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09:11 pm - Greece: Human Rights Commissioner on Roma evictions, racism
GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR (GHM)
PRESS RELEASE
9 March 2007

Greece: Commissioner for Human Rights on Roma evictions, neighbors’ racism and negligence of police and authorities in Patras. Hypocritical stance of Greek government.

Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) welcomes the recently made public letter of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg to the Greek government. The Commissioner reports his observations, during his September 2006 visit, on the illegal evictions of Roma in Patras; the aggressive, threatening and racist attitude of the non-Roma neighbors who disturbed his visit; the lack of obvious protection from the police present; and the non-condemnation by local authorities of anti-Roma racism. The letter was sent to the Minister for Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Prokopis Pavlopoulos on 1 December 2006.

On 24 January 2007, during his speech to the Plenary of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis extolled the institution of the Commissioner, affirmed Greece’s support to it and to Thomas Hammarberg and pledged that Greece will do everything in its power to ensure the success of this institution. Furthermore, he had a non-scheduled meeting with the Commissioner, in the presence of the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Dora Bakoyanni. The meeting may have been a form of apology on behalf of the Greek government for the unacceptable conduct of local authorities towards the Commissioner, who had been compelled to denounce then the Municipality of Patras for “disrespect for an international official”, “most unusual and unacceptable putting in my mouth of statements which I never made”, “attempt to use his credibility against an NGO” etc (statement available at http://cm.greekhelsinki.gr/index.php?sec=192&cid=2695)

It appears however that all the above were hypocritical, since, until today, the government has not answered the Commissioner’s letter, thus demonstrating its de facto disregard to his work and to human rights. Nor of course did the government take measures to compensate and relocate most of the Roma families following the eviction or the “administrative suspension” they experienced, as well as to ensure that those families living in apartment and whose rent is being subsidized enjoy security of tenure in their current housing.

GHM hopes that the ex officio preliminary investigation for the illegal evictions ordered by the First Instance Court Prosecutor’s Office of Patras, following GHM complaint reports will include all what the Commissioner mentions in his letter on the evictions, the racism of non-Roma residents as well as the breach of duty of police in providing adequate protection to the international official. GHM furthermore hopes that the Greek Police will launch a Sworn Administrative Inquiry (and not a routine unofficial preliminary investigation that is conducted with the participation of only the police officers concerned) on the same issue.

The Commissioner’s letter, an excerpt from the statement of Prime Minister Karamanlis and photos from his meeting with the Commissioner follow.

CommDH(2006)23
English only

The situation of Roma in Greece

Letter addressed to Mr Prokopis PAVLOPOULOS, Hellenic Minister for the Interior, Public Administration & Decentralisation

by Mr Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

(available at https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1100661&BackColorInternet=FEC65B&BackColorIntranet=FEC65B&BackColorLogged=FFC679)

Strasbourg, 1 December 2006

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you about the situation of Roma in Greece. As you know the living conditions of Roma in several countries in Europe is a concern for the Council of Europe and for myself as Commissioner for Human Rights.

My predecessor, Alvaro Gil-Robles, documented poor housing conditions among Roma and referred to cases of their eviction in his reports on Greece (Report on the visit to the Hellenic Republic of 17 July 2002, CommDH(2002)5, and Follow-up report of 29 March 2006, CommDH(2006)13). Also, the European Committee on Social Rights has concluded that there have been situations of non-compliance by Greece of its obligations under the Social Charter to ensure the housing rights of Roma (Decision on the merits of the collective Complaint N° 15/2003 and the corresponding Resolution of the Committee of Ministers ResChS(2005)11; European Committee of Social Rights, Conclusions XVIII-1).

Therefore, I wanted to discuss this matter and also see for myself during my brief visit to Greece in late September. I held talks on the housing situation of Roma with Mr Kaminis, the Greek Ombudsman, Mr Vergygiannis, the Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior, and Mr Ailianos, Secretary General of the Ministry for Public Order. I also went to see Roma communities and settlements in Makrygiannis and Riganocampos near Patras.

The right to adequate housing is a fundamental right. It is protected by several international legal instruments including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter. Furthermore, the right to adequate housing has to be ensured without discrimination.

Let me emphasise the importance of this. Without a real home, families face difficulties in enjoying other rights, such as the right to education and health. A pattern of social segregation is perpetuated.

Decisions that some people have to move because of new city plans may sometimes be justified. However, the manner in which such initiatives are prepared and implemented should be in accordance with agreed human rights norms and procedural safeguards.

The consequence of these norms is that forced evictions can only be carried out in exceptional cases and in a reasonable manner. Everyone concerned must be able to access courts to review the legality of planned evictions before they are carried out – this requires the existence of both legal remedies and legal aid possibilities. Alternatives to evictions should be sought in genuine consultation with the people affected while compensation and adequate resettlement have to be offered when forced evictions take place.

The norms also apply to local authorities. The fact that abusive decisions are often taken on local level does not absolve the central government from responsibility under its international obligations. The state should exercise oversight and, if necessary, regulate local action.

During my visit, I was informed of the efforts of the Greek Government to improve the housing conditions of Roma through the Integrated Action Plan of 2002 and, in particular, the programme of state-guaranteed housing loans.

However, the brief visit to Patras illustrated to me that there are remaining problems.

I saw Roma families living in very poor conditions. Also, I met with a family whose simple habitat had been bulldozed away that same morning. It was obvious that the “procedures” for making them homeless were in total contradiction to human rights standards I referred to above.

I was also disturbed to notice that non-Roma people appeared on both sites during my visit and behaved in an aggressive, threatening manner to the extent that my interviews with some of the Roma families were disturbed. I had expected that the police would have offered more obvious protection and I did not get the impression of a principled, clear position by the local authorities against such xenophobic, anti-Ziganistic tendencies.

The Patras authorities showed me a flat that had been made available to one Roma family. The parents were positive about this housing, but I understood that they were worried about what would happen after the initial, financially subsidized period was over. They had no money to pay the rent. This seemed to raise the question of sustainability of the housing solutions offered.

The Recommendation Rec(2005)4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on improving the housing conditions of Roma and Travellers in Europe provides sound guidance to member states in the field of housing.

There also appears to be a need for further work to counter xenophobic and racist tendencies which seriously hinder the social inclusion of Roma.

As regards the current situation in Makrygiannis and Riganocampos, I would like to request further information on the measures taken to compensate and relocate Roma families after eviction or “administrative suspension” and on their security of tenure in current housing.

I look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the Hellenic Government on these questions in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Hammarberg

Cc.

Mr. Constantin YEROCOSTOPOULOS, Permanent Representative of Greece to the Council of Europe


Strasbourg, 24 January 2007



SPEECH BY PRIME MINISTER KOSTAS KARAMANLIS TO THE PLENARY OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE



(available at http://www.coe.int/t/dc/files/pa_session/jan_2007/20070124_disc_karamanlis_en.asp)



“[…] The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights represents an institution that is equally important as a court even though it operates in a different way. Its limited financial and human resources must be considerably strengthened, especially in view of the entering into force of Protocol No. 14. We have always strongly supported this institution and we shall continue to lend Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg the same strong support that we offered to his predecessor. Indeed, my country will do everything in its power to ensure the success of this institution in the years to come.”

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