legislation enacted in 1992 prohibits the mistreatment of children and provides penalties for violators. The State provides preventive and treatment programs for abused children and for children deprived of their family environment; it also seeks to ensure that alternative family care or institutional placement is made available to them. The Institute of Child Health, which receives referrals of children who have been abused, estimates that 4,000 children are abused each year. The Institute reports that its cases involve physical abuse (52.5 percent), neglect/malnutrition (37 percent), burns (7 percent), and sexual abuse (3.5 percent), the latter including sexual exploitation, incest, and rape. According to a report submitted by the Government at the 1996 Stockholm International Congress on the Sexual Exploitation of Children, 238 cases of sexual exploitation of children and young people up to the age of 18 were reported in 1995. Children's rights advocacy groups claim that protection of high-risk children in state residential care centers is inadequate and of low quality. They cite lack of coordination between welfare services and the courts, inadequate funding of the welfare system, and poor staffing of residential care centers as systemic weaknesses in child abuse prevention and treatment efforts. Societal abuse of children in the form of prostitution, pornography, and child labor is rare. In recent years, the number of street children who panhandle or peddle at city intersections on behalf of adult family members or for criminal gangs has grown. Many in the Athens area are ethnic Albanian. Police occasionally round up these children and take them to state or charitable institutions that care for wayward children. Parents can reclaim their children but risk deportation if they are illegal immigrants.

People with Disabilities

Legislation mandates the hiring of disabled persons in public and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons. However, the law is reportedly poorly enforced, particularly in the private sector. The law states that disabled persons should number 3 percent of staff in private enterprises. In the civil service, 5 percent of administrative staff and 80 percent of telephone operator positions are reserved for disabled persons. Persons with disabilities have been appointed to important positions the civil service, including that of Secretary General of the Ministry of Welfare. The Construction Code mandates physical access for disabled persons to private and public buildings, but this law too is poorly enforced. Ramps and special curbs for the disabled have been constructed on some Athens streets and at some public buildings, and sound signals have been installed at some city street crossings. Since 1993 the Government has been replacing old city buses with new ones with stairs specially designed for the disabled. Officials say that the new Athens subway lines under construction will provide full access for the disabled.

