After a nine-month delay, the latest attempt to enact a new antiracism law in Greece will resume on Tuesday and continue on Friday, when MPs will debate draft legislation that has provoked intense opposition from conservative MPs, many bishops within the Orthodox Church.
If approved in its current form, the antiracism bill, first tabled in parliament in November 2013, would toughen criminal sanctions for incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence. But, critics say, it makes no reference to racial motivation, does not do enough to protect the victims of racist violence, and does not seem to include homophobic attacks based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It would, however, criminalise denial of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, provided they are recognised as such by international courts or the Greek parliament. This would include the Holocaust of European Jews by the Nazis, but also the mass killing of Christians in Asia Minor between 1908 and 1922 and the killing of Black Sea Greeks in the Ottoman empire.
However, the bill sets certain limits to the above, specifying that there must be a malicious motive to the denial. Those expressing scientific or historical opinions would be exempted from this provision.
Absent from the bill will be any provision extending civil partnership to same-sex couples, which appears to have been removed following high-level interventions from the Orthodox church. Last November, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greece’s exclusion of same-sex couples from civil law unions was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, adding that the reasons given by the authorities for not allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions were “not convincing”.
But human rights organisations say that despite an epidemic of racist violence in the Greek capital, the bill does not include measures to encourage reporting of violent hate crimes or to ensure appropriate action by the police and judiciary to counter hate violence.
Human Rights Watch said urged MPs to amend the draft to “encourage reporting by requiring police and prosecutors to investigate any crime that may be categorised as a violent hate crime, regardless of its nature, without requiring victims to pay a fee to file their complaint”.
It also says the law should explicitly require prosecutors to investigate bias as a possible motive in a crime and to present any evidence of bias to the court. Requiring courts to consider evidence of bias motivation, and to explain the reasons for applying or not applying a penalty enhancement, should also be included in the law, HRW says.
The human rights organisation also says that undocumented migrants who report that they were the victim or witness to an attack should be exempt from arrest, detention or deportation pending a prima facie assessment by a prosecutor of the merits of their complaint. Moreover, a decree empowering prosecutors with the authority to grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds to undocumented victims and witnesses of hate crimes should be included in the law.
“Finally, the proposed hate crimes reform should acknowledge explicitly that perpetrators sometimes have mixed motives, and make clear that multiple motives should not preclude investigating and prosecuting the case as a bias crime,” HRW says.
Human Rights Watch said it was also opposed to those parts of the bill that interfered with freedom of expression and association. “ In particular, speech that falls short of incitement to violence – including denial of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – should not be criminalised, however offensive it may be. And no one should risk prosecution simply for membership in a legal political party,” the group said.
“Greece is waking up to the fact that there is a serious problem with racist violence,” said Eva Cossé, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch. “MPs should seize the opportunity to make this bill a genuine part of the solution.”
Greece’s existing antiracism law dates from 1979. In 2007 Kostas Plevris, a self-declared racist and Nazi. In 2007, became the first person to be convicted under that law over his book Jews: The Whole Truth. That conviction of Plevris, whose son is now a New Democracy MP, was later overturned on appeal, with judges agreeing with him that his book only referred to “Zionist Jews” and not Jews in general.