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The Greek Ombudsman in the spotlight

January 1st 2011
The Greek Ombudsman is a constitutionally established independent authority. it provides its services to all citizens free of charge. The mission of the organisation is to mediate between public administration and citizens, in order to protect citizens’ rights, to ensure compliance with the rule of law, and to combat maladministration.
According to the institution’s founding law, the Ombudsman is assisted in carrying out his duties by six Deputy Ombudsmen. Each Ombudsman’s Department concerns a different area of activity, and is supervised by a Deputy Ombudsman. The current Deputy Ombusdman for Human Rights is Mr. Vasileios Karydis (pictured left), who has kindly agreed to speak to Equinet about the role of the Greek Ombudsman.


1. What do you think are the most urgent discrimination issues in Greece that your institution is facing nowadays? Racism, xenophobia, anti-Roma attitudes or other?

2. Taking into account this context, what are the priorities and objectives of the Greek Ombudsman for this year?

3. How aware are citizens in your country about the role of your equality body? Are there any specific obstacles in gaining the trust of vulnerable groups in Greece? What actions are you undertaking to build this awareness?

4. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin do you expect to deal with this year?

5. How does the Greek Ombudsman build its relations with stakeholders?

6. How do you see the impact of the economic downturn on equality and on your work in Greece?

7. Can you assess to what extent and how Equinet is helping your equality body? Is it giving an added value to your functioning?

8. What will be your major projects and initiatives planned in 2011?


1. What do you think are the most urgent discrimination issues in Greece that your institution is facing nowadays? Racism, xenophobia, anti-Roma attitudes or other?

Greece was traditionally perceived by its citizens as a country with a high level of cultural and ethnic homogeneity, as regards nation, language and religion. This homogenous perception has increasingly come under scrutiny and partial challenge, mainly after the immigration flow in the nineties. So, despite the common belief that Greece is a non racist and tolerant society, racism, xenophobia and discrimination are present and gradually alarming, in several cases. The most urgent discrimination issues that the institution is currently facing are xenophobia and anti-Roma attitudes. The inhuman and sub-standard living conditions of Roma unavoidably affect the living conditions of other citizens residing in the area where Roma settlements have been established for years. The continued lack of action on the part of the public administration to provide basic goods and services to the Roma Community and to improve their living conditions, leads local residents to demand their expulsion from the area, instead of reminding the state of its duty to take action to combat their exclusion and isolation. Moreover, the presence of numerous illegal immigrants, and especially the creation of ghettos in specific urban areas, has caused serious anti-foreigner sentiment, that connects their presence with the under-development of the region, the rise of unemployment and the rise in criminality. A distinctive new feature of discriminatory cases is the rising number of complaints launched by citizens who live close to people suffering from social exclusion of various degrees. This reveals a horizontal social tension creating fertile ground for manifestations of hatred, fear and conditions that threaten social cohesion and give rise to racism and discrimination. The progressive development of such tension is indicative of the lack of mechanisms of public mediation and social appeasement, where the Greek Ombudsman (GO), as well as other equality or independent bodies, may play a crucial role.

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2. Taking into account this context, what are the priorities and objectives of the Greek Ombudsman for this year?

The Greek Ombudsman intends to intensify its involvement in the specific, and exceptionally broad field for human rights protection, by developing projects of broader scope and in seeking solutions in two fronts: a) at the level of the coordination of activities between state agencies, local government and of civil society, and b) that of legislative or administrative regulatory improvement which is necessary in order to achieve effective protection in the field of discrimination.

The main concern is to challenge existing misconceptions and prejudices in public administration and public opinion, influencing the level of human rights protection and human rights ethics in the field of discrimination. In this regard, the main objectives are: a) to strengthen efforts in order to create an organisational culture where people belonging to different ethnic or racial groups feel confident about reporting discrimination, ensuring that the competent authorities respond without prejudices; b) to contribute to the promotion of good relations between different groups, defusing racial tensions and hostility, promoting the benefits of equal rights and opportunities for all, building understanding through interaction. This particular concern of the GO is expected to activate a number of ex officio interventions and concrete activities in specific areas of the region where social tension and hostility arise systematically.

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3. How aware are citizens in your country about the role of your equality body? Are there any specific obstacles in gaining the trust of vulnerable groups in Greece? What actions are you undertaking to build this awareness?

Despite the efforts aimed at publicizing the anti-discrimination framework, it would definitely be inaccurate to argue that the broad public is fully aware of it. In contrast however to the broad public, NGOs and otheragencies of civil society are better informed of the institutional developments in the field of combating discrimination, despite the fact that only few of them have addressed the Ombudsman on issues regulated by the anti-discrimination law. In addition, the citizens who explicitly sought the protection of Law 3304/2005 belong to groups with relatively easy access to the specific legal information (public employees, members of associations etc). Nevertheless, even in these cases, the level of knowledge on the protection provided by the anti-discrimination law appears to have been insufficient, since many of the complaints do not fall within the scope of protection of anti-discrimination legislation. In addition, it is indicative that most of the complaints lodged with the GO concern discrimination on the grounds of age or discrimination, the publicizing of which would not usually cause additional social distress to the offended parties. The lack of information concerning their rights, the fear of social exposure or other unofficial sanctions or social pressure (e.g. in the case of a teacher of a public school who was discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation), but also the restrictive scope of the protection provided in the relevant legislation, may explain the reduced flow of complaints on some of the other grounds of discrimination (i.e. religious or other belief and sexual orientation).

