Greece's 1975 Constitution, as amended, guarantees that everyone "within the Greek State [shall] enjoy full protection of their life, honor, and freedom, irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or political allegiance".Art. 5(2), 1975 Constitution of Greece (as amended).It is further stipulated that:
Torture and any kind of bodily ill-treatment, injury to health, or the use of psychological pressure or any other offence against human dignity are prohibited and shall be punished according to the law.Art. 7(2), 1975 Constitution of Greece (as amended).
According to Article 11:
(1) Greeks have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms as the law provides.
(2) The police may be present at public open air meetings only. Open air meetings may be prohibited by police decision stating the reasons, generally if danger to public security is imminent therefrom, and in the case of specific areas if the disruption of social and economic life is seriously threatened, as the law provides.
The Constitution does not set out the powers and responsibilities of the police with respect to use of force.
1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
According to the 2004 Code of Police Ethics, the Hellenic Police:
Shall respect the every person’s right to life and security. Police does not inflict, instigate or tolerate acts of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and reports cases of violations of human rights.
Wtih respect to the use of firearms, the relevant legislation is the Law No. 3169/2003 on the “Carrying and use of firearms by police officers, training of police officers in the use of firearms and other provisions”. This 2003 Law allows the use of firearms where there is a threat of an armed attack against a police officer or another person and the use of firearms is proportionate to the severity of the threat.Art. 3, Law No. 3169/2003 on the Carrying and use of firearms by police officers, training of police officers in the use of firearms and other provisions.The use of force with intent to kill or incapacitate is prohibited if
- there is a serious threat of harming a third person from a missed shot or ricocheting bullet
- the use of force is directed against an armed group and could hurt unarmed people
- a child is the target of the use of force, unless using such force is the only means to avert death; or
- a person flees after being asked to submit to a lawful search.
Greek law does not comply with international law and standards, which limit use of firearms to an imminent threat of death or serious injury or proximate and grave threat to life.
A police officer who uses a weapon on a superior’s orders that are in violation of the Constitution or clearly unlawful may still be held liable for illegal use of force.Art. 3(9), Law No. 3169/2003 on the Carrying and use of firearms by police officers, training of police officers in the use of firearms and other provisions.
Greece's National Ombudsman is competent to address complaints against the police, including of excessive or unnecessary use of force. A 2017 Council of Europe report notes that:
As a mediator, the Greek Ombudsman makes recommendations and proposals to the public administration. The Ombudsman does not impose sanctions or annul illegal actions by the public administration.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Greece, the Committee against Torture expressed concern at reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers acting to disperse demonstrators during the period under review. These included:
beatings and shooting of tear-gas canisters directly at people during an anti-fascist protest in Keratsini, in 2013, as well as police violence and extensive use of tear gas against migrants and asylum seekers protesting about living conditions in the RICs – ‘hotspots’ of Moria (Lesbos) and Samos, in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Regarding the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the police in 2008, the Committee took note of the information provided that the Greek delegation that, while the criminal proceedings are still pending following an appeal, a settlement was reached on the compensation and effectively paid in 2017. It noted, however, that no specific information was provided by Greece regarding the execution of the judgment in Makaratzis v. Greece and other cases of torture or ill-treatment examined by the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee was also concerned "at reports about the ill-treatment of persons in police custody, including for the purpose of obtaining confessions, at the Agios Panteleimonas Police Station in Athens and at Demokratias Police Station in Thessaloniki".
It called on Greece to:
(a) Review the crowd control procedures applied by the Hellenic Police in the context of demonstrations, including the use of tear gas, hand-held batons and shields, to ensure that they are not used indiscriminately and excessively or against peaceful protestors and that they do not result in an escalation of tension;
(b) Ensure that prompt, impartial and effective investigations are undertaken into all allegations relating to ill-treatment and the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, in particular members of the Hellenic Police, and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and the victims are adequately compensated;
(c) Increase the efforts to systematically provide training to all law enforcement officers on the use of force, especially in the context of demonstrations, taking into account the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Greece, the Human Rights Committee expressed its continuing concern about reports suggesting the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials at the time of arrest and against persons in police custody....Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Greece, UN doc. CCPR/C/GRC/CO/2, 3 December 2015, §15.
It was particularly concerned "about reports of police violence against Roma, migrants and refugees and the lack of effective investigation into such cases" as well as "about the reported reluctance of prosecutors to take legal action against alleged perpetrators and that only a few cases result in criminal investigations and sanctions....."Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Greece, UN doc. CCPR/C/GRC/CO/2, 3 December 2015, §15.
It called on Greece to
ensure that all allegations of unauthorized and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials are thoroughly and promptly investigated by an independent authority, that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted, that those found guilty are punished with sentences that are commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and that compensation is provided to the victims or their families. The State party should also ensure that the police receive appropriate professional training that includes full respect for human rights principles.Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Greece, UN doc. CCPR/C/GRC/CO/2, 3 December 2015, §16.
Makaratzis v. Greece (2004)
In this important Grand Chamber judgment, the European Court of Human Rights exceptionally found a violation of the right to life even though the victim of a multiple police shooting survived. The case concerned an applicant who had driven through a red traffic light in the centre of Athens. He was chased by several police officers in cars and on motorcycles. After the applicant had broken through five police roadblocks set up to stop him, police officers started firing at his car. When the applicant stopped at a petrol station, the police officers continued firing. The Court accepted the government’s claim that the police did not intend to kill Mr Makaratzis, but observed that the fact that he was not killed was "fortuitous":
According to the findings of the ballistic report, there were sixteen holes in the car caused by bullets following a horizontal or an upward trajectory to the car driver’s level. There were three holes and a mark on the car’s front windscreen caused by bullets which came through the rear window; the latter was broken and had fallen in. In the end, the applicant was injured on the right arm, the right foot, the left buttock and the right side of the chest and was hospitalised for nine days.
The Court concluded that, "irrespective of whether or not the police actually intended to kill him, the applicant was the victim of conduct which, by its very nature, put his life at risk, even though, in the event, he survived."European Court of Human Rights, Makaratzis v. Greece, Judgment (Grand Chamber), 20 December 2004, para. 55.
In July 2017, Amnesty International called on the Greek authorities "to urgently investigate allegations that police used excessive force against asylum-seekers in the Moria camp near Mytilene during a protest on 18 July 2017 and ill-treated some of those who were arrested and detained in the Mytilene police station following the clashes that ensued".