Universal Periodic Review 39th Session
Review of Greece - Third Cycle
25 October 2021
By Louise Requin / GICJ
The third cycle of the UPR for Greece took place on October 25th, 2021. The country delegation and interested stakeholders submitted reports as well as a compilation of OHCHR information which detail the country’s human rights progress and monitors the implementation of previous recommendations.
The reports focus on LGBTQ+ rights, violence against women, discrimination minority, rights and the refugee population of Greece. Greece outlined its national action plans on racism and intolerance, persons with disabilities and sexual orientation discrimination. Other policies are directed at enhancing women’s representation in politics, and creating more training opportunities for them to create equal inclusion in leadership roles. Gender based violence response units are being created in all regions, along with training for police officials to prevent secondary victimization.
The discussion revolved around the minority rights of the Muslims of Thrace, which divided the delegations. Delegations also brought up the legal obstacles faces by same-sex couples regarding marriage and adoption, calling for a long overdue legislative change.
Most of the discussion however was dedicated to the asylum-seekers and the refugee camps of Greece. Delegations addressed allegations of land and sea pushbacks, which constitute a breach to the principle of non-refoulement. They also called for an improvement of the living conditions in refugee camps.
GICJ strongly condemns illegal sea and land pushbacks, and calls for an immediate independent investigation to be mandated and carried out by a regional or international body. Furthermore, the arrivals in the Aegean should be dispatched throughout the European Union to avoid straining the resources in Greece and in turn causing conditions of receptions which fail to meet human rights standards. The human rights of migrant populations should be a priority.
The UPR is a universal reporting mechanism which reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN members states. States provide a national report, the OHCHR provides a compilation of information, and civil society organizations provide an additional report. The UPR was established by the UN General Assembly resolution 60/25. The presentation of the reports is followed by an interactive dialogue with interested delegations and involving a troika of country delegations, in the case of Greece including the UK, Japan and Senegal.
UPR reviews are conducted by the UPR Working Group, which includes the 47 members of the Human Rights Council. The outcome of the review is then submitted for adoption in the following Human Rights Council session.
Greece submitted its report to the third cycle of the UPR. The report summarizes all the human rights progress made in legal ratification and policy-making, and non-legal mechanisms and initiatives. The report also follows-up on the recommendations made by delegations in the previous UPR cycle.
The National Report of Greece identified the main challenges faced by the country as being the decade-long economic crisis, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the arrivals of asylum-seekers through the Aegean Sea. The report focuses on the human rights of women and children, the fight against gender-based violence, the rights of minorities, specifically the Muslim minority of Thrace, the rights of asylum-seekers, the rights of people with disabilities.
Greece has adopted three national action plans during the reporting period, on disability, racism and sexual orientation discrimination. The National Action plan on the rights of Persons with Disabilities aims for the inclusion, protection and participation of persons with disabilities, including rendering their struggle more visible to society.
Greece adopted a plan of action against Racism and Intolerance along with the implementation of Law 4285/2014 which punishes discrimination or acts of targeted violence. The report details the penalties for acts of hatred and violence of a racist character, as well as the prosecution of far-right extremists by the judiciary authorities.
The protection of the Roma people was also addressed by the report. Roma populations in Greece are particularly vulnerable to social marginalization, poverty and early school dropouts, discrimination and stereotypes, especially for women. They are more vulnerable to delinquency and criminal activities, a trend the national strategy for Roma Social Inclusion is trying to address.
The Muslim Minority in Thrace is recognized as an official religious minority, while not an ethnic one due to their belonging to diverse ethnic groups. The report argues that the Muslim minority actively participates in civil and political life and that their freedom of religion is preserved. The report mentions the building and functioning of several mosques. Reports of stakeholders however argue that the non-recognition of muftis and their judgements constitute a barrier to the full exercise of freedom of religion. The report refers to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights to ensure the lawfulness of its non-recognition of Islamic law.
The national report also addresses sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The progress made by Greece enables the legal recognition of gender identity regardless of medical procedures, examination or treatment, including for minors. Same-sex couples who enter civil partnership pacts may now become foster parents. The report recognizes that many challenges, legal and behavioral, remain for individuals of LGBTQ+ identity in Greece.
The achievement of gender equality still faces considerable challenges in Greece. Intersectional discrimination affects particularly women of color, refugee women, Roma women and women with disability. Greece is implementing various quotas to improve representation. Stakeholders point out issues of gender pay gap and workplace sexual harassment. Moreover, the lack of access to contraception in Greece prevents women from the full enjoyment of their rights. Domestic violence is still prevalent in Greece, which has led to the creation of regional response units within the Hellenic Police. The Police also seems to have received training on the handling of SGBV victims to prevent secondary victimization. However, stakeholders argue that the non-prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence remains significant. Greece also adopted a national action plan on the rights of the child, focusing on children’s health, combatting child poverty, creating child friendly justice, protecting migrant children, ensuring the right to education.
