23 March 2005
Human Rights Committee Concludes Considerations of Uzbekistans Report; Questions Pressed on Failure to Heed Requests for Stays of Execution
Also Takes up Initial Report of Greece on Compliance with International Covenant on Civil, Political Rights
NEW YORK, 22 March (UN Headquarters) -- Not everything in Uzbekistan was rosy tinted, and there were difficulties in fully ensuring the populations civil and political rights, the Committee on Human Rights was told today, as it concluded its consideration for now of that countrys compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and began its first-ever review of Greeces report.
In the first of two meetings today, the Uzbek delegation, which included the Chairman of the National Centre on Human Rights, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, and Head of the Human Rights Department in the Justice Ministry, replied to some tough-minded questions posed yesterday by the Committees 18 experts, particularly concerning the countrys treatment of criminals, from detention to imprisonment, and the imposition of the death penalty.
Experts had pressed yesterday for explanations about why the Government had ignored the Committees prior requests for stays of execution in 15 death penalty cases, which was a serious breach under the Covenants Optional Protocol, and why, pending a decision on whether or not to abolish the death penalty, prisoners and relatives were not routinely informed of the date and time of the executions.
On the first point, a delegate discussed one case in which the individual had been condemned to death, but ultimately had his sentence reduced to six years in prison. Uzbekistan had never been in a situation requiring the timely adoption of measures in response to a complaint made to the Committee, and, today, it was developing a mechanism to implement the Committees recommendations and to adopt the necessary timely measures of protection. Hopefully, with the full abolition of the death penalty, such measures would no longer be necessary in the future.
As to why prisoners condemned to death and their relatives were not made aware of the execution dates, a delegate explained that clear instructions had been developed to inform the next of kin, but until the death penalty was banned, that would remain an issue. Meanwhile, a recent study had shown that nearly 80 per cent of the population opposed such a ban, so the first step was to prepare public opinion for the penaltys abolition. Efforts were under way to improve conditions for long-term prisoners, but that was not done overnight, he said.
Before concluding the Committees consideration of the countrys second periodic report, expert from France and Chairperson, Christine Chanet, said that the question of the 15 people condemned to death was one of the most serious issues brought up during the discussion. The Committee would express its concern at that particularly serious condition, as well as its concern that nothing of that nature should ever be repeated. Noting that 800 people were detained for being extremists, she said that extremism was not a crime. She did not know the exact charges against those people -- were those blood crimes or crimes of opinion?
To the many questions related to violence against women and the suppression of homosexuality, she said that the delegation had announced many changes, but she had not had the impression that efforts or legal reforms were actually under way to change those situations. The debate on torture and police violence had been long, as had discussion of the 72-hour custody of detainees, which the delegation knew was excessively long and which only opened prospects for violence against detainees. On the question of exit visas, article 12 of Covenant said that everybody had the right to leave all countries, even their own. She cautioned the delegation against confusing entry visas with exit visas.
Introducing Greeces initial report this afternoon, which covers the period from 1997 to 2003, Minister Counsellor, Legal Advisor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece, Maria Telalian, said that Greece had ratified the Covenant and its two Optional Protocols in 1997, and right from the start, Greek courts had recognized the priority of the instruments provisions over national law. Over the past decade, Greece had been rather rapidly transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Substantial efforts had already been made to adjust the legislative framework and relevant administrative procedures to that new reality, including the preparation of a new draft law on immigration policy. She stressed that the rapidly increasing migrant population had not stirred racial hatred, aggression or prejudice against foreigners. The few manifestations of xenophobia had been roundly and quickly condemned, she said.
The Committee on Human Rights will meet again at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 23 March, to conclude its consideration of Greeces initial report.
The Committee on Human Rights met in two meetings today to conclude its consideration of Uzbekistans second periodic report (document CCPR/C/UZB/2004/2) and begin consideration of Greeces initial report (document CCPR/C/GRC/2004/1).
AKMAL SAIDOV, Senator, Chairman of the National Centre on Human Rights, Uzbekistan, called yesterdays dialogue constructive and said he would attempt to reply in brief to some 40 questions posed by the experts. First of all, there were clear mechanisms for reviewing the complaints that had been made to the Committee. Communications were received from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the result of the review of the Human Rights Committee, and those were then sent to the appropriate State bodies, which recommended the Governments responses. On the three criminal cases reviewed by the Committee, one of them had only just been received, but in the cases of the other two, the appropriate bodies in Uzbekistan were taking measures. His Government would send a response, in a timely manner, on the measures it was taking on that last case. The Ministry of Internal Affairs had received a request from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to organize a training seminar on taking concrete measures in response to the Committees recommendations. That assistance was indeed required.
