Greece: Policing demonstrations responsibly

As the events during the violent demonstrations that rocked Greece in recent months come under police and judicial investigations, Amnesty International calls on the Greek authorities to take the opportunity to address long-standing problems of policing.  

In a briefing published today, Greece: Alleged abuses in the policing of demonstrations, Amnesty International highlights patterns of alleged human rights violations by police against civilians, including excessive use of force and firearms, torture or other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and denial of prompt access to lawyers.

“Time and again police officers in Greece have been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators or denying them their rights when in detention. The police response to the recent unrest is the culmination of an entrenched pattern of serious human rights violations by law enforcement officials,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

The killing of 15-year-old Alexis Gregoropoulos by an officer serving as a special guard on 6 December 2008 sparked widespread demonstrations that in many cases developed into riots.

Since the end of the demonstrations last January, Amnesty International has been receiving mounting allegations of violations by police. The organization has brought a number of cases from December 2008 and January 2009 to the attention of the Minister of the Interior, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in which police officers were said to have arbitrarily arrested, ill-treated and detained peaceful demonstrators and detainees, including minors were prevented from promptly contacting their lawyers.  

“These incidents should be used as a catalyst by the government to launch a wide-ranging commission of inquiry that would investigate not only recent events but also systemic issues, including training of police on the use of firearms and of force,” Nicola Duckworth said

Amnesty International notes that the Greek authorities have both a responsibility and an obligation under international law to ensure the safety and security of people and property and acknowledges the difficulties faced by law enforcement officials while policing violent demonstrations. It is also the duty of the authorities under international law to ensure that the policing of demonstrations is carried out in a manner that complies with international standards, including those on the use of force.

The organization urges the Greek authorities to address the patterns of abuses which have led to a lack of public confidence in policing.     “The people of Greece have the right to proper policing in accordance with the government’s national and international obligations,” Nicola Duckworth said.