The matter of migration takes up a significant amount of the report. Greece approaches the matter of human movement through anti trafficking policies. Human trafficking is affecting the migrant population most particularly as they are the most vulnerable and resourceless. The Action Plan on Human Trafficking aims at identifying these victims. It remains unclear who these measures target and what their end goal are, and the stakeholders report urges Greece to merge anti-trafficking efforts with protection measures for vulnerable asylum-seekers, specifically women, the elderly, children and unaccompanied minors.
The report makes note of the scale of arrivals which have caused administrative and capacity shortages in Greece. The number of arrivals since 2015 have left Greece unable to cope on its own, with the effective processing of asylum applications, causing an overcrowding of reception centers and dire conditions of life for migrants. An incident with Turkey in February 2020 has caused Greece to suspend all asylum applications for a month, and to stop transfers to the mainland.
Stakeholders sound the alarm on the instances of illegal sea and land pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG). Such pushbacks constitute a breach to the principle of non-refoulement. The National Report denies all allegations of misconduct by the Hellenic Coast Guard.
In addition, the problem of police brutality is emphasized by several civil society organizations. The report argues that cases are being investigated, and that training and disciplinary procedures for the staff are underway. Police brutality seems to be specifically directed at the Roma and refugee population. Stakeholders called out the non-investigation of these allegations, and the government’s protection of the police.
The interactive dialogue opened with a presentation by the head of the Greek delegation, Panos Alexandris. He started with the Covid-19 situation and the vaccination status of Greece. He proceeded with detailing the several national action plans, namely on disability, racism, children’s rights, women’s rights. He reiterated the efforts and commitments presented in the national report.
Delegations proceeded to ask questions and make comments, and most importantly making recommendations to be included in the working group’s report. Migration and the treatment of migrants was the focal point of delegations’ recommendations.
The Refugee Crisis
Libya recommended the delegation ratify the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, along with several other delegations. The non-ratification of this convention remains and issue in Greece in light of its large population of migrants.
The principle of non-refoulement and the guarantee of individual review of the asylum procedure was brought up by several delegations. Luxembourg recommended Greece halt practices of collective returns immediately. The case-by-case evaluation of asylum applications is a guaranteed human right enshrined in several international conventions. This recommendation was reiterated by Mexico. The Netherlands took a different approach, thanking Greece for its “protection of Europe’s borders against irregular flows of migrants”. The Netherlands however also expressed its concerns on the accusations of illegal pushbacks, along with Norway and Pakistan. Pakistan recommended the establishment of a national strategy to prevent pushbacks. The Greek delegation responded that that the Greek Ombudsman would investigate the matter. The delegation also argued that the actions of the HCG are consistently monitored. The HCG is working with Frontex which is a European agency, meaning their policies are also directed by decisions on the European level. The delegation argued that the HCG has saved “thousands of lives” and has incorporated the Frontex code of conduct and its complaints mechanisms. The delegation denied the possibility of all misconduct.
Human trafficking was heavily argued upon. Lebanon and Luxembourg recommended Greece strengthen its efforts to limit migrant smuggling. Luxembourg recommended Greece increase efforts to investigate allegations of human trafficking. Nigeria recommended that anti-human trafficking efforts be centered around the victims and their needs. Peru called Greece to end its unlawful exploitation of migrant workers, a matter which should be included in its human trafficking action plan.
Greece has implemented several measures that aim at the criminalization of civil society organizations on grounds of human trafficking prevention. This trend has caused the prosecution of multiple members of NGOs on search and rescue missions designed to save the lives of asylum-seekers. Accusations of human trafficking and media framing of civil society organizations as illegal smugglers is very prevalent in Greece. Mexico recommended Greece ensure their freedom of expression and association, and Panama recommended Greece ends the prosecution of humanitarian action. Some NGOs also brought up the new complex registration system Greece has set up for all NGOs, which is bound to restrict freedom of association. The Greek delegation replied that the registry is a measure which is not meant to restrict civil society participation but designed for administrative efficiency.
Conditions of life in the RICs (reception and identification centers) on Aegean islands are cause for concern. Norway recommended Greece adopt a strategy to ensure access to education for asylum-seeking children, as currently, schooling options for children in camps are only available through civil society organizations and are very limited. The delegation of Greece replied that the camps are being updated to comply with European standards, including adequate access to healthcare, free movement of people in and out of the camps, designated areas for children and unaccompanied minors and access to education. The delegation said that vulnerable and ill individuals were placed in accommodation in hotels. Other delegations replied that the new Moria camp on Lesbos worsened the living conditions of asylum-seekers, a matter that is also highlighted in the stakeholders report. Indeed, reports of civil society show that Greek refugee camps fail to comply with adequate standards of living and expose their resident to dire conditions of life.
