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Statement by Non-Governmental Organizations about the Olympic Games

In August and September (2004) the Olympic and Special Olympic Games will take place in Athens. This will be the most important sports event worldwide, and it is expected to draw not only many thousands of sports fans but also international attention.

The Games are accompanied by extensive security measures the likes of which have no precedent in Greece. While we recognize the country?s right to enforce the measures it deems necessary, there exists nevertheless the fear that these measures negatively affect basic human rights.

The NGOs that have undersigned the present document express their strong concern about the serious consequences to respect for human rights that may ensue from the security measures for the Olympic Games.

These concerns are focused on the following points:

  • Clear mechanisms and accountability have not been announced in relation to the Games? complex security system, which is constituted by Greek and foreign police and military forces, as well as secret services. 
  • There are no sufficient guarantees that the surveillance mechanisms ? such as the thousands of cameras ? will be used exclusively for their declared purpose and for a time period that will be strictly limited to the running time of the Games.
  • There are serious indications that on the grounds of the Olympic installations there is a possibility that the right to freedom of speech will be seriously compromised.
  • The well-known obstacles faced by refugees in their attempt to enter the Greek territory and to find effective protection are exacerbated in the context of Greece?s heightened border control measures. Furthermore, in recent months the police have been asking foreigners who submit asylum applications, or who await the examination of their cases, to produce residential leases and formal documents proving they are being hosted in Greece. Our concerns about these practices have been further aggravated by the information that the enclosure of asylum-seekers in a camp of Larissa district is now being promoted, the reasons cited for the enclosure being public order and security. 
  • Ministers’ statements and extensive publications refer to a plan for the complete control and policing of the city, including the removal from the streets and parks of the city center of the of street vendors, the homeless, drug addicts, migrants, panhandlers, gypsies – everyone and anyone who, according to the Games -organizers, threatens the aesthetic of the city. A policy is being promoted, moreover, to lock some of these people up in special prisons or in psychiatric facilities. 
    The situation of all these people is the product of active processes of social exclusion that constantly create more unemployed, more poor, more abject people ? increasingly large numbers of people, in other words, who are excluded and relegated to the fringes of society. 
    The imminent displacements, exclusions and deportations comprise dangers to the physical and psychological health of these people and exacerbate their stigmatization and marginalization. 
  • According to publications, both places of worship and residences of Muslims are being monitored. We stress that attempts at ensuring security must always be pursued while observing all the formal and substantive prerequisites for protection of rights, without discriminating against certain groups. 
  • Unspecialized or unskilled, generally foreign, laborers work overtime and without the requisite safety measures. These conditions have led to a multitude of work-related accidents that have until now resulted in at least 13 deaths and serious injuries on the Olympic construction sites. 
  • In the case of the Roma, fundamental rights have been violated, such as the right to decent shelter, with the forced displacement of Roma settlements from areas being used for Olympic works.

We recognize the need and the obligation of every country to take the necessary steps for the protection of everyone within its borders. The need for special measures for an event of this caliber is also reasonable.

Nevertheless, the pursuit of security and the dogma of ?zero tolerance? cannot amount to an excuse or opportunity for the taking of measures that limit citizens? rights. The pursuit should be of a combination of security and protection of rights and not a decision in the face of the artificial dilemma between security and human rights. The recent past in other countries has shown that in the name of security basic freedoms are often compromised.

We invite the authorities to ensure respect for the rights of all who happen to be, or will be, on the Greek territory, with specific and tangible guarantees.

ARSIS – Organization for the Social Support of Youth
Amnesty International (Greek branch)
18 ABOVE Facility for the Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers
Hellenic League for Human Rights
Medical Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture
KETHEA Centre for Manifold Interventions

 

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