Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. In 2015 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. A coalition government formed by the SYRIZA and ANEL parties and headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leads the country.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included allegations of torture; criminalization of libel and violent attacks on journalists; allegations of refoulement of asylum seekers; official corruption; and instances of violence based on ethic, anti-foreigner and LGBTI animus.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by penalties ranging from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of their sex. Domestic violence is a crime with penalties from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively. Police recorded 68 rapes and 29 attempted rapes from January to June, a decrease compared with the same period in 2016. Police claimed to have identified the perpetrators in 82 percent of these cases.
According to the secretary general for gender equality and NGOs, domestic violence–including spousal abuse–continued to be a problem. The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): On April 23, media reported an NGO employee’s allegation that in Athens there were Muslim girls forced by their families and communities to be subjected to female genital mutilation. The NGO employee said that such practices took place in apartments in central Athens and that there were major health risks. On May 3, the head of the Supreme Court ordered the Athens first instance court prosecutor to initiate a preliminary judicial investigation of the matter. The results of this investigation were not available as of late November.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides penalties ranging from two months to five years in prison. In its 2016 report on gender and equality, the ombudsman reiterated previous findings about the difficulty in substantiating sexual harassment claims due to lack of evidence, victims’ fear of repercussions of reporting cases, and the reluctance of witnesses to take sides. In his reports from previous years, the ombudsman had also noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, emphasizing that employers were often ignorant of their legal obligations when employees filed sexual harassment complaints.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equality between women and men. The government effectively enforced laws promoting gender equality, which provided for women to enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, with exceptions related to the practice of sharia law by the Muslim minority of Thrace.
According to the Secretariat for Gender and Equality, women held approximately 9 percent of positions in the managing boards of publicly listed companies.
On February 21, the national employment agency announced that more than 60 percent of registered unemployed persons were women.
The government recognizes sharia applied by muftis as the law regulating family and civic matters for the Muslim minority of Thrace, with local courts routinely ratifying the muftis’ decisions. Muslims married by a government-appointed mufti were subject to sharia family law. Members of the Muslim minority also had the right to a civil marriage and the right to take their cases to civil court. Muslim women in Thrace could choose to be subject to sharia as interpreted by official muftis. The NCHR advised the government to limit the powers of muftis to religious duties because they might otherwise restrict the civil rights of citizens. Legislation provides that the courts shall not enforce any decisions by the muftis that contravene the constitution or international human rights treaties.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows belated birth registration but imposes a fine.
Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. The law prohibits corporal punishment and mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children as well as for alternative family care or institutionalization. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs complained of insufficient places for all children who required alternate placement, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters (see also section 2.d.).
On August 2, Human Rights Watch (HRW) addressed a letter to the minister for migration policy reiterating findings from previous reports that unaccompanied children were often held for long periods in small, overcrowded, and unsanitary police station cells, at times with unrelated adults, thus increasing their risk of abuse and sexual violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported that child marriage was common in the small Romani community, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17 (some as young as 13) and Romani boys marrying between the ages of 15 and 20. State-appointed muftis in Thrace noted that the marriage of children under the age of 15 was not allowed and that marriages involving minors between the ages of 16 and 18 required a prosecutor’s decision. A limited, yet unknown, number of marriages of children under 18 occurred in Athens and among the Muslim minority, with the permission of a prosecutor.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children under the age of 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law. Throughout calendar year 2016, police arrested 28 individuals for being implicated in online child pornography.
Displaced Children: According to EKKA data, as of June 30, there were 18,500 refugee and migrant children residing in the country. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to homelessness, labor, and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. According to EKKA data, as of November 15, all 1,151 shelter spaces designated for minors were filled. EKKA reported that an estimated 3,250 unaccompanied minors were residing in the country.
Institutionalized Children: Some media and NGO reports alleged police abuse of unaccompanied minors in migrant registration and detention centers (see section 2.d.). Local and international organizations, including the ombudsman, condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, resulting from a lack of available spaces in specialized shelters.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish community had approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. The Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS) continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in mainstream media and by some Greek Orthodox Church leaders. KIS also reiterated concern about political cartoons and images in mainstream media mocking political controversies through the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust or through equating “Jews” and “Nazis.”
On January 12, Alpha TV morning television show host Dimos Verykios stated “the global banking system is controlled by two main groups… the Jewish lobby… or masons.”
On April 28, Metropolitan of Piraeus Seraphim issued a statement about a Holy Synod decision not to appoint him, as initially planned, as the Greek Orthodox Church’s representative to a ceremony in Jerusalem for lighting the Holy Light of Easter. In his statement Seraphim claimed that he was replaced by another Metropolitan because Israel declared him “persona non grata.” He accused Israel of interfering with the Church’s issues. He specified that his views were not anti-Semitic but anti-Zionist and that Orthodox Christians stand against Zionism and especially against the wing of Zionism that he believes seeks world domination. Seraphim accused all the other Christian doctrines of favoring the Jews and quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, referring to freemasonry and other international entities as the arms used by Zionism to infiltrate and manipulate the government.
On July 7, human rights activists reported on social media that unknown perpetrators had vandalized the Athens Holocaust monument by writing with a marker, “Hi, my name is death!” Separately, on July 11, police reported the arrest of four male individuals for shattering the marble facade on the Holocaust monument in Kavala, in northern Greece. The attack was condemned by the city, government officials, including the national Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various political parties.
