01 August 2016
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A suggestion from the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner that new powers for the Greek Ombudsman should go beyond simply "issuing non-binding recommendations" in relation to allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement agents has been rebuffed by the country's officials.
The Greek justice minister, Nikolaos Paraskevopoulos, said in response to a letter from the commissioner, Nils Muižnieks, that new powers for the Ombudsman are foreseen as "an additional mechanism, apart from the imposition of disciplinary and criminal sanctions" by internal bodies and the justice system.
The letter from Muižnieks says:
"[T]he planned establishment of an independent complaint mechanism covering all law enforcement and detention facility agents is indeed welcome...
I understand that the above draft law defines the Greek Ombudsman as the national complaint mechanism competent for collecting, registering and investigating complaints concerning arbitrariness by law enforcement and detention facility agents. The Ombudsman is accorded the power of issuing a report containing recommendations addressed to the disciplinary bodies of the authorities concerned. The latter should subsequently implement these recommendations or issue a report setting out the reasons for not following them.
...I invite you to envisage enlarging the scope of the mechanism's competencies, which should not be limited to issuing non-binding recommendations to the disciplinary bodies of the relevant authorities. I further encourage you to include in the draft law a regular and public review procedure so as to assess the functioning of the mechanism and to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness." 
In his response, Paraskevopoulos says:
"In view of your recommendation to enlarge the scope of the mechanism's competencies, I would like to highlight that the functioning of this new mechanism is supplementary to the independent functions of the judicial system and of the internal procedures of security forces disciplinary bodies.
More specifically, according to national legislation disciplinary sanctions in all fields of public administration are imposed exclusively by disciplinary bodies consisting of civil servants of the relevant public authority (being considered as the "natural judge" of civil servants), while criminal sanctions may be imposed by the courts in case of commission of a crime.
Therefore, the National Mechanism for the investigation of incidents of illtreatment by law enforcement and detention facility agents is an additional mechanism, apart from the imposition of disciplinary and criminal sanctions, which will further guarantee that such incidents are fully and effectively investigated." 
Muižnieks also calls on the Greek government to do more to deal with hate crime, quoting figures from the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) that show a sharp increase: 81 hate crime incidents in 2014 and 273 in 2015.
The commissioner continues:
"What I find especially alarming is that the RVRN in 2014 and 2015 recorded 21 and 16 hate crime incidents respectively where law enforcement agents were involved. Also striking is the fact that unlike 2014, when the majority of the reported incidents concerned migrants, 2015 witnessed a significant increase in reported homophobic incidents, representing nearly two thirds of the recorded incidents."
He calls for "urgent implementation" of existing hate crime legislation and "systematic, continuous anti-discrimination training to law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges." There have been numerous reports in recent years that many police officers are also members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group. 
A letter from Nikolaos Toskas, Greece's 'Alternate Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection', quotes official statistics to dispute the figures cited by Muižnieks:
"according to our data, there has not been registered any substantial change in the number of racist incidents. In 2014, Police Services recorded 85 such incidents, while, in 2015, the incidents came up to 84." 
Toskas also cites training courses offered to law enforcement officers on human rights and non-discrimination.
The letter from his counterpart Paraskevopoulos is rather more detailed and states:
"I share your concern on the increase in reported homophobic incidents, which ts indeed alarming. Such incidents should be effectively investigated and perpetrators should be punished. To this end, I would like to note that the measures adopted have started producing positive results: the number of recorded incidents, criminal investigations, prosecutions and convictions has increased."
He goes on to provide statistics investigations into and prosecutions of "incidents with a possible bias-motivation".
The letter were first published on the website of the Council of Europe. 
 Letter from Nils Muižnieks to Nikolaos Paraskevopoulos and Nikolaos Toskas, 25 July 2016 (pdf)
 Letter from Nikolaos Paraskevopoulos to Nils Muižnieks, 17 August 2016 (pdf)
 For example: Golden Dawn party infiltrates Greece's police, claims senior officer - video (The Guardian, link); Greece: polls, over 50% of police voted for Golden Dawn (ANSAMed, link)
 Letter from Nikolaos Toskas to Nils Muižnieks, 17 August 2016 (pdf)
 Commissioner urges Greece to create an effective law enforcement complaint mechanism and eradicate hate crime(Council of Europe, link)
EU-USA: Mutual Legal Assistance Review 21.8.16
Anti-Roma racism, hyperlinks and freedom of expression 12.8.16
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