Police brutality was also addressed: Mexico recommended Greece monitor its public force and investigate the abuse it commits, as well a train the police forces to end such abuse. The Greek delegation affirmed that its law enforcement was only functioning within its mandate and was effectively protecting asylum-seekers they meet. The delegation argued the police force was frequently offered training and that all complaints were met with investigation and disciplinary measures.
Women’s rights & Children’s rights
Gender equality was further discussed. Several delegations made recommendations to strengthen women’s access to shelters and long-term support when they are victims of domestic violence. The delegation of Greece argued that shelters are mandatory facilities regional administrations are tasked to create. They further argued that training for all relevant staff, specifically the police force was being dispensed to prevent secondary victimization.
The gender pay gap and lack of women’s representation in all spheres of society remains too wide and must be addressed. The Maldives recommended Greece create larger quotas to achieve full administrative equality. Women’s place in entrepreneurship remains limited, as well as women’s employment opportunities. Several delegations made recommendations in this regard. The delegation replied that the National Action Plan was planning to undertake training, networking, and education to leadership targeting women and girls to enable their future participation. Education for women in STEM is put under particular emphasis.
Delegations made recommendations regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. Malaysia recommended Greece improve its access to healthcare, specifically sexual and reproductive healthcare for persons with disabilities. Among others, Namibia emphasized the importance of access to justice for persons with disabilities.
Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in Greece was called out by several delegations. Malta recommended Greece consider recognizing same-sex marriage and adoption, a recommendation that was reiterated multiple times. Indeed, the progress made by Greece in terms of equality for LGBT+ individuals remains very limited.
The combat against racism and intolerance needs to be strengthened, particularly hate crimes and hate speech. Norway and Pakistan reiterated their concerns concerning acts of violence against migrants but also against non-white and Roma individuals in Greece, specifically by law enforcement authorities. Greece argued its national strategy for the inclusion of Roma focuses on the improvement of accommodation and representation of Roma people, and is supported by a task force. The delegation of Greece presented its human rights training program dispensed to judiciary authorities and civil servants which addresses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, disability and race.
Regarding the Muslim Minority in Thrace, the Turkish delegation recommended that Greece allow the Turkish Muslim minority to create their own schools and graveyards, and allow the judgements of the muftis to be regarded as legitimate. The Greek delegation argued that the minority was currently allowed to observe its own culture within the confines of what the European Court of Human Rights recognizes as legitimate limitations from the Greek government. The delegation reiterated that the minority in Thrace is ethnically diverse and therefore should not be labelled under a sole collective ethnic identity.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
GICJ is severely concerned with the allegation of pushbacks, which seriously disrespect the human right to asylum and international humanitarian law. The Greek delegation’s response to these accusations seems inconsistent, oscillating between denial and assurance of investigation. This position from the Greek government should encourage an international investigation into these allegations.
Furthermore, living conditions in the refugee camps are undeniably not up to human rights standards. Reports from civil society organizations and observations of the infrastructures on Lesbos and Samos leave no doubt that access to sanitation, healthcare and education is scarce for residents of the camp. Despite the delegation’s assurance that these elements are guaranteed to the asylum-seeking population, GICJ is convinced that Greece lacks capacity to process and accommodate adequately the applicants. Therefore, GICJ calls on the European Union to share the responsibility for processing asylum applications. GICJ reminds the international community that the 40 000 asylum applicants of 2020 would make roughly 1 500 refugees per country if effectively divided among the 27 members of the EU. This figure presents a very different narrative to the “unprecedented wave of migrants” depicted by the report. This remarkably small number would be easily accommodated in Europe with sufficient political will. Efficient processing would allow refugees to rejoin the labor force or education faster, instead of being left for years in makeshift accommodation. Therefore, GICJ calls for an emergency resettlement of asylum-seekers to other EU countries with guarantees that they will be able to lodge their asylum claims where they are resettled, a framework that would require legislative change at the EU level.
GICJ believes that the Aegean camps are isolating and dehumanizing, as they hold asylum-seekers in dire living conditions, in remote areas for extended periods of time without access to work or basic services. Given the scale of the issue, upgrading the reception centers will not be enough to ensure access to all human rights for all asylum seekers. GICJ believes Greece should be allowed to share the temporary settlement of asylum-seekers with other EU countries.
Legislative change is necessary for the LGBTQI+ community to access equal rights. Greece’s alleged commitment to gay rights is discredited by its lack of intention to legalize same-sex marriage. Allowing gay marriage is the first step to formal recognition of LGBT equality. Civil partnerships can not account for equality.
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