Wednesday, September 06, 2006
GREECE IGNORES HUMAN RIGHTS WHILE EVICTING ROMA PEOPLE
The racism against the entire Roma community is extreme and relentless. Greece is no exception.
The Greek government illegally evicts Roma communities with alarming regularity and covers its actions by calling them "cleaning operations" . This allows them to act without adherence to the law. They are just "cleaning up" During these operations, they bulldoze houses without giving adequate time for the occupants to remove their processions, often burying the debris under the ground or burning it. What little the people had in the first place is destroyed.
The fact that housing rights of the Roma in Greece continue to be systematically violated despite rulings by these prestigious human rights monitoring bodies raises serious doubts about Greece's compliance with its international and regional human rights obligations.
The following are from the website of the Dzeno Association.
Municipality of Patras completes evictions of Roma as no one tried to avert them 6. 9. 2006
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) denounces the completion of the eviction of some 70 families from the Makrigianni and Riganokampos districts of Patras. It started in late July and was completed in late August 2006. Less than a dozen sheds remain and it is expected to be demolished soon. The eviction occurred despite previous court decisions upholding Roma’s right to alternative adequate housing and a pending decision in a new judicial procedure of eviction engaged by the municipality in early August 2006. As the court decisions were not favorable to the eviction, the municipal authorities of the “Cultural Capital of Europe for 2006” [sic] opted for summary demolition of the sheds. The events are reflected in the question to the Committee of Ministers tabled by Boris Cilevics (Latvia) on 1 September 2006 at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; in the two statements by Greek Gypsy Union President Yannis Halilopoulos; and in yesterday’s Viewpoint of the Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg. These texts follow. Greece prides itself for being the “cradle of democracy.” Today it is more appropriate to be known as “the graveyard of minority and Roma rights.”
GHM would like to underline that on 8 and 10 August, it had sent confidential letters to the top competent government official, Minister of Interior Professor Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and to the leader of the official opposition socialist party PASOK, George Papandreou, urging them to take prompt action to stop the imminent eviction by the PASOK-affiliated Patras municipal authorities. Letters were also sent to the leaders of the other two opposition parties, Ms. Aleka Papariga of the communist KKE and Mr. Alekos Alavanos of the leftist “Synaspismos,” asking them to take a public stance against the evictions since their Patras local parties seemed to go along with the anti-gypsy attitude of the municipality (as did the pro-government conservative opposition in the municipality). These letters (in Greek) have now been posted to our website at the following respective addresses:
Moreover, on behalf of the two communities of Patras Roma, and with the appropriate formal authorization of the majority of their members, GHM filed a complaint on 31 July and an update on 8 August with the Greek Ombudsman who is the competent Equal Treatment Authority according to the law implementing the EU’s Race Directive. These complaints (in Greek) have now been posted to our website at the following addresses:
To date, GHM has received no answer from any of the above, nor is it aware of any action they may have taken. GHM assumes that no one did anything even discretely as, undeterred, the Patras municipal authorities started on 24 August demolishing the remaining Romani sheds in both communities. According to Roma leader Yannis Halilopoulos (see statement below), who was present on 25 August and videotaped the evictions, some of the Roma who were present were offered meager financial incentives to move out. Others who were absent lost part or the whole of their personal belongings. Police gave full support to these illegal evictions that state agencies described once more as “cleaning operations.” By now, less than a dozen sheds in both communities are still standing and they will be demolished soon. Needless to say, no Romani family was offered adequate alternative housing with security of tenure.
It is noteworthy that the municipal authorities threatened Mr. Halilopoulos on 25 August with arrest for “he was filming a worksite.” Later on, on 31 August they publicly slandered him claiming that he comes to Patras in a car without license plates. While, on 3 September, when George Papandreou spoke at a public rally in Patras (celebrating in the Papandreou family birthplace PASOK’s foundation on 3 September 1974) he was invited by a PASOK middle-level cadre to hear a promised reference to Roma rights, which was never made (see his reaction below). This harassment follows similar harassment and the launching of a criminal investigation of GHM and its advocates since early July 2006 by the Patras Chief Appeals Prosecutor Anastasios Kanellopoulos and other first instance prosecutors. GHM has been officially informed by Hellenic Police that it was First Instance Prosecutor Apostolos Tzamalis who was present on 27 July in Makrigianni and had ordered the municipality to proceed with the initial eviction of the Roma on that day and the police to protect the municipal crew! With the Prosecutor’s office ordering illegal evictions, it was impossible for the Roma to seek any legal remedy from 24 August on, when the final Roma cleansing started.