With regard to one of the cases in which the individual had been condemned to death, he said that the sentence was then commuted to 20 years in prison, and today that had been further reduced to six years, which was a reduction in time of more than 70 per cent. The inmate was in a general penal colony. Uzbekistan had never been in a situation requiring the timely adoption of measures in response to a complaint made to the Committee, and, today, it was developing a mechanism to implement the Committees recommendations and to adopt the necessary timely measures of protection. He very much hoped, given the hope for full abolition of the death penalty, that such measures would no longer be necessary in the future. The three cases had been studied and were seen as enormously important, both for the courts and the law enforcement agencies. Yet, neither the law enforcement officials nor the judges had experience in the immediate application of international treaties, including norms under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which would be of extreme practical importance.
Regarding violence against women, he presented the Committee Chairperson with the outcome of the most recent sociological study, which had dealt with domestic violence in considerable detail and had been published in English and Russian. He reiterated that a system was being set up to assist the victims, for which the Government was working in close cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the media. Concerning polygamy, it was a crime under the law for that practice, and he had agreed with the Committee member that there were several economic reasons that led to polygamy, among other causes. Islamic law also allowed for polygamy, so it still existed, although in principle, that was a form of discrimination against women and, therefore, was considered a crime.
With respect to different marriage ages for men and women, the family law code set that age at 18 for men and 17 for girls, so there was a difference of one year, he said. In the most exceptional cases, the head of the local administration could reduce the age of marriage by one year; however, the forced marriage of juveniles was a crime, as specified in an article of the criminal law code. When the family code was drawn up, marriage age was discussed in great depth, and various ideas about the correct age had emerged. In many countries, there were differences between men and women in terms of the marriage age, so Uzbekistan was not an exception in that regard. As for the punishment for rape, that was a most serious crime under the criminal code, although the incidence of rape had declined -- in 2003, Uzbek judges dealt with 576 cases, and in 2004, there were 572 cases of rape, so there had been a slight reduction last year.
Regarding homosexuality, he said that the laws considered that homosexuality was a crime only for men; no such crime had been defined for women. However, there could be voluntary relations between men under the criminal code. Unfortunately, it had not been possible to obtain statistics in the past 12 hours, but his delegation would provide a written response on the application of that article of the law, as requested by the Committee. In a historical and cultural context, Uzbekistan had known the religion of Zaroasterism, which strongly condemned same-sex marriage; that faith had spread throughout Iran and across the rest of the world. Islam also severely condemned same-sex marriages. Those historical and cultural aspects had influenced Uzbek society.
He reiterated that the delegation had explained yesterday that clear instructions had been developed to inform the next of kin in death penalty cases, but, again, until the death penalty was abolished that would still be an issue. It was true, as an expert had asserted yesterday, that not all of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture had been fully implemented, including that 72-hour detentions of suspects were still allowed under Uzbek criminal law. A reduction was being considered. The second recommendation had concerned the transfer of prisons to the Ministry of Justice from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. That was being discussed at length and was seen as a principal component for the strategy of reforming the penitentiary system, although the State was not fully ready to transfer the responsibility to the Justice Ministry.
In addition, he said, there was no basis to close the Jaslik penal colony. Many international experts, members of the European Parliament, as well as two high representatives of the United Nations who had visited the colony, had not issued any special complaints about the conditions of detention there. The fourth recommendation, namely that the Parliament make a statement about article 22 of the Convention Against Torture, was still being reviewed by the Government.
He said that all branches of Government had strongly condemned torture. The experts assertion that the Special Rapportuer had witnessed widespread incidents or even acceptance of torture had been a misrepresentation of the realities in Uzbekistan. The countrys laws criminalized torture and they were applied by law enforcement bodies and the judiciary. Turning to some specific cases that had been reported to the Committee, he said that complainants had been able to obtain legal counsel and hold discussions. Of the one detainee that had not been able to talk with his father, authorities had rectified that situation within 48 hours.
