Hellenic League for Human Rights
The Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) is the oldest human rights organization in Greece, long before the acronym NGO entered the Greek vocabulary. The League is an association set up under the provisions of the Civil Code. The League was set up in 1936 with Aleksandros Svolos as president and was dissolved by the dictatorship of the 4th of August. It was reinstituted in 1953.
Names with central importance took on the role of presidency of the organization, such as Aleksandros Svolos, Stratis Someritis, Agni Rousopoulou, Faidon Velgeris, Aristovoulos Manesis, and Ioannis Souriadakis among others.
The dictatorship of 1967 dissolved HLRH. Faidon Velgeris was one of the main witnesses against the Greek government in the infamous “Greek case” at the Council of Europe. This process created an important precedent: Greece was the only state that has ever been evicted from the Council of Europe for systematic violation of human rights. The League during this period was active in Paris, as it was outlawed in Greece.
After the fall of the junta (1974) the League was set up again (with its first president Stratis Someritis) and since the operates with a continuous presence and activity in line with its statute, namely the protection of human rights in Greece.
The League since its establishment is a permanent member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and represents this network in Greece and participates in its organs.
Statute goals and means
According to its statute, the League «undertakes activities in the domain of dissemination, advocacy and development of principles that reckon to men rights and freedoms, integrated to social structures».
The means through which the goals of the League are achieved is the study of the issues pertaining to citizens, at individual and/or collective level, the elaboration and submission of proposals for resolving these problems, providing legal assistance, raising public awareness and deepening of public dialogue on human rights, through the organization of public presentations, conferences, publications, and other means that are deemed fit to circumstances. To optimise the achievement of its goals, the League envisages the cooperation with other national or international bodies active in the domain of human rights.
Human rights in context
The HLHR was founded and developed in an environment of a shrinking and ailing democracy; an environment where the struggle for the protection of human rights was politically dangerous but nevertheless focused on its goals. The post-1974 period in Greece provided a safer environment for human rights defenders. Nevertheless, this new era revealed itself to be a lot more complex in what concerns understanding, preventing and challenging the new forms of violations which arise from the social complexity of our times.
Economic crisis and human rights
The debt crisis that engulfed Greece from 2009 onwards and the continuous decline of the Greek economy bring about unprecedented challenges in what concerns the protection of rights. The conditions of the economic crisis objectively threaten human rights by binding an increasing number of citizens to poverty. On the first level, it is self-evident that the economic crisis and the dimensions it took since 2009, primarily threatens the enjoyment of social rights; first and foremost affecting labour rights and the right to a decent life. The challenge to labour rights spans over to the proper exercise of individual rights, since the primary response of neo-liberal politics in the face of rising protest over shrinking social rights is the curbing of individual rights: police crackdowns and the denigration of human dignity together make up a new chapter for the Greek case-law at the European Court of Human Rights.
Within this framework, the protection of human rights and a strategic approach to their promotion is of central importance in the League’s work; and not as part of the rights of the vulnerable to be dealt with at the periphery through the actions of certain sensitive philanthropists.
This is the framework within which we perceive the role of our League today.
Issues of first priority: immigration, social rights, police violence, extreme right
The issues that out League attributes special attention are:
• Shortcomings with regards to the observation of guarantees provided for by the penal procedure especially regarding high risk groups, such as prisoners, aliens, etc.
• Anti-terrorist legislations and their multiple consequences in the domain of the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms,
• Censorship and protection of freedom of expression and art.
• The perpetual issue of State-Church relations, the consistent problems faced in the field of religious freedom in Greece, and in general prejudice against difference.
In the meanwhile the last years have seen more emphasis on the following issues:
• Issues of human rights arising from the management of immigration flows for all categories of migrants,
• Racist violence and the rise of neo-nazism.
During the last decade our League has conducted two major campaigns which resulted in two legislative proposals: one regarded a new framework for state-church relations (2005-2006) and another one on a new Code of Greek Citizenship (2008-2010) which in effect is ongoing despite the adoption of Act 3838/2010. Today (2013) the League has commenced a new campaign against ultra right extremism.
Administration and organs
Organs of the League are the General Assembly and the Administrative Council. All members participate in the elections which take place every two years to elect a new Administrative Council. At this point in time, in 2013, the members of the League are more than 600. A team operates in Thessaloniki since in 2009.
After the last elections for the Administrative Council of the League, that took place on the 17th June 2013, the Council was established as follows:
President: Κonstantinos Tsitselikis
First Vice-President: Nikos Paraskevopoulos
Second Vice-President: Κleio Papapapantoleon
Secretary General: Vaggelis Mallios
Treasurer : Garyfallia Anastasopoulou
Μembers: Antonis Spathis, Koilia Pia, Hristos Iliadis, Kalliopi Likovardi
The Administrative Council foresees the Management and Communication Unit under the coordination of Eleni Takou.
Under the supervision of the Administrative Council a series of Working Groups are operational for the following thematic areas: migration, religious freedom, social rights, penitentiary system. Participation in these groups is open to all members of the League.
Participation in documentation programs
With the UNHCR (Office in Athens):
– Undertaking pilot court cases (strategic litigation) for asylum seekers and victims of racist violence;
– Publication of the Yearbook of Aliens and Refugee law.
With the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU (FRA):
– RAXEN since 2000. RAXEN is the national body for the registration and reporting of racism and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. These reports are submitted to the Fundamental Rights Agency-FRA (EUMC until 2007) and provide data for the comparative study and analysis of these phenomena at European level;
– FRALEX. Since June 2011, the League in consortia with other organisations, namely the European Center for Constitutional Law, the NGO Antigone, and the Center for Research on Minority Groups, has undertaken the implementation of the programme: Data collection and research services on fundamental rights issues.
Participation in national, European and international bodies
• Participation in the National Commission of Human Rights;
• Participation in the Council of Migrants’ Integration of the Municipality of Athens;
• Participation in the Council of Migrants’ Integration of the Municipality of Thessaloniki;
• Participation in the Racist Violence Recording Network under the coordination of the National Commission of Human Rights and the UNHCR;
• Participation in all activities of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH);
• Participation in activities of the European Association of Human Rights (AEDH), where the League is represented in the Administrative Council.