Τhe National Commission for Human Rights is an independent body, founded in 1998 to advise on human rights issues. It functions under the supervision of the Prime Minister of Greece. It is internationally acknowledged, and assessed under the Paris Principles, adopted by the UN.
On December 21st 2012, NCHR sent a letter to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. This letter (the full Greek original, here), along with a description of the Commission’s function and responsibilities, included an unprecedented complaint, concerning the General Secretary of the Greek Government Takis Baltakos, who is directly responsible for the personnel and infrastructure of the NCHR. According to the letter, signed by the President and two Vice-Presidents of the NCHR, the General Secretary has met with them only once, on December 7th, and on that occasion treated them with disdain. Mr Baltakos declared to the NCHR that “he is not interested in the Commission’s work or human rights, or the country’s associated international obligations”. He added that he “consciously up to now has done nothing to facilitate the work of the Commission” and that he “does not intend to act in any way to address the serious functional problems faced by the Commission, or initiate any procedure within his field of responsibility, even if that means that the NCHR is left without any scientific personnel”.
The NCHR says in its letter to the Prime Minister that it left the meeting, not only for reasons of “dignity”, but also because they believe that such blunt disregard for human rights issues coming from a representative of the Prime Minister is a “precursor to unfortunate developments”.
Greece has seen its share of human rights violations. But since 1974 and the fall of the Colonels’ junta, there was a steady, undoubted improvement. In the last three years, the situation has worsened to an unfathomable degree. The police torture people as a matter of course, and are being protected by those in power. Racist attacks by neonazi thugs are an everyday occurrence. And the Greek Government is making extraordinary and undemocratic attacks on free speech. That said, up to now we had only reached the point where the Minister of Public Order dismissed Greece’s convictions by the European Court of Human Rights, citing the Court’s insufficient legal expertise. This is the first time we hear of an actual outright dismissal of human rights as a legitimate concern by a democratic government.
Oh, and why now, since NCHR’s letter to the Prime Minister is dated December 21st? Well, because he has not responded yet. It has after all only been two months.