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Greece praised for progress but must end widespread detention practices, say UN experts

Greek language version

GENEVA / ATHENS (13 December 2019) – Greece has made improvements on ending arbitrary detentions, but still has challenges due to the widespread detention in the criminal justice and migration systems which must end, UN human rights experts have concluded after a visit.

"We recognise and praise Greece's efforts to address arbitrary detention through laws on alternatives to detention, provisions for early release and plans to deinstitutionalise people with disabilities," said a delegation from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, issuing a preliminary statement at the end of their 10-day visit.

"The cooperation from the authorities and their willingness to facilitate access to all places of detention, both announced and unannounced, was outstanding. This should serve as a model for how the Working Group's visits take place.

"However, the use of detention remains widespread in the criminal justice and migration contexts and we urge Greece to end this policy. It is worrying that it has become the common response, despite the requirement under international law that it should only be used as a measure of last resort.

"The use of pre-trial detention should be the exception not the rule. Implementing alternatives to detention would also help alleviate serious overcrowding in penal establishments."

The experts acknowledged that Greece continued to face "serious challenges" in the field of migration, given its location on the southern border of the European Union.

"It is important that a regional approach is taken to address migration with full respect for the human rights of all migrants, including those seeking international protection," they said.

"Detention in the context of migration must be an exceptional measure of last resort, based on an individual assessment of each migrant and for the shortest period."

Aspects of the recent legislative reform in Law No. 4636/2019 which will come into force on 1 January 2020 are also of concern, particularly the extension of the maximum limit of detention. "This cannot be reconciled with the international human rights obligations undertaken by Greece," they said.

"We are also seriously concerned that unaccompanied minors and other children are being detained and treated as adults. Detention of children in the context of migration is prohibited under international law and should be discontinued."

The Working Group also urged the Government to accelerate its work to deinstitutionalise people with disabilities, in accordance with Greece's treaty obligations.

During the visit, from 2 to 13 December 2019, the three members of the delegation, Jose Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Leigh Toomey and Sètondji Roland Adjovi, met Government officials, judges, lawyers, civil society representatives and other relevant people. They visited 20 different places of detention, interviewing more than 150 people deprived of their liberty.

A final report on the visit will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2020.


The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1991 to investigate instances of alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was clarified and extended by the Commission to cover the issue of administrative custody of asylum-seekers and immigrants. In September 2019, the Human Rights Council confirmed the scope of the Working Group's mandate and extended it for a further three-year period. The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world: Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico; Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Elina Steinerte (Latvia; Vice-Chair on Follow-up), Ms Leigh Toomey (Australia; Vice-Chair on Communications), Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin) and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (the Republic of Korea).

Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page — Greece  

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