Jun 02, 2016

UNPO/ABTTF Conference Report: Freedom of Association in Greece: A Loophole in European Minority Rights Standards

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in cooperation with the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) is releasing a report titled “Freedom of Association in Greece: A Loophole in Euopean Minority Rights Standards” following a conference with the same title organised in early March 2016 at the European Parliament, with the support of Csaba Sógor MEP (EPP). This report contains the transcription of all speeches delivered at the conference as well as the speakers’ biographies and media coverage of the event.

The report contains the speeches heard at the conference from Mr Nils Torvalds MEP (ALDE), Dr Panayote Dimitras (Spokesperson of the Greek Helsinki Monitor), Ms Eugenia Natsoulidou (Founder of the Macedonian Educative and Culture Movement of EDESSA), Ms Melek Kırmacı Arık (International Affairs Director of ABTTF), and Ms Johanna Green (Programme Manager at UNPO).  All speakers mentioned the gap between rhetoric and action, namely, that although Greece claims to protect its minorities’ rights, this is neither true in law or in fact. Indeed, in law, the only minority group recognised by the Greek government is the Muslim minority, thus no legal recognition of ethnic minorities such as the Turks or Macedonians is in place. On this point, Ms Natsoulidou referred to the ‘unsolvable problem’ of the Greek constitution’s Article 16(2) – on the development of national and religious conscience – which enables Greek politicians to dictate how the citizens should think and feel. Dr Dimitras then stressed the fact that the majority of the Greek population (including the politicians themselves) have a very limited knowledge about minority rights and issues, and that without awareness there could be no hope of change.

Another important topic raised throughout the conference was a number of cases brought against Greece in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), by minority groups in Greece who had not been allowed to register their organisation because they used minority terminology in the name. In these cases the Court found Greece to have violated the groups’ right to freedom of association (Article 11) under the European Convention on Human Rights. Significantly, none of these judgments have been acted on, and the speakers all pushed for the recognition and implementation of these rulings.

The conference and subsequent report confirms that more dialogue and debate is needed both at the national and European levels to overcome the politics of fear that continue to hamper progressive reform of minority rights legislation. Finally, the conference called for the establishment of a policy framework or instrument to protect minority rights at the EU level. The European Union prides itself on its core values of respect for human rights and promotion of democracy; therefore to continue to allow Greece, a Member State since 1981, to violate the rights of its minorities is untenable.

To download the full report, please click here.