30/05/2017: Letter to Commissioner for Human Rights and Greek authorities on investigation of police abuses

Mr Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights
cc:
Mr Stavros Kontonis, Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights
Mr Nikolaos Toskas, Alternate Minister of lnterior and Administrative Reconstruction
Ms Maria Yannakaki, General Secretary for Transparency and Human Rights
Mr Andreas Pottakis, The Greek Ombudsman

Information related to Commissioner for Human Rights letter and Greek government replies
30 May 2017

Dear Commissioner

We would like to thank you for your 18 April 2017 letter to the Greek government concerning ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.
We have very much appreciated the specific references to “four well-documented cases of migrants, including minors, who claimed, inter alia, that they had been victims of severe beatings by police officers in Samos and Chios, in November 2016 and in January and February 2017;” as well as to “the alleged severe beating, amounting to torture, of three Greek nationals of Roma origin who claimed that in October 2016 they were subjected to the above treatment by officers of the Western Attica Police Division, in the course of an interrogation.”
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) along with its partner Advocates Abroad (AA – for the migrants/refugees cases) have documented and/or reported on these and several similar cases. We would therefore like to offer some related information after the replies of the Minister of Justice (on 28 April 2017) and the Alternate Minister of the Interior (on 15 May 2017).
First, it is unfortunate that the Minister of Justice avoided to reply on whether there are any criminal investigations for these five cases, alleging the absence of specific information. Most if not all of these cases were publicly known in Greece, while at least for the case involving Roma his Ministry (as well as the Ministry of Interior and the Ombudsman) had received appeals which they chose not to answer, while, as you mention, a complaint to the Athens Special Prosecutor on Racist Violence has been filed. Most importantly, as you wrote in your letter, the Greek Ombudsman has received complaints for all five cases (and for several more related cases), but the Minister chose not to seek information from them.
Secondly, the Alternate Minister of the Interior was indeed able, on the basis of your letter, to identify two of the four cases involving migrants/refugees and the case involving Roma. It is puzzling that in his reply he mentioned GHM as the plaintiff in the Roma case but not AA as the plaintiff in the four migrants/refugees cases. It is unfortunate moreover that he, too, did not turn to the Greek Ombudsman to find out more information about the other two cases, preferring instead to state that no complaints were filed with the Greek Police. As if filing complaints with the police which is blamed for the alleged abuses is the proper way to react to such abuses.
Thirdly, we find unfortunate that the Greek Ombudsman has not responded to your letter, although as you mention, they are “the national mechanism for investigating incidents of arbitrariness in security forces and in detention facilities” and have received complaints about these five (and many more) cases. We hope that they will reply to your letter and provide information about the related investigations they may have carried out, unbeknown to GHM and AA.
Last but by no means least is the reference in the Alternate Minister of the Interior reply that Preliminary Administrative Inquiries (PDE) are carried out for two of the four migrant/refugee cases and for the Roma case. PDE are totally inappropriate. First and foremost, because they are carried out by colleagues working in the same police divisions with the law enforcement officials allegedly implicated in the ill-treatment or torture: there is therefore no guarantee of objective impartiality in these inquiries. Secondly, PDE are informal, with no obligation to take written statements from those questioned: the investigating officer simply draws a final report based on his/her impressions from the questioning.
On the contrary, Sworn Administrative Inquiries (EDE) provide some guarantees as they are similar to the judicial investigations, leading to the formation of case files with all depositions/statements under oath or without oath, in addition to the concluding report by the investigating officer. This allows the plaintiffs, and if the cases go to court the prosecutors, to have access to the material of EDE and make use of it, often in lieu of an judicial investigation.
To secure objective impartiality, though, the EDE must be carried out by an independent authority, which is the Internal Affairs Division of the Greek Police (DEY). Alternatively, investigations by the Greek Ombudsman provide the same guarantees.
It is regretful, however, that the Greek authorities often refuse such independent investigations even if sought, sometimes with insistence, by alleged victims and/or their representatives. We currently have a telling example. George Kounanis, GHMSexual Orientation and Gender Identity activist, was the victim of alleged homophobic harassment and offending behavior by police officers on 20 December 2015 in Athens’ Constitution Square. We filed a complaint with the  Internal Affairs Division of the Greek Police on 21 December 2015. On 5 January 2016, DEY replied that they are not competent and, on the orders of the Athens Appeals Prosecutor, they referred the complaint to the General Police Division of Attica (GADA). As the alleged perpetrators belong to GADA any investigation by the latter lacks objective impartiality. In April 2016 (!), a GADA investigating unit sought to question George Kounanis in the framework of a PDE. We have informed them that he will not participate in such investigation for the reasons explained here; yet they insist harassing him to testify. Just as they did with the Roma in the case you reported, who also on our advice refused to participate in a PDE.
GHM has included the two cases in its complaint reports to the Special Prosecutor on Racist Violence. George Kounanis‘ case is available here (case 13). The complaint was filed on 14 April 2016. The criminal investigation was assigned to the Special Athens Police Unit on Racist Violence on 24 May 2017 and has naturally not started! The three Roma case is available here. The complaint was filed on 12 October 2016. The criminal investigation was assigned to the Internal Affairs Division of the Greek Police on 10 January 2017 and the Roma were summoned to testify in April 2017.
We therefore request that you raise with the Greek authorities in the most appropriate way the inadequacy of the PDE and the need to assign all administrative investigations on alleged police abuses to the Greek Ombudsman or the  Internal Affairs Division of the Greek Police.
We thank you in advance for the attention with which you will address the present letter, which is copied to the Greek authorities mentioned above, as well as to ECRI, CPT and the UN HRCttee that are currently carrying follow-up work on Greece. We remain available for any additional information necessary to you of to the Greek authorities.
With best wishes
Panayote Dimitras
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Humanist Union of Greece
address: PO Box 60820 – GR 15304 Glyka Nera Greece
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See related post here.
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