There had been independent investigations undertaken by human rights experts into cases where detainees had died in custody, he acknowledged. The Government was in the initial stages of that process, and the Ombudsman was also monitoring those investigations and following up with Parliament. On the prosecution of law enforcement officials accused of ill-treatment of detainees or prisoners, including torture, another speaker said that some 544 such officials had been prosecuted over the last four years. The Government took that issue very seriously and the prosecutions had been widely reported in the press.
He said that Uzbekistan was in the practical stages of producing a bill that would introduce habeas corpus into the countrys legal system. He stressed that any legislation went through three hearings before finally coming before the President for approval, so it would be practically impossible to give the Committee an exact date when that law would go into effect.
To the Committees concern that the laws in Uzbekistan did not jibe with the Covenant, he said that, while that was true in some cases, it was not true in all. Uzbekistan, like many other countries, was trying to outline a legal framework that reflected the principles of the Covenant and other international human rights instruments. Turning to prison conditions, he said that the Government ensured that meals contained 2,500 calories, and added that the amount of money prisoners could spend had been increased.
We want to talk openly and frankly about the problems that we have, so that all the citizens of Uzbekistan could enjoy civil and political rights, he continued. On the death penalty, he said that public opinion in Uzbekistan ran solidly against the abolition of that practice. Indeed, a survey had revealed that some 70 per cent of the population felt that way. So, the Government was embarking on a plan to prepare the country and the people for the eventual abolition of capital punishment. That would perhaps take three years or so, he said.
Another representative discussed pre-trial detention procedures and the rules regarding the behaviour of lawyers and other judicial officials. He said that 14 officials had been convicted of torturing detainees. All regional magistrates were now obligated to monitor the conditions of detainees and of holding facilities or penal colonies.
Another delegate, responding to questions about immigration visas, explained that Uzbek citizens could travel abroad, and in the next two years, a citizen could travel abroad an unlimited number of times. Regarding security threats, under article 8 of the law against terrorism, coordination of the work of the relevant bodies fell under the National Security Service. The Service also had the means to deal with individuals who posed a threat to the country.
Regarding judges, those were appointed by the President for five-year terms. Since the first periodic report and following a broad discussion of the Committees concluding comments, there had been an in-depth discussion on the term of office of judges, on which there were presently three viewpoints: that the five-year terms was sufficient and the same as for Parliament and other bodies; that 10-year terms would be preferable; and that life terms would reduce bureaucratic delays. Once the judiciary was liberalized, that question would arise once again. Meanwhile, Uzbek laws provided assurance of the independence of judges and the judiciary, he said.
Guarantees were assured for individuals suspected of terrorist offences, another delegate replied to a series of questions. The criminal code and criminal procedural code clearly listed the procedures for those suspects, starting with the need to inform them of their suspected breach, as well as of any evidence against them. They could speak in their mother tongue and use an interpreter. Once accused, the defendant could meet with a lawyer; he also had the right to self-defence. Moreover, the investigator must present all of the evidence against him. Uzbekistan had unconditionally ratified all 12 basic international treaties on terrorism. Its law on terrorism was based on three principles: the global standard; the experience of other States; and its own national experience. The law clearly defined terrorism and outlined the basic principles for counteracting it, as well as the priority ways to prevent it and the broad international cooperation needed in that fight. So, Uzbekistan modelled its counter-terrorism activities on international law, and it formulated its national laws on the basis of Security Council resolutions.
Replying to a question about whether several persons had been found guilty on the sole basis of confessions obtained under torture while in custody, another representative said the fundamental principle was the presumption of innocence. Systematic meetings were under way with international human rights organizations. Five strategic ways to eliminate torture had been identified, and those should bring effective results, aimed at ensuring a balance between counteracting such crimes, while respecting human rights.
Concerning freedom of conscience and religion, another member of the delegation said there were no limits on holding religious services and, to date, more than 2,000 religious organizations had been registered. The country boasted of 14 religious denominations, as it was a tolerant nation. Since its independence, there had been no single case of religious intolerance. The law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, however, was under review as part of the work of the new Parliament, for which new wording was being developed. In addition, he had not agreed with the expert who cited a figure of 6,000 as the number of people being held in prison on religious grounds. That figure was unfounded, as there were presently 80 people held for their extremist beliefs and for the extreme activities carried out under those beliefs. More than 3,000 such persons had received amnesty. He respected the non-governmental organizations, but at the same time, he could not accept unconfirmed and inaccurate data.
