Facing Facts Forward! “Tackling Hate Crime – A Victim-Centred Approach”

Conference organized by CEJI-A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe in cooperation with Facing Facts! Network of Civil Society Organisations, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the CoE European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

Brussels, 3-4 March 2015

Statement of the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR)

“Tackling hate crime in Greece: recent evolutions and perspectives”

The Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR) is an independent non-lucrative organization based in Athens and develops various activities regarding the promotion and protection of human rights both on national and international level. The MFHR closely monitors the current policies regarding the hate crime issue and the legislative and the administrative measures undertaken for their implementation. In this context, the MFHR has participated several times in parliamentary committees about antiracism and xenophobia pieces of legislation. Indicatively, the MFHR submitted to the Greek parliament a legal memorandum as regards the new antiracism bill towards toughening criminal sanctions for incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence.

In addition, the MFHR provides free legal counseling to victims of hate crime and represents them before national and European judicial organs/courts. Furthermore, we take action to raise awareness (through conferences, seminars, public campaigns) on the issue of hate crime in order to protect the victims and combat the phenomenon.

According to recent reports and records of the ECRI, the OSCE and the Racist Violence Recording Network, there is a rise of racist and hate-crime violence, particularly against immigrants. Apart from numerous cases, which remain unreported, more than 400 racially-motivated attacks have been recorded since 2012. As most of the victims of hate crime belong to vulnerable social groups -immigrants, asylum seekers, homosexuals, transgender persons etc.-, the unreported attacks -the so-called “dark side” of hate crime- must be much higher. Given the fact that hate speech is not only present in the civil society but also in the current political framework, as represented in Parliament by the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn and other right-wing extremists, there is a strong concern regarding the upgrading ideological promotion of racist and discrimination discourse. It is needless to say that this rising conservatism is essentially linked to the increased number of the hate-crime cases.   

Consequently, the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights stresses out the need to address urgently the hate-crime issues and for this purpose welcomes the recent law no 4285/2014 which amended the outdated legal framework (law no 927/1979). The new law aligns domestic legislation with European Union rules pertaining to hate speech and denial of genocide. More specifically, the law criminalizes the public incitement of violence or hate speech, covering also the gender identity and sexual orientation grounds, and the public endorsement or denial of certain crimes (genocides). It also increases jail time for instigating racist violence from two years to three years and imposes fines on individuals and groups. Groups and political parties found inciting racism can be barred from receiving state funds. It should also be noted that according to the law crimes committed are investigated and prosecuted ex officio; therefore, there is no need for a report from or an accusation by a victim(s) before the initiation of an investigation and/or prosecution. On the other hand, there are no provisions encouraging the reporting of hate crimes and ensuring the action of police and judiciary. On the contrary, a previous legal provision protecting hate crime victims from deportation has been suppressed (!). Overall, the law catches up with the Greek reality and -despite some reasonable doubts regarding the eventual free speech sacrifices- it reaches an equilibrated compromise between the hate crime protection and the freedom of speech.

Nevertheless, the MFHR remains extremely concerned about the implementation of the new law and its efficiency, as tackling the hate crime is not just a matter of better or more severe legislation. Social awareness is extremely low and the public discourse reflects cultural stereotypes, racism and xenophobia. The training of police officers directly involved in handling racist and hate crime is insufficient, not to mention that recently police officers discovered to be collaborating with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have been removed from their posts. Therefore, there is a strong need to create and promote the culture of human rights in the Police. In the same sense, the lack of confidentiality in the reporting process and of any obligation for the police to provide the victims with available information about the support services are important policy matters which should be immediately resolved. Last but not least, a victim-oriented approach of the hate crime problem should also promote the efficient access of the victims, most often immigrants and asylum seekers, to justice, which is far from evident in the Greek case.

Hate crime undermines the very core of human rights, personal freedom and dignity and finds fertile breeding grounds in the current economic crisis. Tackling it requires the full implementation of the existing legal framework, constant alert on reporting hate crimes, effective access of the victims to justice and, most of all, the promotion of an anti-racist ethos.