New bill to protect rights of minorities

On the day it was revealed that Greece has been referred to the European Court over its failure to update equality laws, the government yesterday submitted a bill to Parliament that aims to end discrimination on grounds of race, sexuality, gender, religion, disability or nationality. Justice Minister Anastassios Papaligouras tabled the draft bill, which intends to bring Greece in line with EU standards by offering legal protection to vulnerable groups, such as immigrants, while putting in place a legal framework to punish those who discriminate against them. The move came only hours after Synaspismos Left Coalition published a response to a question it had submitted about the state of Greek discrimination laws to Greece’s European Commissioner Stavros Dimas. In a response dated November 16, Dimas revealed that the Commission had reported Greece to the European Court of Justice in July this year because it was dragging its feet over adopting a law banning the unequal treatment of people according to color, nationality or ethnicity. Greece was supposed to have passed such rules into law by July 2003. The bill put forward by Papaligouras includes provisions for all kinds of areas, ranging from the workplace and schools to accommodation and social services. For example, if passed, the new law will make it illegal for a hotel to bar guests based on their skin color and employers to pay lower wages to people of a particular nationality. Those found guilty could face fines and up to one year in jail. The draft law attempts to stack the cards in favor of the person who feels they have been discriminated against so they can find redress in the courts. It improves the plaintiffs’ chances of winning their cases by making sure the burden of proof is on the accused to prove their innocence. The bill also suggests the creation of a seven-member review body, under the auspices of the Justice Ministry, to deal with matters of alleged discrimination in the workplace. Complaints about public bodies and civil servants will be referred to the Ombudsman.