ALFREDO CASTILLERO HOYOS, expert from Panama, said that there had been some improvements but also some erosion in the promotion and protection of fundamental rights since the Committees review of Uzbekistans initial report. He appreciated the information provided on the creation of a Nations Human Rights Committee and an Office of a Human Rights Ombudsman, but asked for more details about how those organs functioned, how allegations or complaints were brought before them and, finally, how they were decided or adjudicated. He also asked for more information about specific cases of reportedly abused detainees in prisons and penal colonies. He also flagged reports that revealed that the Uzbek Government consistently denied human rights advocates licenses or applications to visit prisons.
The expert from Poland, ROMAN WIERUSZEWSKI, said that he hoped the Committee would receive an official written answer to its questions about the status of certain individuals that the experts knew were supposed to have been held in detention, but who, according to non-governmental organizations, had reportedly been executed earlier in the month. He went on to urge the Uzbek delegation to follow up on their Governments efforts to strengthen the judiciary and improve laws governing access to information, which would allow for a more fair and adequate handling of court cases. He also expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders and freedom of the press in the country.
RUTH WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, agreed that there should be transparency regarding all spheres of criminal justice, including figures on detentions, prosecutions and executions. She also expressed concern about the situation of human rights advocates, and was troubled by reports that persons who committed homosexual acts would not be allowed to leave the country, and if those people did leave the country, punishment would be severe.
NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, following up on some concerns he had highlighted yesterday, said that nothing he said could reasonably be considered to require a head of State to do anything that he or she did not want to do, based on decisions made in this Committee or any other. He believed the delegation was aware of that. What he had been asking about was if the Government was cognizant of the weightiness of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on torture and what was being done to address them at the highest level. He also expressed concern that the Government had refused to register human rights groups in the country.
WALTER KALIN, expert from Switzerland, also expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders and the treatment of homosexuals in Uzbekistan. He also requested more information on what legally constituted a terrorist act.
IVAN SHEARER, expert from Australia, ensured the delegation that he had not referred to Uzbekistan as Pakistan and that if that was what the delegation had heard yesterday, it had perhaps been an error in translation.
AHMED TAWFIK KHALIL, expert from Egypt, asked what was being done to break the cycle of poverty that was severely affecting children in the country. What was being done to ensure that the recommendations and principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) were respected and implemented, particularly in light of the numbers of children working in the cotton-picking industry?
The expert from Japan, NISUKE ANDO, asked for more detail about the reported practice of moving whole populations from one location to another.
In response, Mr. SAIDOV said that, in line with the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action, Uzbekistan had created a number of rights-centred organizations including the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman, a National Centre for Human Rights, and a monitor to ensure that domestic legislation was harmonized with international laws. It had also established a network of human rights non-governmental organizations. The Centre was located in the Executive Branch, and it coordinated the actions and activities of all State institutions in the area of human rights. It also handled relevant outreach and raising awareness programmes and, among other things, had published and made widely available a host of human rights treaties in Uzbek.
On transparency, he said that Parliament was considering a law to ensure an open flow of information in the area of criminal justice. He went on to address political life in the country, saying that representatives of some five political parties had recently participated in parliamentary elections. Further, a new system allowed citizens that did not belong to any political party to run for office as independents.
He said that his delegation did not understand why some members of the Committee did not consider the responses as official, and, therefore, repeated requested official and further information on some issues. As representatives of the Uzbek Government, they were empowered to speak on behalf of their capital. What additional official answers would the Committee wish to hear? Now, if a lack of time did not permit a full response -- that was another matter. In any case, the delegation would provide detailed responses to specific requests made by the experts within 30 days.
Mr. WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, interjected here, apologizing and saying that perhaps he had not been clear. Official, in this case, only pertained to the method of communicating a response to the Committee, not he content or origin of that communication.
Following that, a member of the Uzbek delegation said that his country, and neighbours Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, all had specific visa procedures. Each State established procedures governing entry and exit. On conviction of persons for homosexual activity, he acknowledged deficiencies in the law, but stressed that the particular case being referred to by the experts concerned a person who had been convicted of paedophilia and endangering the well-being of minors. None of the human rights experts in the region who had contributed to making that case so famous had bothered to look any deeper than the initial decision. If the details of the arrest had been released first, public opinion could certainly have taken a different turn.
