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Politics

Critics See Refugees Human Rights Problems in Greece, But U.S. Doesn’t

WASHINGTON – Although human rights groups have chided Greece’s record in dealing with refugees and migrants, alleging pushbacks the government denied happened, the US State Department said Greece’s record is essentially status quo.

The Americans said there were “no significant changes” in the human rights situation in Greece over the past year while noting critics charges about the treatment of refugees, alleged police brutality and the use of spyware.

The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged bugging the phones of at least 15,475 people for national security – including politicians, some of its own members and military leaders.

But the government said it’s not behind the use of spyware found on the phones of targets including journalists and 10 months after the capsizing and sinking of a refugee vessel that drowned hundreds – with a Greek Coast Guard boat at the scene – a secret investigation is still ongoing with no progress reported.

The US report said that “significant human rights issues included credible reports of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prison detainees and of migrants and asylum seekers by law enforcement authorities; crimes involving violence targeting members of national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.”

But it said the government regularly took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, the report said.

“There were, however, complaints from nongovernmental organizations and international organizations regarding government failures to effectively investigate allegations of forced returns of asylum seekers and to hold those responsible to account,” it added.

That included reports of mistreatment and abuse by police and the coast guard, including against members of racial and ethnic minority groups, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, demonstrators, and Roma.

Prison and detention centers remained overcrowded, often with inadequate sanitation or health care, the report said and it wasn’t said if the report noted activists charges about the same at refugee detention camps.

The report listed 3,513 complaints of alleged corruption, fraud, and maladministration, but only 13 referred for prosecution, and just 32 convictions – with suspended sentences for 28 – and 15 acquittals.

Greece has the worst record for media freedom in the European Union, reporters groups said in their own reports and the US noted those but didn’t recommend any action as Greece and the US have grown closer in military ties and trade.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders said journalists faced “criminal lawsuits and strategic lawsuits against public participation for their investigative reporting on corruption and environmental pollution.”

On gender-based violence, an EU Group of Experts on Action against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence report revealed that “although Greece had made progress in combating violence against women, serious concerns remained, particularly regarding victim protection, implicit attitudes about gender-based violence among police, prosecutors, and judicial decision-making officials.” There were also high rates of witness and victim attrition and low conviction rates, particularly in cases of rape.

The Foreign Ministry said the US didn’t get responses from the government as ite questioned some of the findings. “Particularly important for the integrity, reliability and objectivity of the report is the fact that the opinion of the Greek state was not sought in relation to the mentioned issues,” the ministry said in a press release.

“The report lists, without further investigation, complaints by non-governmental organizations that aren’t independently verified. “Because of this indiscriminate recording, it appears that serious human rights issues exist in all countries with a developed rule of law,” it added.

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