December 10th marked 62 years from the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration which lay the foundations of the modern legal and political culture in terms of human rights. Greece was the cradle of democracy and freedom of the people in the past; unfortunately the present situation on democracy and human liberties is deeply worrisome.
History shows us that modern Greece was founded by Albanians, Vlachs and Slavs and was supported by Germans, French and British benefactors, including many other noteworthy people from the Balkans that contributed their blood and lives for Greece’s freedom. Yet Greek authorities today, in contrary with the international laws, do not recognize any minorities there. In accordance with the Greek legislation, citizenship in Greece is granted only for people that are Christian Orthodox. In reality as U.S. Congressman, Mr. Christopher Hill declared on June 2002, “in Greece there are Albanian, Turkish, Macedonian and Roma minorities.” A special Albanian minority, recognized by the League of Nations in 1924 lives in a large territory in northwestern Greece named as Chameria or Thesprotia. In view of that, Greece has nothing to fear from its own minorities residing within its political borders. On the contrary, by affirmatively protecting them, it will show that it is a mature, responsible and reliable European democracy. In turn this will show Europe and the global community that Greece is a stable and democratic country worthy of its loaned Euros.
Speech and expression regarding minorities and non-Greek ethnic and linguistic constituents in Greece is seen as a serious offense; every Arvanite, Vlach, Turkish or Roma activist is subjected to persecution from the Greek state and its “independent” media. Let us recall the well-known Arvanite writer, Aristides Kollia who was accused to be an agent by the national media because he was advocating for human rights of Albanians in Kosovo. Another person that was accused publicly and condemned for unrelated allegations is Father Nikodim Tsarknias, who spoke out about the rights of minorities in Greece.
A critical issue that continues to be unresolved among Greece and Albania is that of the Chameria, also known as Tchamouria. The Chameria Genocide must be publicly acknowledged and accepted by the Greek government. Consequently there must be an establishment of a memorial, in the province of Chameria in honor of the thousands of brutally murdered Albanians. The law on the “State of War” (No. 26/36 -1940), must be rescinded by the Greek side as a legal remedy for the decades-long abuses by the Greek side and continuous impediments for the Cham population to freely return to their properties. Academic professionals in Greece and elsewhere have accepted the Chameria issue as a legitimate issue. Now legal professionals mostly from the area of International Law can work to ensure the legal obligations relating to property and human rights which will be composed of legally subjective requirements related to the repossession of unduly confiscated properties by this state.
Another issue of concern is that of Greece’s reception of refugees. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly criticized Greece’s asylum system describing it as non-functioning, with an acceptance rate of 0.04 percent and a backlog of 45,000 cases. HRW also describes the conditions of migrants in Greece as inhumane. The assassination of a Greek investigative reporter, Sokratis Giolias sparked condemnation from the head of the United Nations agency, which is also tasked with upholding press freedom. She stated, “Violence against journalists constitutes an attack on the fundamental human right of freedom of expression,” she added “It is a direct threat to democracy.” In a later press statement it was noted that colleagues said Mr. Giolias was about to publish a report on corruption.
The resentments of the Greek people have led them to protest out on the streets for every single socio-economic issue that plagues it. At the same time a state-sponsored ultranationalist party condoning attacks on immigrants goes unchecked. As a result of the severe ethnic and religious discrimination and racism, there exist many pejorative associations for Albanian, Aromanian, Bulgarian and Turkish people of Greece.
It is high time that the Greek government shows the needed sensibility and human rights compassion by recognizing the human rights of the Cham Albanians and those of Albanians of Greece. Cham Albanians should enjoy basic human rights originating from international treaties and conventions to which Greece is a signatory and party. They should be allowed to visit and register their properties in Greece without any governmental hindrance or impediment from Greece. The necessity of the protection of human rights of all ethnic minorities of Greece, including those of the Chameria Albanians, is extremely crucial for the regional stability, the administration of justice and the continuous improvement of bilateral relationship between Albania and Greece and the maintenance of the same respect and loyalty of the UDHR as if it were signed today.
The theme for Human Rights Day 10 December 2010 is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination. Human rights defenders acting against discrimination, often at great personal risk to themselves, are being recognized and acclaimed on this day. Human rights defenders speak out against abuse and violations including discrimination, exclusion, oppression and violence. They advocate justice and seek to protect the victims of human rights violations.
They demand accountability for perpetrators and transparency in government action. In so doing, they are often putting at risk their own safety. Some human rights defenders are famous, but most are not. They are active in every part of the world, working alone and in groups, in local communities, in national politics and internationally. Human Rights Day 2010 will highlight and promote the achievements of human rights defenders and it will again emphasize the primary responsibility Governments have to enable and protect their role. The Day is also intended to inspire a new generation of defenders to speak up and take action to end discrimination in all of its forms whenever and wherever it is manifested.
The story does not end after 10 December 2010. The focus on the work of human rights defenders will continue through all of 2011.