To those who wondered why there were no opposition parties in Uzbekistan, he said: Ask the people. Even the President had encouraged political action among the wider citizenry. On issues involving children, he said that forced child labour was forbidden, although perhaps some cases could be found.
Closing Remarks on Uzbekistan
CHRISTINE CHANET, Chairperson and expert from France, said that Uzbekistan would receive final comments during the session. She reminded the delegation that it had three days in which to send additional documentation, if it deemed it had not been able to answer all of the questions. This report was much better than the previous one, and there had been some positive elements, such as the Supreme Courts decision to disregard illegally obtained evidence, and the creation of a Human Rights Ombudsman. The Committee welcomed with great interest the many things planned, but it did not take into account what was promised in the future, especially in terms of reform of the penal procedure, since the Committee did not know when those reforms would take place, or whether they would succeed, given the different parliamentary systems. Thus, the Committee could not take into account in its concerns anything other than the current law and current practices.
In that respect, she said that the delegation had made it clear that the answers with respect to the Optional Protocol could not be given here at the meeting, even if those were indicative. The question of the 15 people condemned to death was one of the most serious issues brought up during discussion. That was a particularly serious condition, and the Committee would express its concern in that respect, as well as its concern that nothing of that nature should ever be repeated. Regarding questions related to violence against women and the suppression of homosexuality, there, too, the delegation had announced many things, but she had not had the impression that efforts or legal reforms were actually under way to change those situations. The debate on torture and police violence had been long, as had discussion of the 72-hour custody of detainees, which the delegation knew was excessively long. The prospects for violence against detainees were numerous, but sentencing figures had been reduced only slightly. The delegation could likely provide more precise figures to both those questions.
Noting that 800 people were detained for being extremists, she said that extremism was not a crime. She did not know the exact charges against those people -- were those blood crimes or crimes of opinion? There, too, she sought clarification. On the need to record everything, from registering political parties, non-governmental organizations, and so forth, she thought certain steps should be taken so that registration would not become a form of censorship, but rather a procedural formality. On the question of exit visas, the answer had been that visas were current in all countries. That was true for entry visas, but not for exit visas. Article 12 of the Covenant said that everybody had the right to leave all countries, even their own. Entry visas should not be confused with exit visas. Regarding terrorism, the delegation had provided explanations on its concept of anti-terrorist activities, but there, too, Uzbekistan was not the only country in the situation of having no explicit definition of terrorism yet, as no State had issued a clear-cut definition as to what constituted an act of terror.
Delegations Concluding Remarks
Mr. SAIDOV said that, in two days, a very constructive and close dialogue had been established, and he was extremely satisfied. He apologized for any lack of understanding, whether owing to interpretation or misunderstanding. He greatly valued the activities of the Committee, which was a vast school for reviewing national reports and individual complaints under the Optional Protocol. The three cases considered in the Committee had related to Uzbekistan. In action and practice, he now saw how the standards of the Covenant needed to be applied. He greatly valued the more than 30 general comments provided by the Committee, which was indeed setting international law of a universal nature. He looked forward to the Committees final comments, which would form the basis of his countrys continued activities in compliance with the Covenants provisions. As Uzbekistan moved forward in the uncompromising struggle against human rights violations, he would attach great importance to a continued close dialogue with the Committee.
Presentation of Initial Report of Greece
Following a brief suspension of the meeting, MARIA TELALIAN, Minister Counsellor, Legal Advisor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, presented the countrys initial report on Compliance with the Covenant, which covers the period from 1997 to 2003. However, whenever possible the delegation would include information and relevant developments up to 2004. She regretted that the report had been submitted a little late, but said that the delay had allowed time for the Government to set up an efficient coordination scheme involving all the competent ministries for the drafting of this and future reports. Likewise, during the period, many important legislative measures had been adopted following the 2001 revision of the Constitution.
The drafting of the initial report had been an interesting and wide-ranging exercise, she said, adding that the process had involved nine ministries and had incorporated, to the extent possible, insightful comments and valuable input by the National Commission on Human Rights, in which six major non-governmental organizations participated. Greece had ratified the Covenant and its two Optional Protocols in 1997, and right from the start, Greek courts had recognized the priority of the instruments provisions over national law. All courts were under a constitutional obligation to refuse to apply, in a particular case, any provision of national law the content of which ran counter to the Covenant. Indeed, the Covenant played a major role in the effort to harmonize national legislation with the international legal order in the field of human rights.
