Greece: A victory for transparency reveals zero recognition of COs on ideological grounds. Serious deterioration for COs intensifies
Official data obtained after a legal struggle by an applicant for conscientious objector (CO) status, revealed that the percentage of recognition of those applicants for CO status who cite ideological grounds has fallen to 0% in 2021.
Greek authorities have also intensified unacceptable practices against conscientious objectors.
A victory for transparency
In January 2022 an applicant for conscientious objector status and for performing the (punitive) alternative civilian service, Mr. Thodoris Diamantidis, requested official disaggregated data for the last decade concerning applications for CO status.
About a month later, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff rejected the request stating “the requested data concern matters of national defence”.
The applicant appealed to the National Transparency Authority (NTA) which examined the case in April, ruled in his favour and annulled the decision of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff. The NTA found that Mr. Diamantidis, as an applicant for CO status, had a reasonable interest for the requested data. The NTA further pointed out that (as the applicant has also shown) similar or even more detailed data are publicly available for previous years on the website of the Greek Parliament. Indeed, on several occasions in the past, such statistics have been publicized in the context of written questions or discussions in the Parliament.
Following the decision of the NTA, Mr. Diamantidis repeated his request and also asked for data concerning the administrative appeals in case of rejections.
Official data: no recognition for those citing ideological grounds
The official data obtained revealed that in 2021 the percentage of recognition for conscientious objectors who invoke ideological (non-religious) grounds was 0%. All 12 applications were rejected. In three cases, applicants submitted administrative appeals for the decisions of rejection to be reversed (“αιτήσεις θεραπείας”) but all three were also rejected. This is a sharp drop in the recognition rates for conscientious objectors who invoke ideological (non-religious) grounds as in 2018 the recognition rate had reached 93 %, with 14 out of the 15 applications approved. In essence it means the effective abolition of the right to conscientious objection for this group of conscientious objectors.
Furthermore, perhaps for the first time, detailed information was provided on administrative appeals to remedy decisions of rejection. The official data show that in the last decade only 2 of the administrative appeals submitted by applicants claiming ideological (non-religious) beliefs were granted - one in 2014 and one in 2017 - , while in 2021 all 3 such administrative appeals were rejected, confirming concerns that administrative appeals are not an effective remedy for this issue.
The official statistics confirm two of the most problematic aspects of legislation and practice concerning the right to conscientious objection in Greece, as pointed out by War Resisters’ International and other international organisations on the occasion of the cases of Charis Vasiliou and Nikolas Stefanidis, which are pending before the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court: the lack of independence and impartiality of the procedures of examination of applications for conscientious objector status and the discrimination faced by certain groups of conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their beliefs.
There is, therefore, a growing need, as a minimum, to immediately implement international human rights standards and recommendations to Greece by international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, who have called for the examination of applications to be placed under the full control of civilian authorities, i.e. outside the Ministry of Defence and without the presence of the military. However, WRI reiterates the European Parliament’s position that “no court or commission can penetrate the conscience of an individual” and that the best way to resolve the problem is to accept claims of conscientious objection as valid without inquiry, something which has been recognised as best practice also by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Further unacceptable practices
Rejection of second applications without examination on the merits
In addition, according to Amnesty International, there has been worrying information that the rejection of second applications for CO status and alternative service (following the rejection of the first one) continues but with a new reasoning. This is despite the relevant jurisprudence of the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, that has ruled in favour of individuals whose second applications have been rejected without being examined on the merits.
Call for enlistment on the eve or on the same day
Furthermore, Amnesty International received a complaint by such an applicant about his treatment by the authorities. Following the rejection of his first application, he had submitted a second application for CO status. He was summoned for a second time for medical examinations, and, two and a half months later, he was informed by e-mail about the rejection of his second application, without it having been examined on the merits, and at the same time he was informed that he was called up to enlist in the armed forces the following day. The next day he was given a call for enlistment by the police, requiring him to enlist in the armed forces on the same day. Such practices effectively reduce the margin to appeal such decisions and therefore the right to an effective remedy, and/or put applicants in risk to be immediately declared insubordinate and face serious criminal and administrative sanctions and risk of arrest.
Failure to respond to the decision of the Human Rights Committee on an individual case
Finally, according to information received by War Resisters’ International, the Greek authorities have failed to respond in time to the landmark decision of the Human Rights Committee on the longstanding case of Lazaros Petromelidis, which found multiple violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Greek authorities had been given the usual 180 days to respond but failed to do it by the 6th of June 2022. The UN continue to seek a response by the Greek authorities.
Considering all the above, WRI intends to urgently inform international and regional human rights mechanisms for the serious deterioration of the human rights situation of conscientious objectors in Greece.