Greece: Commissioner Muiznieks says racist violence is a real threat to democracy

Racist violence a real threat to democracy in Greece

Athens, 01/02/2013. “Impunity for the rising number of racist crimes in Greece has to end. The police, prosecutors and courts need to become fully acquainted with and give effect to existing anti-racism legislation, including the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination by which Greece is bound”, stated Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of his five-day visit to Greece.

Between October 2011 and December 2012 more than 200 racist attacks were recorded by the racist violence recording network headed by UNHCR and the National Commission for Human Rights. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. The fatal stabbing of a young Pakistani worker in Athens a fortnight ago by two criminals, one of whom was linked to the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn, has rightly alarmed the authorities and made them more determined to fight and eliminate the scourge of racist and other hate crimes”.

“Many political leaders in Greece now realise the need to firmly condemn and sideline every person and organisation that promotes hate speech and engages in hate crimes. I welcome the establishment of the 70 anti-racist police units and the appointment of a special prosecutor in Athens to deal with racist crime. Both however need to be reinforced with appropriate staff and systematic human rights training. I also urge the Ministry of Public Order to take all necessary measures in order to create an independent and effective police complaints mechanism that would enhance the public’s trust in police forces. Such a mechanism is also necessary for the coast guard.”

The Commissioner added that “anti-racism measures by the government need to be combined with initiatives, such as the Athens city Council for the Integration of Migrants, that promote the political participation and integration of all regular migrants, especially of their children who are born and educated in Greece and consider it their home country. Naturalisation should continue to be possible for these children”.

Lastly, Commissioner Muižnieks underlined the critical role played by National Human Rights Structures, such as the Ombudsman and the National Commission for Human Rights, in the context of the current, serious economic and social crisis. “It is now, more than ever, that Greece needs robust and effective human rights structures, able to support the state in its efforts to overcome shortcomings in areas such as the systematic human rights training of law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors and the monitoring, recording of and the fight against hate crime”.

(…)

Greece came under pressure Friday from the Council of Europe to defend its democracy, faced with neo-Nazis and widespread xenophobic violence.

“We are very concerned by the specific threat to Greek democracy posed by (neo-Nazi party) Golden Dawn (…) I think that Greek democracy has to defend itself,” Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks told a news conference.

“The problem is that if this threat is not addressed effectively now, it will be much more difficult to address it later on.”

Muiznieks was speaking after a five-day visit aimed at countering acts of racist violence, more than 200 of which were reported between October 2011 and December last year.

He also examined the role of the Greek police, accused at best of inertia and at worst of collusion, and ways of limiting the influence of Golden Dawn (GD), the violent far-right party that entered parliament in June with 18 deputies and seven percent of the vote.

“The fundamental point is that the international reputation of Greece is at stake,” he said of a nation which largely depends on tourism.

“It’s in the interest of Greece’s authorities to tackle racism effectively because it could hit their pocket-book,” said the official, following a US warning to its nationals about xenophobic crimes in the streets of Greece.

Muiznieks, whose warnings follow numerous alerts by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said he had had to do an “awareness job” with politicians and justice officials to convince them of the seriousness of racist crimes.

Recognising that Greece was faced with a grave economic crisis and “unbearable migration pressure”, Muiznieks stressed: “We don’t want words but concrete prosecution”.

“The first step would be serious prosecution of individual GD members for engaging in hate speech or acts of racism violence.”

He demanded that victims of xenophobic attacks be freed of the risk of expulsion if they did not have papers.

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