Over the past decade, Greece had been rather rapidly transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Substantial efforts had already been made to adjust the legislative framework and relevant administrative procedures to that new reality. She said that a new draft law on immigration policy was currently being prepared, the main goal of which was to establish a system of managing legal migration, which was functional and conducive to the protection of immigrants rights. It was important to stress that the rapidly increasing migrant population had not stirred racial hatred, aggression or prejudice targeted against foreigners. The few manifestations of xenophobia that had emerged had been roundly and quickly condemned.
Nevertheless, Greece, like other countries, recognized the need to remain vigilant against negative perceptions of the other, including foreigners and members of vulnerable social groups. The competent authorities were undertaking actions to ensure continuous public education on the principles of human dignity, racial and religious tolerance, respect for diversity and the promotion of those principles throughout all local communities. To that end, the General Secretariat of Communication/Information had developed a series of relevant activities, such as conferences and radio and television broadcasts.
In addition, last month the Parliament had adopted a law on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, religious or other beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation. That law, which followed European Union guidelines, established a general framework for combating discrimination in various fields of life, with a special emphasis on employment. It also designated or established bodies for the promotion of equal treatment. She went on to say that trafficking in human beings had become one of the Governments major concerns. A comprehensive legal framework to combat that scourge had been put in place in 2002 and, along with efforts under way by the Ministry of Public Order and the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity, aimed to prevent and severely punish that crime. The new provisions were already yielding positive results, particularly towards the dismantling of organized criminal networks and the rehabilitation of victims.
Following a brief summary of the countrys efforts to revitalize policies pertaining to police ethics and ensure that such policies included human rights components, she touched on the improvement of living conditions of the Roma, which also remained a priority. The Ministry of the Interior had established an Integrated Action Plan regarding the social integration of the Greek Roma into the Hellenic society, in particular in housing, health, employment, education, culture and sports. Since 2002, the Ministry had also been providing housing loans, guaranteed by the State, for Roma who lived in tents, shacks or any other structure that did not meet housing codes. Some 5,000 loans of some 60,000 euros each had been granted and many more applications were being processed.
She said that the situation of persons belonging to the Muslim minority in Thrace, which was the only officially recognized minority in Greece, had been further improved. That minority consisted of three distinct groups -- persons of Turkish origin, Pomaks and Roma -- each speaking its own language and practicing its own customs. They enjoyed the same rights and protections of the majority population and benefited form a series of positive measures in the fields of education, religion and culture, which promoted and protected their minority rights.
Along with Ms. Telalian, Greeces delegation included: Vasileios Kryiazopoulus, Advisor, State Legal Council, and Elias Kastanas, Rapporteur, Special Legal Department (both in the Foreign Affairs Ministry); Kyriaki Grigoriou, Advisor, State Legal Council, and Louiza Kyriakaki, Rapporteur (both in the Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization); Konstantinos Gogos, Military Judge (Ministry of National Defence); Angelos Vallianatos, School Advisor (Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs); Joanna Despotopoulou, Secretary-General for Social Security (Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity); Nestor Kourakis (Ministry of Justice); Nikolaos Stavrakakis, Police Major, and Ioannis Stavrou, Police Major (both in the Ministry of Public Order); and Theodosis Demetracopoulos, Head of the Press and Communication Office, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations/General Consulate of Greece, New York, and Marilena Moujzakiti, Lawyer, Advisor on Legal Issues (both in the General Secretariat of Communication/Information).
Delegations Response to Written Questions
Concerning legislative measures against terrorism, Ms. Telalian said Greece had already ratified all relevant United Nations conventions, and it had signed some additional protocols and instruments, namely the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime plus three additional protocols, and the newly introduced protocol amending the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, all of which it would soon be ratifying. Apart from those international instruments, two main laws had been promulgated, respectively in 2001 and 2004, which constituted the main Greek legislation against terrorism. Both of those laws had received overwhelming support, largely because of their full respect for the human rights of the accused persons.
