Today The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) is sharing a submission made to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Focusing on Greece, the submission will inform the Special Rapporteur’s annual interim report which will be presented to the General Assembly at its 76th Session in October 2021. The report addresses the lack of accountability for Greek authortities engaged in pushbacks and other forms of border violence which amount to torture, as well as the active supression of evidence by state officials. Building on first hand data collected by members of BVMN through interviews with people-on-the-move, the report lays out a set of responses to questions posed by the Special Rapporteur, as well as core recommendations for attaining accountability.
1. What are the most important legal, practical and other challenges that are conducive to the current worldwide accountability gap for torture and ill-treatment?
The findings in the report indicate a lack of substantive investigation into crimes committed by the Greek authorities. Even where investigations were carried out, the fact that perpetrators were often charged with investigating themselves implied an essential void in accountability. Alongside these institutional features, victims of torture removed from Greece to Turkey during pushback processes have severly limited recourse to justice. Moreover, the nature of pushbacks (masked operatives removing people over the border violently and often at night) makes it very difficult for applicants to identify perpetrators, and therefore an effective barrier remains in place for people who are often unable to reach the high burden of proof maintained by Greek administrative courts.
2. Please identify, explain, distinguish or compare the different functions of accountability for torture and ill-treatment.
Arguable torture claims require rigorous examination ‘in line with recognised standards for effective investigation… as provided in the Istanbul Protocol’. Public international law also obliges states to provide restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and, crucially, guarantees of non repetition. In the case of Greek pushbacks, survivors should be allowed to re-enter the country, access the asylum system and receive rehabilitation via medical, phycological, legal and social support. The report also outlines the need for a full and public disclosure of pushbacks; public apology and the acceptance of responsibility of Greece for pushbacks. Judicial sanctions against those responsible for violations as well as the implementation of an independent border monitoring mechanism would also act as a preventative measure.
3. Who should be recognised as a victim of torture and ill-treatment, and what are – or ought to be – victims’ procedural and substantive rights within accountability processes? Who else, if anyone, should be entitled to have access to and/or participate in accountability processes and mechanisms?
Pushbacks, which deny people access to individual examination processes, and illegally return people without due process thus violate the procedural requirements of Article 3(2) CAT. Moreover, the continued and credible allegations published by BVMN partners and a range of NGOs and international monitoring bodies would meet any threshold to sustain the claim that Turkey is not a safe country for return. This violation of non-refoulement is also coupled with systematic violence. In 2020, BVMN found that 90% of all pushback testimonies in Greece contained at least one act of physical torture of ill-treatment, including: forced undressing, beatings, use of electric discharge weapons, use of firearms, mock executions and the use of inhuman and extralegal detention,30 with up to 52% of all pushback groups containing minors.
- Pushbacks should be formally recognised by the Special Rapporteur as direct violations of the prohibition of torture. Pushbacks amount to procedural and often substantive violations of the prohibition of refoulement as well a direct violation of the prohibition of torture due to the level of physical and psychological violence inflicted on victims.
- Greece must conduct, in line with recognised principles of international law, an effective investigation into the perpetrators of pushbacks.
- Survivors of pushbacks, in line with international public law standards, must be granted adequate reparation. This not only includes compensation but also restitution by being safely returned to Greece, rehabilitation for harms suffered, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
- An independent and impartial border monitoring mechanism should be established at Greece’s borders. This mechanism should, as recommended by other NGOs, have broad scope to investigate violations at the border; be given strong powers to carry out its mandate; be accessible and transparent and its work submitted to public scrutiny; and strengthen human rights accountability with a mandatory followup process. Consequences, including political and financial costs must follow governments’ non-compliance.
- CAT should use Article 20(1) to investigate Greece. As CAT has received reliable information that a Member State is systematically torturing those within its jurisdictions, it should invite Greece to participate in an examination of pushbacks and, if necessary, using Article 20(2), make a confidential inquiry into the matter.
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