Greece Pressed On Racist Penalties

ATHENS – After the government declared that a bill to increase penalties for hate crimes that had been set aside would be reintroduced, the measure is still in limbo as Human Rights Watch urged tougher measures to combat anti-immigrant assaults and violence.

The London-based NGO said the legislation, given to Parliament on Nov. 20 by Justice Minister Haralampos Athanassiou and sets out sanctions for hate speech and incitement to violence doesn’t go far enough.

The group said the law must address problems in existing Greek law and practice with respect to reporting and prosecuting racist violence.

“Greece has failed countless victims of racist and xenophobic attacks by neither investigating nor prosecuting the attackers,” said Eva Cossé, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch.

“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.”

The draft law, which is before Parliament’s standing Committee for Public Administration, Public Order and Justice, would toughen criminal sanctions for incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. It would also criminalize denial of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

But HRW noted that it doesn’t have measures to encourage reporting of violent hate crimes or to ensure appropriate action by the police and judiciary.

The group said that lawmakers 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 (US$135) fee to file their complaint. It said the fee deters some victims of racist attacks from filing a complaint.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who earlier this year put aside a previous bill that was aimed at the far-right ultra-extremist Golden Dawn party accused of leading immigrant assaults, put it back on the table after the murder of an anti-fascist for which a party member was arrested.

HRW said it has heard repeatedly from victims of racist violence that the threat by police of possible detention and deportation proceedings deterred them from reporting a racist attack to the police or pursuing the case.

A separate draft law to amend the Greek Immigration Code – yet to be submitted to parliament – would grant humanitarian visas to undocumented victims and witnesses of certain crimes.

The group said that this could help improve efforts toward justice for racist and xenophobic violence, and would complement the preliminary suspension of migration law enforcement that Human Rights Watch advocates adding to the anti-racism bill.