The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Monday, May 19, 2003

Mr. Speaker, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) have just published a report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece. “Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece” documents the plight of the inhabitants of the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos, outside Athens, and details the problems of Roma across the country. Illustrated with stark scenes of bulldozed homes and marginalized and neglected Romani communities, a picture disturbing in more ways than one has been painted.

 

In particular, the report supports the accusation that the Government of Greece has used preparations for the 2004 Olympics as justification for the campaign to uproot Roma. Ironically, Greece currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

 

The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held hearings in 1998, 2000, and in 2002 focused on the human rights problems faced by Roma with the intent of raising the awareness of these problems amongst the governments of the OSCE participating States. The plight of the Roma has also been addressed in specific hearings or briefings covering Greece, Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Romania, as well as the OSCE process.

 

Members of the Commission have also sent several letters to Greek leaders in recent years addressing longstanding human rights concerns in the Hellenic Republic, including those affecting the Romani community. These expressions of concern have specifically addressed forced evacuations of Roma from numerous villages, the abusive application of the use of national identity cards issued to Roma, the inability of Roma children to have access to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and other matters of blatant racial discrimination.

 

This newly released report on Roma clearly indicates that the Greek Government has failed to properly address many of these ongoing concerns. At a June 2002 Commission hearing on Greece, in fact, I raised the specter of an intensified campaign targeting Roma to obtain land for use as venues for the 2004 Olympics. This campaign is well documented in this report.

 

Notwithstanding the assertions of Greek officials at the Commission hearing that “everything is done (concerning the relocation) in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Roma involved,” numerous non-governmental organizations have raised such issues with Athens. Greek human rights activists have stepped forward.

 

As an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Greece has accepted numerous commitments pertaining to the treatment of Roma and joined in condemning discrimination against Roma, a provision found in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document. Regrettably, the Greek Government has failed to fulfill these commitments, as documented in the new ERRC/GHM report on Roma in Greece.

 

The ERRC and GHM conducted intensive field missions that revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece: cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment of Roma in housing; police violence against Roma; exclusion of Roma from the educational system; and, barriers to access to health care and other social support services for Roma.

 

Based on the facts in this report and the discussions I have had over the years in my leadership capacity with the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Government of Greece to take corrective measures, without delay, along the lines recommended by the ERRC and the GHM:

 

1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma.

 

2. Use all appropriate means to guarantee protection against forced evictions outside the rule of law and without due process.

 

3. Bring to justice public officials and private individuals responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek law.

 

4. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse.

 

5. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.

 

6. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to education in a desegregated school environment.

 

7. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as called for in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Document.

 

8. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, and distribute in both the Greek and Romani languages.

 

9. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.

 

10. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.

 

The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the situation of Roma in the Hellenic Republic with the aim of encouraging the Government of Greece to implement commitments it has agreed to within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission will also work to ensure that the plight of Roma in Greece is raised at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held this fall in Warsaw.

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    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record.  One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region.  The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”

  • Co-Chairman Smith and Rep. Keating Introduce Resolution Supporting Progress and Reform in Bosnia

    WASHINGTON— U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced House Resolution 746 expressing support for the people of Bosnia as they prepare for elections on October 12, and for reforms that will enhance the country’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration.  “Nineteen years after the Srebrenica genocide and the Dayton Peace Accords, ethnic divisions have hardened as a generation has grown up under a system that classifies people into one of three ethnic communities, and diminishes the rights of anyone that doesn’t belong to one of those communities,” observed Rep. Smith, Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and Chairman of the Human Rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  “As the people of Bosnia prepare to go to the polls, they should know the United States Congress supports their aspirations to have effective government institutions that serve them rather than perpetuate political stalemate, so that their country can advance toward Europe with its neighbors rather than fall further behind.” Rep. Bill Keating (MA-09) joined Co-Chairman Smith as the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the measure. “More Western Balkan states have been moving forward with their European Union and NATO aspirations while mitigating interethnic conflicts through the use of dialogue and negotiation, instead of brutality and division. In this way, the upcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina present an opportunity for Bosnians to make their voices heard and demonstrate their willingness to pursue a peaceful and productive future,” said Rep. Keating, Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. “This resolution should serve as a strong indication that Members of Congress remain committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path forward and will continue to urge the political leadership of that country to refrain from the divisive rhetoric and policies of the past in order to allow for all Bosnians to progress along with their Balkan peers.” House Resolution 746 expresses support for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they seek to hold government officials accountable, prepare for elections at the state, entity and cantonal level, and consider constitutional or other reforms to enhance the country’s prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The Dayton Peace Accords, brokered by the international community with U.S. leadership in late 1995, ended a more than 3-year conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Accords we followed by a decade of gradual recovery, but attempts to move beyond the compromises that were needed to end the conflict but now impede progress has led to increasingly ineffective and corrupt government, divisive political rhetoric and growing public frustration.  The resolution also expresses the hope of Congress that the mid-October elections and commemoration of the Dayton Accords on their 20th anniversary next year will jointly serve as a catalyst for reform needed for Bosnia to move closer to eligibility for NATO and European Union membership. Rep. Smith, who is Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, also spoke to the situation in Bosnia in remarks delivered on the floor of the House. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission in the 1990s during the Balkan conflicts, Rep. Smith chaired over 21 hearings on countries of the former Yugoslavia. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which initiated a series of clear acknowledgements by other parliaments and international bodies that the atrocities which occurred at Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide.

  • Political Pluralism in the OSCE Mediterranean Partners?

    This hearing discussed developments within the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership countries and the Southern Mediterranean region..  In particular, the Commission focused on the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the resulting refugee crisis.  Several witnesses stressed the need for the OSCE countries to support strategic investment in positive civic engagement and educational resources for vulnerable populations in order to mitigate the effects of the refugee crisis.

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