502 Albanian `street children` have disappeared in Greece from the state managed institution `Aghia Varvara` between 1998 and 2002.

     

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Greece.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SITUATION

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), a member of the OMCT network and other reliable sources of the disappearance of 502 children from the state managed institution Aghia Varvara between 1998 and 2002.

On December 1998, the Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Theodore Kotsonis, set up a program to promote the protection and social welfare of street children. The program essentially consisted of the temporary accommodation of street children in childcare facilities of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Athens. One of these two facilities was the children`s institution “Aghia Varvara” (“Saint Barbara”).

In application of this officially and publicly announced program, allegedly 661 children street children were accommodated in Aghia Varvara between 1998 and 2002. The police had placed numerous “street children”, children cleaning car windows at traffic lights, in the institution after their arrest. Of the 661 children accommodated, 560 were Albanians -almost all Roma or Egyptians according to Albanian NGOs-, 45 Greeks -almost all Roma-, 40 Iraqi, and 16 from 6 other countries. Out of them, reportedly 90 were taken to their parents, 47 were transferred to “children cities,” 22 were picked up by the police, and 502 children went missing. No ethnic breakdown of the missing is known, but it is believed that almost all were Albanians. All children from Albania were trafficked in one way or another (that includes parents and relatives).

The fact that that hundreds of them had simply gone missing was reported in early 2003, by the Swiss NGO “Fondation Terre de Hommes”. Greek authorities at all levels did not react to the potential loss of hundreds of lives of children at the hands of the state. It took a formal request by the Albanian Ombudsman to the Greek Ombudsman, for the latter to investigate the case. Yet, when in March 2004 the Ombudsman`s report was completed, it was noticed that the Ombudsman had only investigated the reasons for the malfunctioning of Aghia Varvara.

The report finds that the program establishing Aghia Varvara consisted merely of the assignment of children into already existing institutions. Moreover, there was a lack of funds to finance adequate projects and the institution was understaffed. The latter became a real problem when the police started transferring immediately, upon arrest, all street children to the institution (until then street children were detained in police stations).

Initially only children up to twelve years of age were sent to the “Aghia Varvara” institution, but in the absence of any institution for children aged 12-17, all children up to 17 were also sent to “Aghia Varvara” . This led to the lack of available rooms and space in general. Perhaps even more importantly, the absence of police officers to guard the institution, coupled with the lack of institution`s guards meant that the children could escape from the institution easily.

Even though there is probable criminal responsibility for the 502 registered children gone missing and violations of an array of children`s rights, the Ombudsman did not send the report to the Prosecutor`s Office, as in other cases of probable criminal responsibility. Since the Prosecutor`s Office did not take any action itself, even after tens of major media stories, GHM filed a criminal complaint against Aghia Varvara staff and competent police officers, in May 2004. The Misdemeanours Prosecutor assigned the preliminary inquiry into the allegations to the Minors Department of the Security Police of Athens, whose officers had arrested the children and were probably involved in their disappearance.

A letter by GHM addressed to the Chief Misdemeanours Prosecutor of Athens explained the reasons why the investigation should be assigned to a peace court magistrate, as is the case with the vast majority of all investigations. The request was rejected and the preliminary inquiry is currently being carried out by the police agency. Even though by law the investigation cannot last more than four months, six months later it is not known to have been concluded.

OMCT welcomes paragraphs 5l and 6m of the conclusions and recommendations issued by the Committee against Torture, which highlight the Coimmittee`s specific concern on this issue and state that with respect to the Aghia Varvara children`s institution Greece “should ensure that a judicial investigation is carried out and provide the Committee with information on its outcome.” OMCT urges the Greek authorities -law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities and the Ombudsman- to investigate the case of the 502 allegedly disappeared street children- objectively, thoroughly, responsibly and within reasonable time and bring perpetrators to justice as well as provide redress to the victims or their families.

ACTION REQUESTED

Please write to the authorities in Greece urging them to:

i. take all measures necessary to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the 502 missing street children;

ii. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these events in order to identify those responsible, bring all of them to trial and apply the penal and/or civil sanctions as provided by law;

iii. guarantee that adequate reparation and protection are provided to the victims and their family;

iv. guarantee the respect for children`s rights throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

ADDRESSES

Mr. Konstantinos A. Karamanlis, Prime Minister, Prime Minister`s, Office at the Hellenic Parliament, Greek Parliament Blgd, Constitution Square, Athens / Greece, Fax: +30 2107241776, Email: Mail@primeminister.gr

Mr. Petros Molyviatis, Foreign Minister Athens, Fax: +30 2103681433,

Mr. Anastasios Papaligouras, Minister of Justice, Athens, Greece, fax +30 2107489231

Mr. George Voulgarakis, Minister of Public Order, Athens, Greece, fax: + 30 2106917944

Mr. George Kaminis, Greek Ombudsman for human rights, fax: + 30 2107289643

Please also write to the embassies of Greece in your respective country.

Geneva, December 6, 2004

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), 8 rue du Vieux-Billard, Case postale 21, CH-1211 Geneve 8, Suisse/Switzerland, Tel. : 0041 22 809 49 39, Fax : 0041 22 809 49 29, E-mail : omct@omct.org, http://www.omct.org.

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