The general clause of exception from the regulatory field of Law 3304/2005 of discrimination due to citizenship of the third countries nationals consist a serious obstacle for the protection on the grounds of ethnic or racial origin. As long as discrimination based on citizenship finds a foothold in anti-discrimination legislation the preconditions are created for extensive discrimination against foreigners due to race or national origin, taking into account that in Greece the access to a number of fields of employment continues, perhaps unjustifiably to be tied to Greek citizenship. It is also characteristic that in many cases, despite the fact that there had been confirmation of direct or indirect discrimination, enforcing the relevant provision of the anti-discrimination law was possible only by means of analogy. The problem stems from the fact that the crucial act or omission on the part of the public agency involved fell within the scope of the authoritative rather than the public service jurisdiction and/or was beyond the regulatory scope of Law 3304/2005.

In any case, the low number of complaints cannot be seen as proof, or even as an indication, of the non-existence of serious phenomena of discrimination in Greece. The GO has undertaken specific initiatives aiming at filling the gap of communication between the institution and the vulnerable groups involved (Roma, immigrants, undocumented aliens). However, awareness raising should be a priority mainly from the part of central and local administration. The action undertaken by the GO in the field of awareness can have an additional impact but cannot replace the main obligation of the relevant authorities.

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(logo) Greek Ombudsman (Click to enlarge picture)

4. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin do you expect to deal with this year?

The number of complaints we expect to receive this year will be about 60, which is a number that indisputably does not reflect the actual situation of discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin in Greece. It must be noted however that this number represents the complaints submitted and examined within the scope of anti-discrimination legislation. A significant number of complaints (about 900 per year) that are handled by the Human Rights Department of the GO are submitted by foreigners and is related to problems they face in their contacts – voluntary (issuing of stay permits, procedures for asylum seekers) or not (deportation, detention) - with public administration.

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5. How does the Greek Ombudsman build its relations with stakeholders?

Working with stakeholders on the issues of discrimination is one of the priorities of the institution. The GO has established two open communication networks, one for the Roma and one for immigrants and asylum seekers. It is actually an effort for an unofficial partnership between the various stakeholders in order to share information, knowledge and collectively work for the promotion of equality and, overall support, for these groups of the population. Each network currently numbers more than 30 partners. The GO launched these networks in order to establish a regular contact with those groups of the population who suffer systematically from discriminatory actions and exclusion. The initiatives aim at encouraging the mediation by these bodies between the targeted population group and the Greek Ombudsman, the dissemination of critical information related to institutional tools and know-how and the gathering of information on the crucial problems faced by these groups; but, above all, the main objective has been the joint coordination of action of the participating bodies. Both the aforementioned initiatives have proved successful and the GO intends to establish such networks on the grounds of sexual orientation and disability in the coming year, using the experience gained by the establishment of the previous two.

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6. How do you see the impact of the economic downturn on equality and on your work in Greece?

The economic crisis in Greece is expected to affect the most vulnerable groups and mainly the immigrants and the Roma. An increase in racist attitudes towards immigrants and ethnic minorities is already evident. The challenge for the GO acting as an equality body in the public sector is to provide a clear message of anti-discrimination, focusing on the benefits of designing and implementing integration and diversity policies rather than developing policies based on fear and deportations. On the other hand, and from the practical point of view, serious cuts on the budget of the institution are also expected for the year to come and this will have direct impact on the implementation of the relevant initiatives and the activities we intend to have in this regard. What is necessary is to find alternative funding mainly through European projects and activities, which has become a priority for the planning of the years that follow.

Greek Ombudsman (detailed Equinet profile)
Greek Ombudsman (detailed Equinet profile)

7. Can you assess to what extent and how Equinet is helping your equality body? Is it giving an added value to your functioning?

Equinet is a professional workplace where, despite the diversity of its members, you can find a familiar and common dedication to the work against discrimination. The GO has been a member of Equinet since 2005 and has gradually become more involved in the activities of the network due to the added value it offers in the functioning of our institution. The exchange of information, identification of good practices and insight knowledge into new methods and tools, the strategic approach of the capacities of equality bodies, the focusing on development of promotional practices, provide an interactive and creative means to reach our full institutional potential at a national level, taking into account the progress achieved on a European level.

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8. What will be your major projects and initiatives planned in 2011?

The main concern for 2011 is to exert pressure for amendments in existing anti-discrimination legislation with the aim of broadening the field of the protection provided. Apart from awareness raising and motivating NGO’s involvement, the GO aims to cover the communication gap between victims of discrimination and the institutions which are competent for their protection. In this regard, the institution intends to develop specific action plans targeting civil society groups. Furthermore, the GO plans to carry out systematic visits in various cities within the country, encouraging direct communication between the residents and local authorities. The GO also plans to continue and strengthen the cooperation with the National School of Public Administration providing training to students of the School and seek further cooperation with the Training Institute for Civil Servants on the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation.

Finally, following the success of the pilot communication and coordination networks which were set up with regional civil society organisations active in the field of Roma and immigrant protection and support, the GO aims to make use of this very positive experience by establishing similar networks for each ground of discrimination. These networks will hopefully lead to greater awareness of the role the GO can play in safeguarding equal treatment and also familiarise participating bodies and organisations with the existing institutional tools and legislation for combating discrimination.

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Thank you Mr. Karydis for your contribution.