She said that the newest law, in 2004, had an important clause stating that acts manifested in an effort to establish a democratic regime or safeguard and reinstate such a regime, or as an action for freedom, would not constitute act of terrorism. Those laws, especially the first one of 2001, had been applied by the courts during the protracted trials of accused members of certain terrorist organizations, especially the one called November 17th. During and before the Olympic Games in Greece last year, some additional measures had been taken against terrorism, which could not have been avoided, and, according to a poll taken immediately after the September 2004 games, persons in Greece had not felt disturbed by such measures. The majority had felt that the security measures during the games were as they should be. In addition, the measures taken after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, as well as those in compliance with Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) had also not affected the rights guaranteed under the Covenant.
Adding to that, another delegate said her country was actively participating in the Council of Europes fight against terrorism, especially with respect to safeguarding human rights and due process. The results of the effort had been distinguished and the principles underpinning them could serve as guidelines to the United Nations bodies elaborating an anti-terrorism convention.
Concerning the derogation of rights, another delegate said that article 4 of the Covenant allowed States parties to adopt, in exceptional circumstances and under strict conditions, measures that in normal times would fall outside permissible restrictions to the Covenants rights. Article 48 of the Greek Constitution subjected the measure of derogation, as well as its legal consequences, to a series of effective safeguards against any abuse. The substantive prerequisites for declaring the country in a state of siege were explicitly and strictly defined in the Constitution.
Since the 1986 constitutional revision, he said that the state of siege could no longer be declared in the case of serious disturbance or obvious threat to public order and security owing to internal dangers. The democratically elected Parliament either adopted or approved the declaration of the state of siege and decided which rights should be derogated from. Parliament had a central role as far as the approval of measures adopted by the executive branch under the state of siege. The state of siege was also subjected to strict and short time limit. The validity of Parliaments decision could not exceed 15 days, and the parliament had to decide again every 15 days. Since the Covenant prevailed over national legislation, any decision or administrative rule or decision contrary to the Constitution or to article 4 of the Covenant would not be valid.
Replying to another question of the Committee, another delegate said it was true that the Greek Constitution reserved the enjoyment of certain civil rights only to Greek citizens, but that had not meant that the Constitution prohibited the exercise and enjoyment of civil rights by foreigners. Instead, it referred the pertinent matters to the ordinary legislator. In any case, the legislator was bound by a constitutional provision, which made no distinction whatsoever as to citizenship. More importantly, the legislator was under the obligation to fully take into consideration the implementation of international treaties ratified by Greece on the protection of human rights, which were directly applicable to the Greek legal system. Moreover, the courts were under the constitutional obligation to directly apply those laws.
On the gender equality plan for 2004 to 2008, adopted last November by the Government Committee, another delegate highlighted several activities to be undertaken in that regard. In terms of laws, although a general legal framework existed in which violent crimes could be punished, there was a clear need for special legislation. Last 11 November women deputies of Parliament had requested the adoption of specific provisions on that issue. A working committee had been established, in order to draft a bill that defined domestic violence as a specific crime. A concern of the committee was to provide financial support for the victims of domestic violence who could not leave their homes because of purely economic reasons. Activities were also being undertaken to raise public awareness. The secretariat on gender equality was continuing its cooperation with non-governmental organizations in organizing awareness campaigns, and information booths had been set up at central points in major cities, and buses also carried advertisements. In addition, conferences had been organized at regional and local levels.
On the right to life and the prohibition of torture, he drew attention to a host of new or newly amended laws that aimed to address deficiencies in existing legislation and ensure that right and to prevent and punish any instances of ill-treatment and to further accountability of police officers. In December of last year, a code of police ethics had been adopted, which contained specific rules regarding respect for human rights and the protection of vulnerable groups.
Another delegate said that estimates had shown that trafficking in human beings in and around Greece was now the third largest criminal industry after illicit trafficking in narcotics and firearms. Social exclusion, poverty or lack of knowledge of the language were among the social factors that made women, minors and aliens vulnerable to that abhorrent crime. And while the problem was growing, worldwide and in Europe, Greece had begun designing and applying action plans to tackle it. The Ministry of Public Order had established a Task Force in 2001 that had proved remarkably active and productive. She added that police training in the area of trafficking was underway.
On the phenomenon of exploitation of Albanian children, one Greek delegate said that, while that had been a concern in the past, over the last few years the problem had been virtually eradicated with the dismantling of organized criminal networks. Another delegate addressed the general situation of overcrowding in prisons ad detailed interim measures that were under way to improve the situation while new prisons were being built.
