A suffocating environment for Greek civil society

Human rights defenders in Greece, particularly those working on migration, operate in an environment of widespread fear and insecurity, according to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor.

“I am concerned about the increasing criminalization of humanitarian aid in Greece. Solidarity should never be punished and compassion should never be judged,” she said this week when presenting her preliminary findings at the end of a 10-day mission to the country.

As Greece faces intense international criticism over illegal pushbacks of migrants at its borders and broader human rights concerns related to migration and asylum, the Greek government has decided to silence groups and individuals documenting these abuses. While acknowledging Greece’s migration challenges and the government’s efforts to address them, Lawlor criticized the binding rules for registering non-governmental organizations working on migration, introduced in 2019, calling them discriminatory and a breach of obligations. Greece’s human rights standards.

The UN expert noted that not only are human rights defenders subject to criminal sanctions for their activities, but that they operate in an increasingly hostile environment where the general public is influenced by negative rhetoric from senior officials and their unfavorable image in the media, which often confuses their activities with traffickers and criminal networks.

Greece has lost 38 positions in one year in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 Press Freedom Index report, with the organization ranking it as the lowest-ranked country in the European Union for freedom of the press. hurry. “Journalists who contradict the government’s narrative on managing migration flows are often under pressure and do not have access to mainstream media.…Journalists who report on corruption sometimes face threats and even charges said Lawlor. She noted that journalists have very limited, if any, access to facilities where migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are held, which further contributes to a general lack of transparency regarding government policies in this area. .

Lawlor will present a detailed report with his findings at the March 2023 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The government should listen to what the UN expert has to say and stand up for human rights defenders. The European Commission, which noted in July last year the shrinking space in Greece for groups working with migrants and asylum seekers, should step up its engagement on the issue and put pressure on Greece to stop harassing her civil society groups and activists.

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