For ten years, GHM has been telling Greece’s Roma that they cannot be evicted without being served some eviction paper that could be challenged in court and that there existed a state obligation to provide them with alternative adequate housing with security of tenure. GHM will no longer be able to repeat that after the Patras eviction. GHM has to amend it, arguing henceforth that all that exists in theory, but should a Greek authority opt to evict them without previously doing all the above, there will be no one to deter it. The Patras example also confirmed that every political party in Greece, especially on the eve of local elections (scheduled for October 2006), in effect and regardless of their “politically correct” rhetoric, would support illegal evictions while neither the Ombudsman nor EU’s anti-discrimination legislation would be of any effective help. In fact, the inter-governmental organizations cannot do anything either to prevent an eviction. At best NGOs can record it, denounce it and -if anyone provides resources to the Roma and their advocates- help seek redress including compensation several years later through the ECtHR.
Parliamentary Assembly Assemblée parlamentaire
1 September 2006
Implementation of the European Social Charter by Greece: Forced evictions of Roma
Written question No 502 to the Committee of Ministers
presented by Mr Cilevičs
One year ago, replying to my questions, the Committee of Ministers reassured the Assembly that Greek authorities were working on finding a permanent solution to the housing problems of the Roma in Patras. They also stated that the information on how Greece complied with its obligations under Article 16 of the European Social Charter was to be evaluated by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR). The Assembly was informed that, on the basis of the result of that evaluation, the Committee of Ministers was to decide on the follow-up.
However, in July 2006 the ECSR concluded that the situation in Greece has not been brought into conformity with Article 16 as there is still a shortage of adequate housing for Roma, who still do not have sufficient legal protection. Citing the Commissioner for Human Rights March 2006 follow up report on Greece, as well as Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and Amnesty International reports, the ECSR mentioned that Roma continue to be evicted from settlements without being offered alternative housing.
Recently, GHM information provided to competent UN and Council of Europe agencies and international NGOs indicates that relocation plans for Patras Roma failed because of strong local community reactions. Instead, between 27 July and 25 August 2006, the Municipality of Patras demolished the homes of Roma families in the Makrigianni district who were absent for seasonal work, served the remaining families with notices of emergency police measures of eviction, and without waiting for their confirmation by a prosecutor proceeded to forced evictions. Furthermore, in June 2006, all Roma families of the Riganokampos district were referred to a criminal trial for illegal squatting on state land, while in August 2006 they were told to leave. All that despite the protocols of eviction for both Roma communities had been overturned as abusive in October 2005 by magistrates. In June 2006, the Chief Appeals Prosecutor of Patras announced an obviously intimidating criminal investigation of the magistrates who issued these rulings and of GHM who offered legal support to the Roma. GHM also provided information on several evictions elsewhere in Greece and quoted official Hellenic Police statistics indicating that its officers were involved in 60 eviction procedures in 2005 and in another 121 in 2004.
To ask the Committee of Ministers,
What urgent action does the Committee of Ministers intend to take on Greece’s continuing non-compliance with Article 16, the widespread evictions which violate fundamental human rights and the mounting antigypsyism accompanying these evictions?
What mechanisms of effective supervision of the implementation by states of Social Charter rulings does the Committee of Ministers intend to introduce?
CILEVIČS, Boriss, Latvia, Socialist Group
STATEMENT BY YANNIS CHALILOPOULOS
“GREEK GYPSY UNION” PRESIDENT
25 August 2006
“Patras, Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2006, ‘dressed up’ to welcome PASOK’s [GHM note: Panhellenic Socialist Movement - the major opposition party in Greece] Chairman on 3 September. On August 24 and 25, crews of the PASOK-affiliated Municipality of Patras demolished the sheds of Gypsies in the Makrigianni district. As I was told today by Gypsies in Patras, some of the Gypsies who had household items in their sheds were offered a monetary incentive in order to move out, while others were vaguely and orally promised that the municipality would undertake to pay their rents for two or three months, when they manage to find a house to rent. Until then they will remain homeless, as will those who were away from Patras on seasonal employment when the demolitions took place. The municipality also requested from the Gypsies in the Riganokampos district to find houses for rent and promised likewise that they would provide them with rent subsidies for two or three months. This constitutes the biggest eviction of Gypsies in Greece during the last years, as well as the most blatantly illegal, since the municipality did not respect even judicial decisions that have been issued or are pending. But then again, who said that there is justice for Gypsies in Greece?”
STATEMENT BY YANNIS CHALILOPOULOS
“GREEK GYPSY UNION” PRESIDENT
ON GEORGE PAPANDREOU’s SPEECH IN PATRAS
“THERE’S NO PLACE FOR GYPSIES IN PAPANDREOU’S GREECE”
4 September 2006
Yesterday evening, a PASOK [the major opposition political party in Greece] official from the Central Office in Athens informed me that PASOK President George Papandreou would make a reference to the Gypsies in his speech yesterday night in Patras. Optimistically, we traveled to Patras to listen to the speech. Much to our anger, we found out that we had been deceived, since whichever reference had been prepared was not included in the final text. George Papandreou noted:
“A just society is a society that safeguards dignity. Dignity for the pensioner. Dignity for the persons with disabilities. Dignity for the mother. Dignity for the patient. Dignity for the immigrant. Dignity for the unemployed. Dignity for the drug addict. Dignity for every citizen. A society that leaves no citizen in the margins. A society where we create a social capital, the intangible capital of social solidarity. A society where the citizen does not feel isolated, marginalized. A society where he does not feel impotent, is not afraid, does not face the heavy and faceless bureaucracy.”