Religious Minorities

Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not routinely extended to other recognized religions. Rather, the non-Greek Orthodox must make separate and lengthy applications to government authorities on such matters as arranging appointments to meet with Ministry of Education and Religion officials and gaining permission to move places of worship to larger quarters. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, teachers no longer face difficulties gaining or keeping employment in public and private schools, except in rare instances in rural areas. Jehovah's Witnesses are now treated as a "known religion" for the purpose of employment by the Ministry of Education, which hires public school teachers. Jehovah's Witness leaders have protested the existence of a derogatory passage in the high-school level textbook used nationwide in religious instruction classes. The segment criticizes minority religions as a threat to the nation. Leaders of the Jewish community in Greece have lobbied the government for several years to delete anti-Semitic references from public school textbooks. The Ministry of Education and Religion agreed to delete all such references as new editions were published. The references have been deleted in the new editions that have since been released. The central board of Jewish communities in Greece expects the remaining references to be deleted in the coming years. The Government gave approval for construction of a memorial for the 48,000 victims of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki. The city of Thessaloniki will open a Jewish folk and history museum, and a privately funded holocaust museum will open in early 1997.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There are communities in Greece that identify themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites (ethnic Albanians), and "Macedonians" or "Slavomacedonians." Many are fully integrated into Greek society. The only minority the Government formally recognizes is the "Muslim minority" referred to in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The Government insists on the use of that rubric to refer to several different ethnic communities. A substantial part of the Muslim minority is ethnically Turkish or consists of Turkish-speakers in Western Thrace; the Government estimates their number at some 120,000 persons. In addition to people of Turkish origin, the Muslim minority includes Pomaks and Roma. Many Greek Muslims, including Pomaks, identify themselves as Turks and say that the Muslim minority as a whole has a Turkish cultural consciousness. The use of the word "tourkos" ("Turk") is prohibited in titles of organizations, though individuals may legally call themselves "tourkos." To most Greeks, the word "tourkos" connotes Turkish identity or loyalties, and many object to its use by citizens of Turkish origin. Use of a similar adjective, "tourkoyennis" (of Turkish descent, affiliation, or ethnicity) however, is allowed. Northern Greece is home to an indeterminate number (estimates range widely, from under 10,000 to 50,000 or more) of citizens who are descended from Slavs or Slavophones. Some still speak a Slavic dialect, particularly in the Florina district. A small number of them consider themselves to be members of a distinct ethnic group which they identify as "Macedonian" (self-described "Macedonians" are hereafter referred to "Macedonian") and assert their right to minority status. The Government harasses and intimidates some of these people, including denying their right of association (see Section 2.b.), monitoring activists' meetings with human rights investigators (see Section 2.d.), and accusing activists publicly of being agents of a foreign government. As a result, some Greeks who consider themselves "Macedonian" do not declare themselves openly for fear of losing their jobs or other sanctions. The Government's sensitivity on this issue stems from its belief that people who claim to be members of a "Macedonian" minority may have separatist aspirations. Greece's dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over that country's name heightened this sensitivity. Government officials and courts deny requests by individuals and groups to identify themselves using the ancient term "Macedonian," because some 2.2 million ethnic (and linguistically) Greek citizens in the northern Greek region of Macedonia already use the term to identify themselves. The Government does not define the Slavic dialect spoken by some thousands of northern Greeks as "Macedonian," and government officials deny that it is a separate language at all. The officials also note that Greece regulates the establishment of all commercial language academies and question whether advocates of "Macedonian" language schools meet the relevant requirements. They say that the Government would not interfere with the holding of informal language classes within the Slavophone community. When a political party hung a bilingual Greek and Slavic name sign outside its office, the public prosecutor in Florina ordered that it be removed (see Section 2.a.). Criminal charges were filed against an official of the same party under a law banning "inciting rivalry and division" when he attempted to import two wall calendars identifying Greek cities by their Slavic names (see Section 2.a.). The Secretariat for Adult Education (a government agency) estimates the number of Roma at some 300,000. Almost half of the Romani population is permanently settled, mainly in the Athens area. The other half is mobile, working mainly as agricultural laborers, peddlers, and musicians throughout the country. Government policy is to encourage the integration of Roma. Poverty, illiteracy, and social prejudice continue to plague large parts of the Romani population. The Secretariat for Adult Education conducts education and training programs targeting the Romani population, including the use of mobile schools. The illiteracy rate among Roma is estimated at 80 percent. Some 1,200 Romani children attended the mobile school program during the last school year. The usage of public health facilities by Roma is low because of the low rate of integration of Romani communities into Greek society and social security systems. Ninety percent of Roma are not insured by any of the government social security systems because they are self-employed or work in off-the-books jobs that do not make contributions to the social security system. The fact that health facilities are not located close to the Roma camps also contributes to their low rate of access. In July the Government announced new projects, subsidized by EU social funds, to improve Romani living conditions. The projects include the establishment of organized camps, subsidies for the purchase of mobile homes, and the creation of mobile medical units. None of the projects was implemented by year's end. The Treaty of Lausanne provides that the Muslim minority has the right to Turkish-language education, with a reciprocal entitlement for the Greek minority in Istanbul (now reduced to about 3,000). Western Thrace has both Koranic and secular Turkish-language schools. Government disputes with Turkey over teachers and textbooks caused these secular schools serious problems in obtaining faculty and teaching materials in sufficient number and quality. Under a 1952 educational protocol, Greece and Turkey may annually exchange 35 teachers on a reciprocal basis. The teachers serve in Istanbul and Western Thrace, respectively, but in recent years the Greek side limited the exchanges to 16 teachers per country due to the dwindling needs of the small and aging Greek population Turkey. In Greece over 9,000 Muslim children attended Turkish-language primary schools. Around 650 attended Turkish-language secondary schools, and approximately 1,000 attended Greek-language secondary schools. Many Muslims reportedly went to high school in Turkey due to the limited number of places in the Turkish-language secondary schools, which are assigned by lottery. In 1995 the Government enacted several measures designed to improve the educational situation of Muslims in Thrace. A new education law provides incentives for Muslim and Christian educators to reside and teach in isolated villages. The new law also permits the Minister of Education to give special consideration to Muslims for admission to universities and technical institutes. Under this law, faculties