On July 17, “Father Kleomenis,” an excommunicated Old Calendarist monk, posted a video on social media showing him in front of the Greek Jewish Martyrs Holocaust Monument in Larisa, cursing the Jews, denying the Holocaust, spitting, kicking, and throwing eggs at the monument and calling for its destruction. On the same day, anti-Semitic leaflets were distributed around the area. The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church and the local Metropolitans of Larisa and Tyrnavos issued statements disassociating themselves from Kleomenis and condemning his actions. The municipality of Larissa also issued a statement denouncing the attack. The secretary general for human rights and the secretary general for religious affairs each independently referred the case to the public prosecutor, the racist crimes department of the police, and the cybercrime police department, with relevant evidence, for investigation. According to KIS, the president of the Jewish community of Larissa and the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor separately filed complaints against the perpetrators. On July 19, the prosecutor in Larissa filed a lawsuit against Kleomenis and three others for vandalizing the Holocaust Memorial and violating the law against racism.
On March 21, KIS welcomed parliament’s adoption of an amendment allowing the descendants of Greek Jewish citizens to obtain Greek citizenship if they wished. The amendment addressed a legal gap in a relevant 2011 law, which granted this citizenship right only to living Greek Jews who had been forced to leave the country.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the judicial system. It provides for other government services, such as transportation and special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported that government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent.
Persons with disabilities, including children, continued to have poor access to buildings, transportation, and public areas, which the law mandates they should have, particularly to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and public transportation vehicles. While the law allows service animals to accompany blind individuals in all mass transit and eating establishments, blind activists maintained that they occasionally faced difficulties when attempting to travel by airplane or bus with service animals or were charged additional fees for transporting them.
In his 2016 antidiscrimination report, the ombudsman reported handling 73 complaints related to persons with disabilities.
There were complaints by parents who wanted to register their children in mainstream schools despite having an official recommendation for enrollment in a special school. The Ministry of Education and the ombudsman reiterated that parents had the right to choose the environment in which their children would be educated, regardless of the child’s diagnosis.
On September 13 parliament passed legislation requiring the public administration to communicate with handicapped citizens in a way that is accessible to them, including Greek sign language and Greek Braille. The same law provides for additional leave for parents raising children with autism, Down syndrome, or serious mental disability.
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minorities, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.
Although the government recognized an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some members of these groups unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Tourkos and Tourkikos (Turk and Turkish) when based on ethnicity grounds, although individuals may legally call themselves Tourkos, and associations using those terms were not prohibited from operating. Government officials and courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian in identifying themselves, stating that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian in their self-identification.
The government officially recognized a Muslim minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, consisting of approximately 100,000-120,000 persons descended from those Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature and including ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that members of the Turkish-speaking community pressured them to deny the existence of a Pomak or Romani identity separate from a Turkish one and alleged that some Turkish-speaking community members provided monetary incentives to members of the Pomak and Romani community to self-identify as Turkish. In its fifth report on the country in 2015, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that only two schools in the Thrace region provided secondary bilingual education for minority children in Greek and Turkish.
Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police and alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling. Police conducted large operations in Menidi, in northwest Athens, following the accidental killing of a pupil by a stray bullet during an open-air school event. Non-Roma residents protested against the presence of Roma in Menidi, and unknown perpetrators allegedly linked to the neo-Nazi groups Combat 18 and Unaligned Meander Nationalists set fire to two Romani houses.
Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children remained problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools. The government reported that, in addition to special educational programs, low-income families, including Romani families, could obtain an annual allowance for every child enrolled in public school upon submission of a certificate of regular school attendance during the year. The granting of this allowance stopped in September.
In a report issued in April, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) documented 31 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2016. Eleven of these incidents were reported to police.
Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants by far-right groups, including alleged supporters of Golden Dawn (GD), whose members of parliament publicly expressed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views. During the year the trial continued of 69 GD members, including 18 current and former members of parliament. They were charged with weapons crimes and operating a criminal enterprise.
Courts issued prison sentences in cases relating to attacks on foreigners. On April 24, two alleged GD members, accused of launching an attack against migrants at the Souda camp in Chios, were given 18-month and seven-month suspended prison sentences by a local court. The defendant with the longer sentence was also fined 10,000 euros ($12,000).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Antidiscrimination laws specify sexual orientation or gender identity. The law includes sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes, and crimes targeting sexual orientation or gender identity are included in the official mandate of offices combating racist and hate violence. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to lack of trust. Violence against LGBTI individuals remained a problem, and societal discrimination and harassment were widespread despite advancements in the legal framework protecting such individuals.
In its 2016 report, the RVRN documented fewer instances of violence against LGBTI individuals compared with 2015, noting however that the number remained high. In 2016 RVRN recorded 46 incidents of attacks based on sexual orientation and another 10 based on gender identity. Seven of these incidents resulted in injuries. The complaints mostly referred to discrimination in the field of education and vocational training and discrimination relating to access to services and goods.
On June 6, the prime minister gave an interview to an LGBTI magazine in support of LGBTI rights, human rights, and individual freedoms. This was the first time the country’s prime minister had given an interview to the LGBTI press.
On October 13, parliament passed a bill on gender identity recognition. The bill allowed, for the first time, unmarried transgender individuals over the age of 15 to change their gender on identity documents without undergoing gender reassignment surgery. The law requires a judge to validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance.
The 13th Athens Pride Parade took place in June. Government officials, including the minister of finance, the secretary general for transparency and human rights at the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights, three deputy mayors of Athens, and a deputy representing the parliament speaker, attended and addressed participants. For the sixth time, a gay pride parade under the auspices of the local mayor also took place in Thessaloniki in June.
The Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs decision to include a “thematic week” in the year’s middle school program, partly dedicated to gender identity issues, triggered negative reactions from some societal leaders.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of HIV-positive individuals, societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV/AIDS were exempt from serving in the armed forces on medical grounds. A presidential decree provides the ability of professional military staff members to leave for medical reasons, including if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision. There were also no reports of employment discrimination in the private or civil service sector on the grounds of HIV/AIDS during the year.