On improving detention centres, another member of the delegation highlighted improvements that had been made to existing facilities, as well as to ensure the upgrading of general conditions and hygiene. In particular in the Attiki region, where the main problem was, a new detention facility, consisting of a modern building was in the final stages of construction and would hopefully be handed over to the competent authorities in the coming months. He added that the laws governing entries and stays of foreign nationals in Greece provided that aliens awaiting deportation could not be detained for more than three months. Such aliens could submit objections to the decision ordering detention.
Detailed replies were also supplied to questions on the following items: mental health hospitals; the number of persons detained for failure to fulfil a contractual obligation and the length of their terms; steps being taken to address deficiencies in the law, as identified by the National Commission on Human Rights, as well as steps taken to ensure that judicial decisions were enforced at all levels of Government; and on whether legal aid was provided to asylum seekers, migrants and other non-European Union nationals belonging to vulnerable groups.
Experts Comments and Questions
Ms. WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, asked about the countrys anti-terrorism law, about which the delegation had seemed to suggest that one mans freedom fighter was another mans terrorist. If a civilian was deliberately attacked, that was a terrorist act, no matter the reason. Could the delegation clarify that provision in Greek legislation? she asked.
Regarding the state of siege, she noted that the delegate had directly referred to general comment 29, which talked about possible limits on derogation of rights. One interesting feature of that was that even habeas corpus could not be suspended in a state of emergency. She wondered whether the Government had looked into that. The delegation had also helpfully pointed out that a state of siege could no longer be implemented in an instance of domestic circumvention, and only in the case of a foreign threat. But in an attempted armed coup to overthrow the constitutional order, did that include terrorist acts, or had that only referred to a military coup? she asked.
On the question on the Covenants article 2, on the issue of the distinction that the Constitution drew between Greeks and non-Greeks on their enjoyment of certain rights, she said she understood the point that by incorporating the Covenant directly into Greek law, many of those discriminatory provisions would fade away. Her concern, however, was that only guaranteeing rights to Greek citizens under the Constitution might mislead some country judge in a rural area who had not taken international law, as was the case with judges in her country as well. Would it not make sense to conform the text of the Constitution to the Covenants requirements? she asked.
Concerning the use of force by Greek police and border guards, she recalled that the delegation, in its written answer, had stated that changes in the law in 2003 were drafted with United Nations principles on the use of force and firearms in mind. She sought clarification on whether force could only be used in the face of a serious threat to human life and not simply to apprehend a person suspected of a crime. Was the use of force restricted to imminent threats to human life, and did Greece have a kind of civilian review board to serve as a check and balance on the nature of police to never rat out another cop? she asked. Many countries had found civilian input helpful in that regard.
On issues of the Roma, concerns had been raised that there had been only one police officer sentenced for abuse of a Roma man. The officer was subsequently given two years prison with a suspended sentence, but the victim of the shooting was an unarmed man laying face down. Had the Government figured out a way to involve Roma community monitors within the police department to look at potential problems of excessive force? she asked. The treatment of Roma, together with trafficking in women, were two of the most neglected remaining human rights problems in an otherwise highly civilized continent -- Europe.
Noting that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been allowed to visit Greek prisons, but it was not yet permitted to visit police detention centres, she asked whether any thought had been given to that as a helpful device to provide checks and balances on police activities. The announcement that a lot more prisons were being built was gratifying, but the Committee could not take account of things that had not yet occurred, and having 25 new facilities in train did not, at the moment, provide any short-term relief. Had any thought been given to any interim measures to relieve the overcrowding?
She also asked about the flat guarantee that aliens awaiting detention for longer than three months were always released into the community. Even if that was the case, the report had lamented that many of the detention facilities were antique. Had any thought be given, therefore, to mitigating the hardships of that three-month period? she asked.
Another query concerned why, in normal commercial matters of entering judgments against debtors and their assets, that rather old-fashioned coercion of the body was still used. Wasnt that antique, especially in light of todays commercial sophistication, whereby assets could both be exposed and levied upon without having to force the debtor himself to sign the form? On the question of transparency, the fact that article 11 of the Covenant trumped older Greek law, she said there still might be magistrates out there who dont get the picture.
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