NEWS

Human Rights Watch calls on Greek MPs to strengthen anti-racism bill

Human Rights Watch, a leading international nongovernmental advocacy group, on Tuesday called for Greek lawmakers to strengthen legislation meant to combat racism and xenophobia.

“Greece has failed countless victims of racist and xenophobic attacks by neither investigating nor prosecuting the attackers,” Eva Cosse, a specialist on Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch (HRW), was quoted as saying in a press release issued on Tuesday by the organization. “If the justice minister and parliament are really serious about improving the country’s response to racism and xenophobia, they should remove the obstacles to justice for these attacks.”

A draft law introduced on November 20, which is currently before Parliament’s standing committee for public administration, public order and justice, calls for tougher criminal sanctions for incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. It also seeks to criminalize denial of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However,HRW said the bill does not include measures to encourage reporting of violent hate crimes or to ensure appropriate action by the police and judiciary.

“Members of parliament should amend the bill to include provisions explicitly requiring that any crime that may be categorized as a violent hate crime, regardless of its nature, would require mandatory investigation and prosecution without requiring victims to pay a 100 euro ($135) fee to file their complaint. Human Rights Watch research has shown that the fee deters some victims of racist attacks from filing a complaint,” the organization said.

The group also called on lawmakers to include provisions to protect undocumented migrant victims and witnesses from detention and deportation.

“Law enforcement officials should be required to suspend all migration law actions arising from the undocumented status of a victim or witness of an alleged attack pending a prima facie assessment by a prosecutor of the merits of the complaint about the attack. These provisions would be consistent with the EU directive on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime,” HRW said.

The bill comes amid a crackdown on the far-right anti-immigrant party Golden Dawn. Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and five other lawmakers were indicted in early October on the charge of creating and participating in a criminal organization linked to a range of offenses, including the fatal stabbing of the anti-fascist activist Pavlos Fyssas on September 18 and several violent attacks on migrants.

“The Greek government’s desire to counter hate is legitimate,” Cosse said. “But unlike violence, hateful ideas are best addressed through debate and social condemnation rather than criminal penalties.” [Human Rights Watch]