International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) v. Greece Complaint No. 49/2008
Collective complaint brought to the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) under Article 16 of the European Social Charter (ESC); Right of the family to social, legal and economic protection; Remedies; Due process; Forced evictions; Right to social rights without discrimination under the preamble of the ESC.
This ECSR decision stemmed from a collective complaint lodged by the International Center for the Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS), member of ESCR-Net, alleging that the Greek Government violated the right to housing of the Roma in Greece as protected under Article 16 of the ESC in conjunction with the Preamble of said Charter that guaranteed their equal access to social rights as a means to protect against their social exclusion.
In ruling for the plaintiff, the ESCR found that Greece did not provide the Roma with access to housing that met minimum standards despite their previous decision requiring them to do so (see ERRC v Greece 15/03). In particular, the Committee noted Greece’s failure to provide the Roma with access to adequate housing, enact adequate legal safeguards and standards during forced evictions, and access to proper remedies. Drawing on a large amount of material presented by the complainants, together with the findings of a number of the UN, the Council of Europe and national experts, the Committee found significant evidence that many Roma continued to live in housing which failed to meet minimum standards of habitability and infrastructure. Many settlements consisted solely of prefabricated housing with no electricity, running water or waste collection.
In addition, the ESCR noted that while Greece had adopted safeguards against discrimination, the State’s principle focus on ensuring equal treatment ignored the unique circumstances of the Roma and failed to enact measures to ensure their equal access to adequate housing.
Finally, the ESCR noted that while the Roma were unlawfully occupying the land from which they were evicted, the State often failed to provide proper justification for evictions and did not conduct them in ways that respected the Roma’s dignity and provided them with alternative accommodation. The State also never consulted with the Roma prior to their eviction nor gave them adequate and reasonable notice. Finally, the ESCR observed that the Roma were never sufficiently aware of nor knew how to exercise their right to challenge an eviction notice. The ECSR found all of these situations to be violations of Article 16.
On February 9, 2010, Thomas Hammarberg of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights met Theodora Tzakri, Deputy Minister of Interior of Greece in Athens, in order to discuss the situation of the Roma. In follow-up written communication of 13 April 2010, Tzakri stated that the Roma would be treated on the basis of human rights. To date, Greece has taken no concrete remedial action. One of Greece’s worst Roma evictions took place in Aspropyrgos in August 2010.
On 6 July 2011, at the 1118th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies, the Committee of Ministers passed a resolution (at item 4.4 and appendix 9) upholding the strong condemnation by the Committee of Social Rights in this case.
This decision is the first time that the ECSR re-examined an issue already decided under a previous ruling. In doing so and rejecting the Greek government’s attempt to have the complaint declared inadmissible, the Committee found that not only had the Greek government not taken sufficient steps in improving the living conditions of the Roma, the situation had in fact gotten worse.
In a finding that could also have an impact on access to justice for other marginalized communities, the Committee deemed that the legal recourse available was not sufficiently accessible. With many Roma families unaware of the right to challenge an eviction notice, for example, the Committee found that “[t]he special circumstances of Roma families threatened by eviction means that special support should be available including targeted advice on availability of legal aid and on appeals.”