of each university and technical institute nationwide created at least one position for Muslim students, a total of some 250 places. All Muslim students who applied were admitted to these institutes of higher learning, and about 70 attended. The rate of employment of Muslims in the public sector and in state-owned industries and corporations is much lower than the Muslim percentage of the population. In Xanthi and Komotini, while Muslims hold seats on the prefectural and town councils, there are no Muslims among the regular employees of the prefecture. Muslims in Thrace claim that they are hired only for lower level, part-time work. The Government says lack of fluency in written and spoken Greek and the need for university degrees for high-level positions limit the number of Muslims eligible for government jobs. Muslims have not received any of the government subsidies offered to corporations establishing or expanding their business operations in Thrace. According to government sources, however, no Muslims applied for these subsidies. Public offices in Thrace do their business in Greek; the courts provide interpreters as needed. In the Komotini district in Thrace, where many ethnic Turks live, the office of the district governor ("nomarch") has Turkish-language interpreters available. Claims of discriminatory denial of Muslim applications for a license to operate businesses, own a tractor, or construct property have diminished greatly in recent years. One Muslim's application for membership in the Komotini chamber of commerce, which is necessary to obtain import licenses and other privileges, was refused because his business partner was Turkish. Basic public services provided to Muslim-populated neighborhoods and villages (electricity, telephones, paved roads) in many cases continue to lag far behind those provided in non-Muslim areas. In August rightwing orthodox Christian extremists vandalized around 40 Muslim-owned businesses and institutions in Komotini, including the Muslim youth organization and the mosque that was the headquarters of the mufti. Four Muslims were hospitalized following the attacks. Police made five arrests in connection with the incident. In 1995 the Defense Minister reported that members of the Muslim minority would for the first time be allowed to advance to the rank of reserve officers in the military. To date, two Muslims have done so. Members of the Muslim minority in the Dodecanese islands of Rhodes and Kos are much more integrated into local society.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and subsequent legislation provide for the right of association. All workers, with the exception of the military, have the right to form or join unions. Police have the right to form unions but not to strike. Approximately 30 percent of workers (nearly 1 million persons) were organized in unions. Unions receive most of their funding from a Ministry of Labor organization, the Workers' Hearth, which distributes mandatory contributions from employees and employers. Workers, employers, and the state are represented in equal numbers on the board of directors of the Workers' Hearth. Only the five most powerful public sector unions have dues-withholding provisions in their contracts, in addition to receiving Workers' Hearth subsidies. Over 4,000 unions are grouped into regional and sectoral federations and two umbrella confederations, one for civil servants and one, the General Confederation of Greek workers (GSEE), for private sector employees. Unions are highly politicized, and there are party-affiliated factions within the labor confederations, but day-to-day operations are not controlled by political parties or the Government. There are no restrictions on who may serve as a union official. Legal restrictions on strikes include a mandatory period of notice, which is 4 days for public utilities and 24 hours for the private sector. Legislation mandates a skeleton staff during strikes affecting public services, such as electricity, transportation, communications, and banking. Public utility companies, state-owned banks, the postal service, Olympic Airways, and the railroads are also required to maintain a skeleton staff during strikes. The courts have the power to declare strikes illegal, although such decisions are seldom enforced. Unions complain, however, that this judicial power serves as a deterrent to some of their membership from participating in strikes. In 1996 the courts declared a majority of strikes illegal for reasons such as failure of the union to give adequate advance notice of the strike, or the addition of demands by the union during the course of the strike. No striking workers were prosecuted, however. Unions are free to join international associations and maintain a variety of international affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Legislation provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively in the private sector and in public corporations. These rights are respected in practice. There are no restrictions on collective bargaining for private sector employees. The union of civil servants negotiates with the Office of the Minister to the Prime Minister. In response to union complaints that most labor disputes ended in compulsory arbitration, legislative remedies were enacted providing for mediation procedures, with compulsory arbitration as a last resort. The legislation establishing a national mediation, reconciliation, and arbitration organization went into effect in 1992 and applies to the private sector and public corporations (the military and civil service excluded). Antiunion discrimination is prohibited. The Labor Inspectorate or a court investigates complaints of discrimination against union members or organizers. Court rulings have mandated the reinstatement of improperly fired union organizers. There are three free trade zones, operated according to EU regulations. The labor laws apply equally in these zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the Ministry of Justice enforces this prohibition. However, the Government may declare the "civil mobilization" of workers in the event of danger to national security, life, property, or the social and economic life of the country. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts has criticized this power as violating the standards of ILO Convention 29 on forced labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15 years, with higher limits for certain activities. The minimum age is 12 years in family businesses, theaters, and the cinema. These age limits are enforced by occasional Labor Inspectorate spot checks and are generally respected. However, families engaged in agriculture, food service, and merchandising often have younger family members assisting them, at least part time.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Collective bargaining between the GSEE and the Employers' Association determines a nationwide minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor routinely ratifies this minimum wage, which has the force of law and applies to all workers. The current minimum wage of $24 (Dr 5,746) daily and $533 (Dr 128,329) monthly, effective July 1, is sufficient for a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours in the private sector and 37 1/2 hours in the public sector. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of 1 month per year, and sets limits on overtime. Legislation provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety. Although the GSEE characterized health and safety legislation as satisfactory, it charged that enforcement, the responsibility of the Labor Inspectorate, was inadequate. In its most recent review of this issue in 1992, the GSEE cited statistics indicating a high number of job-related accidents over the past two decades. Inadequate inspection, failure to enforce regulations, outdated industrial plant and equipment, and poor safety training of employees were cited as contributing to the accident rate. Workers do not have the legal right to remove themselves from situations they believe endanger their health. They do have the right, however, to lodge a confidential complaint with the Labor Inspectorate. Inspectors have the right to close down machinery or a process for a period of up to 5 days if they see safety or health hazards that they believe represent an imminent danger to the workers.

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