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Wednesday, 1 September 1993
Page: 827


Senator SPINDLER (7.32 p.m.) —Tonight I wish to address some human rights concerns which relate to the Macedonian ethnic community living within the borders of Greece. I do so in the context of Australia's international human rights obligations which are grounded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed by the United Nations assembly with 48 supporting votes, including Greece, and eight abstentions, mainly by the socialist republics of Eastern Europe, including the then Yugoslavia.

  Together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Australia in 1975, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified in 1980, this United Nations covenant constitutes what is generally accepted as the international bill of rights. It sets standards of human rights which all nations should not only aspire to observe within their own borders, but should also actively seek to have accepted on a global scale. .

  It is important to note that in contrast to the United Nations predecessor, the League of Nations, these documents speak of `peoples', which has generally been accepted as including ethnic communities within a nation. This is an important definition which, for instance, includes the Aboriginal community in Australia.

  However, tonight I wish to address in this context the human rights concerns of the Macedonian community living within the borders of Greece. The past year has seen more than 20 people sentenced to prison terms for opposing government policy on the subject of Macedonia.

  By way of example, three such prosecutions raise concerns about the Greek government's treatment of ethnic Macedonians within its borders. I briefly name the people in the three groups who have been treated in a way that I believe is a breach of human rights before Greek courts.

  The first example concerns Christos Sidiropulous and Tasos Boulis. Both received five-month sentences for `spreading false information and instigating conflict'. They did this, apparently, by telling a Greek magazine that they feel `Macedonian' and by asserting the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. The next example concerns Michael Papadakis, a 17-year-old school student, who received a one-year sentence for distributing a leaflet which contained the statement:

Macedonia belongs to its people. There are no races. We are all of mixed descent.

The third example concerns Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias, an ethnic Macedonian priest and well known human rights campaigner who was defrocked by the Greek Orthodox Church and subsequently charged under the guise of insulting his Archbishop. His trial is set down for April 1994. I believe that we should raise our voices to ensure that these prosecutions do not continue.

  It is useful to quote the concerns expressed by human rights agencies, Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, which have made the following comments on what they judge to be a denial of basic human rights to ethnic Macedonians in Greece. Amnesty International states:

Amnesty International is gravely concerned at these restrictions on the right to freedom of expression which the Greek Government guaranteed to uphold when it ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

That is the European convention of 1974, in addition to the one that I mentioned before, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International has also stated that any persons convicted by the Greek authorities on the basis of contradicting the Greek government's official policy on Macedonia will be considered prisoners of conscience.

  Helsinki Watch states that it used these trials `as disturbing violations of freedom of expression rights guaranteed by international law'. In none of these cases has any of the defendants been charged with violent acts or any other criminal behaviour. The charges are based purely on publicly expressed opinions that conflict with the views which the Greek government says is in contradiction of its laws. All of the defendants face possible sentences of several years as well as large fines. Helsinki Watch calls on the Greek government to immediately drop charges against the defendants in each of the cases. It adds:

These trials are based on statutes that violate international law on free expression. They are aimed at peaceful political expression. The government can stop these prosecutions if it wants to. Until it does, and moves to repeal the repressive laws it is using to muzzle dissenter views of Greece's friends around the world—and everyone concerned about freedom of expression ought to speak up and tell the country's misguided government to pursue its Macedonia policy through persuasion, not coercion.

These concerns are now being given some exposure in the media. The Economist in an article entitled `Greece and Macedonia: Do Not Disagree' states:

Many countries suppress free speech. But these trials are taking place in a member of the European Community . . . Although the undersecretary for foreign affairs has said that some of the trials are a mistake, the government has not dropped any charges. In one case, the public prosecutor even appealed against a unanimous verdict of not guilty.

The Times says:

Freedom of expression has been hit by a series of astounding criminal convictions of people who were foolish enough to question the Greek hard core line toward Macedonia. These trials are disturbing because they are antidemocratic, intolerant, deeply destructive and contrary to the European convention for human rights.

I believe it is time for Australia to play a part in conveying the message to the Greek government that Greece has an obligation to observe international human rights standards. The Australian government also has a moral responsibility to represent the interests of some 200,000 Australian Macedonians by taking an active role in adding its weight to pressure the Greek government to cease its discriminatory policies and stop prosecutions

aimed at ethnic Macedonians which cannot be justified on legal grounds.