The Greek Case at the Council of Europe (1967-1974)

The legal aspect of the case: Interstate applications to the European Commission of Human Rights

The Greek Case at the Council of Europe had two aspects: The political aspect, which consisted in the examination of the case by the political organs of the Council of Europe, and the legal aspect, which included the interstate applications of the years 1967 (I) and 1970 (II) filed with the European Commission of Human Rights.

Α. The First Greek Case before the European Commission of Human Rights.

On 20 September 1967, Denmark, Norway and Sweden filed an application against the Greek government, accusing it of violating articles 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a few days later, on 27 September 1967, the Netherlands filed a new application against Greece.

The applicant governments, among other things, accused the Greek government of suspending a number of provisions of the Constitution of 1952, banning political parties and suspending the elections scheduled for 28 May 1967, establishing extraordinary military tribunals, arbitrarily imprisoning dissidents, censoring the press, and restricting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, arguing that the Greek government’s invoking of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation in the derogation declaration it submitted to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, pursuant to article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, did not satisfy the requirements of article 15.

In its first decision on the admissibility of the application, on 24 January 1968, the Commission ruled that the applications were acceptable, rejecting the claim that the actions by which a revolutionary government, such as the one that resulted from the coup of 21 April 1967, maintains itself in power could not be subject to control, and judging that the concurrent examination of the Greek case by the political organs of the Council of Europe did not constitute an obstacle to the exercise of its competence.

 Furthermore, the Commission deemed that in interstate applications the object of which is to check the compatibility of the legislative and administrative measures taken with the European Convention on Human Rights, the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies is not applicable.

In a later decision on admissibility, on 31 May 1968, the Commission accepted the extension of the initial application of 20 September 1967 with the addition of new grounds which concerned violations of articles 3 and 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights and articles 1 and 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

The Commission essentially deemed that the public emergency threatening the life of the nation must be immediate and impending, have repercussions for the whole nation, threaten the continuity of the organised life of the society and be exceptional in nature, concluding that the conditions prevailing in the country on 21 April, as well as after that date, did not justify the derogation, based on article 15, from the provisions of the Convention. The Commission also found that the Greek government had violated articles 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

B. Τhe Second Greek Case before the European Commission of Human Rights

On 10 April 1970, Denmark, Norway and Sweden submitted a new application against the Greek government, this time on the pending trial of thirty-four dissidents before the Extraordinary Military Tribunal of Athens, and concerning violations of articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its two decisions (of 26 May 1970 and 16 July 1970) on the admissibility of the application, the Commission accepted that it had competence ratione temporis to examine the application, in spite of the Greek government’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, judging that the Greek government continued to be bound by the provisions of the Convention until the activation of its withdrawal (i.e., on 13 June 1970), rejecting the objection concerning non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

Bearing in mind the objective difficulties that arose due to Greece’s voluntary and hasty withdrawal from the Council of Europe (12 December 1969), the Commission, in its interim Report of 5 October 1970 to the Committee of Ministers, came to the conclusion that it was not in a position to examine the substance of the case. In the end, in March 1971 the Committee of Ministers decided to heed the Commission’s recommendation.

Following the restoration of democratic legality, Greece returned to the Council of Europe on 28 November 1974 as a full member. In light of these developments, and in response to the joint request of the three applicant states and the democratically elected Government of Greece, the Commission decided to close the case and strike the application from the docket.