Apparently George Papandreou is not interested in the dignity of the most marginalized social group in Greece, the Gypsies. Consequently, for PASOK, Gypsies should continue to live in the margins. To experience isolation, impotence, fear. To experience the faceless, oppressive and racist bureaucracy mainly of the local authorities. To be subjected to illegal evictions, such as the ongoing one in Patras, carried out by PASOK’s cherished officials in Patras. Yesterday PASOK’s president effectively endorsed and adopted the ‘cleaning operations’ against the Gypsies of Patras, as well as the slanderous attacks by the PASOK deputy mayors against me and against the few others who stand up for Roma rights.
George Papandreou also said:
“A just society is a society where human rights are non-negotiable. A multicultural society with no phobic syndromes towards foreigners.”
PASOK however does negotiate in general and in Patras specifically the human rights of Gypsies, in order to secure the votes of the “balame” (gadje), thereby sustaining a society with a phobic syndrome against the Gypsies.
“Forced eviction of Roma families must stop”
[04/09/06 12:00] Concerned over several forced evictions of Roma in Europe during the summer, the Commissioner for Human Rights stresses the need to respect the housing rights of Roma in effective consultation with the Roma themselves.
“Forced eviction of Roma families must stop”
[04/09/06] In recent months a number of Roma families in several European countries have been evicted by force from their homes. In most cases the decisions were taken by local authorities. The tenants were not given adequate notice or offered a real alternative. It is clear that several of these evictions violated European and international human rights standards.
Several serious cases have been reported to me. In the Dorozhny village in Kaliningrad more than 200 Roma were evicted in late May – early June and had their houses bulldozed to ruins. This followed speedy court procedures which were criticised by reliable non-governmental organizations for being unfair to the Roma.
In the village of Elbasan in Albania a similar action was taken in July against 109 Roma residents. It is reported that they were not allowed to remove their personal belongings before the destruction of their homes and that many of them now are homeless. In Patras, Greece, 13 homes of Makrigianni Roma who were away for seasonal work elsewhere were demolished in late July.
I have also received information about evictions or planned such actions in other parts of the Russian federation and in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In several cases the destruction of homes and property has been accompanied by violence and racist language.
These reports, many of them confirmed by the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest, raise several concerns. One is that there appears to be an alarming element of racism or anti-ziganism behind these actions and the way they are enforced.
Another is, of course, the dramatic consequences for the families themselves, including their children. Without a real home they also face difficulties in enjoying other rights, such as the right to education and health. A pattern of social segregation is perpetuated.
An argument put forward for the evictions in several cases has been the need to construct new, more modern buildings in the same area. However, Roma families are seldom offered accommodation in such new houses. Indeed, they are still disproportionately represented among the homeless and those living in sub-standard housing. Roma ghettos and shanty towns can still be found on our continent today.
My predecessor as Commissioner for Human Rights reported several times that poor housing conditions is a major cause of Roma exclusion in Europe. He did not accept, rightly so, the old “argument” that Roma people are nomads and therefore do not want or need proper housing.
Decisions that some people have to move because of new city plans are of course sometimes 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 only can 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.
These norms also apply to local authorities. That abusive decisions sometimes are 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.
The monitoring mechanisms of the European Social Charter have already found several countries at fault of their treaty obligations regarding the housing rights of Roma. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has judged that poor housing conditions can, in certain cases, amount to breaches of the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment under the European Convention. The UN Committee against Torture has taken a similar position.
National, regional and local authorities have to take action now. In a recommendation dating from 2005, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has given clear guidance to all member states on improving the housing conditions of Roma. Instead of evicting Roma families their right to adequate housing should be respected. One precondition is an effective consultation with the Roma themselves.
Europe has a shameful history of discrimination and severe repression of the Roma. There are still widespread prejudices against them in country after country on our continent. This makes it particularly important that governments are alert to the risk of unfair and degrading treatment of Roma – also by local authorities.
This Viewpoint can be re-published in newspapers or on the internet without our prior consent, provided that the text is not modified and the original source is indicated in the following way: "First published by the Council of Europe, at www.commissioner.coe.int"
Dženo focuses on the emancipation process of Romany in Central and Eastern Europe. The association aims to support and develop traditional Romany values and characteristics, which include open-mindedness, independence, sense of honor and righteousness, respect for elders, loving care for children and solidarity among Romany regardless of their social status. All of Dženo’s activities are aimed at supporting and promoting this basic goal.