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Maria Giannakaki, General rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance

Since April 2014, Maria Giannakaki (Greece, SOC) has been General rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance. The General rapporteur, appointed by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, has the responsibility to intervene in the area of racism, intolerance, hate speech, racist violence and racial discrimination. In this interview, Ms Giannakaki explains her role and the priorities of her mandate.

You have been appointed General rapporteur. Could you tell us more about your role in the Assembly?

First of all, I would like to say that it was a great honour, and at the same time an even greater responsibility, to be appointed General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. I intend to contribute to raising awareness on the need to combat racism and intolerance in Council of Europe member states, by following relevant developments at the national level, and will report periodically to the Committee on the information collected and the action taken. I will also maintain working relations and follow up on activities of Council of Europe intergovernmental and monitoring bodies, as well as national parliaments, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs, which deal with and work on combating racism, intolerance, hate speech, racist violence and racial discrimination. I will use Parliamentary Assembly relevant resolutions and recommendations as guidelines. Last but not least, I would like to contribute to giving visibility to the work of the committee in the area of combating racism, hatred and intolerance in the public sphere.

What will be the priorities of your mandate for the coming year?

After considering and evaluating recent developments, I will focus my actions on combating the rise in the use of hate speech, racial rhetoric, discrimination and violence, following the rising support for openly racist, nationalist and neo-Nazi groups and parties. I will analyse the rhetoric of the previously mentioned groups and parties in order to find effective ways of combating hatred. I will be working in close interaction with the Council of Europe No Hate Speech Movement.

What would you consider the main challenges related to your mandate?

We need to take into account circumstances and recent developments and should not forget that we stand before a rapidly changing political, economic and societal scenery. An important challenge will therefore be to raise awareness of national governments across Europe on the urgency to combat hate speech and convince them to react through their institutions against hate speech and other inflammatory discourse, which target vulnerable groups, such as immigrants, Roma, LGBT people, minorities, including religious minorities, and others. Governments need to take concrete steps so as to prevent a lack of incrimination of people and groups which use hate speech. They would need to send a strong signal to the population that this kind of discourse cannot and will not be accepted.

I believe it is important to think of the future as well and to give to vulnerable groups the means to see themselves in a society as equals. Education plays a crucial role to this end, by explaining differences and promoting tolerance and acceptance of diversity. I deplore the fact that rising levels of racism and intolerance affect particularly new immigrants coming to Europe because of increasing geopolitical instability in their countries. Instead of upholding to its fundamental values of respect for dignity and protection of human rights, the European population tends to look at those newly arrived as threats for their economic stability.

Could you tell us more about the situation in Greece?

I am quite concerned about the situation in my country. As you already know, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn ranked third in the recent elections for the European Parliament. Almost 10% of the voters supported this political party, which has been using an openly racist rhetoric. I am afraid this unveils the deep roots of racism and intolerance in a part of the Greek society.

Too many cases of racist behaviour go unhandled and unpunished in Greece, due to the lack of a specific legislative framework, mainly with regard to LGBT people, immigrants, different religious groups, and Roma. I would encourage the government to take positive actions that promote non-discrimination and equality. Roma are still considered and treated as second-class citizens, specific groups do not fully enjoy the right to practice their religion, and irregular migrants are too often being kept in facilities under unimaginable conditions and face discrimination, sometimes from law-enforcement officials themselves.
There is a dire need for Greece to abide by its international obligations and I can only but encourage action on the above-mentioned issues. 

About the General rapporteur

Ms Giannakaki was elected to the Hellenic Parliament in 2012 and is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of its Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination since her election.

Born and raised in Piraeus, she studied Classical Philology and Political Science at the University of Athens. She then went to Paris for her postgraduate studies (DEA in History of Art, University of Sorbonne, and DEUG in Cultural Management, Paris IX-Dauphine). Ms Giannakaki holds a Masters II degree in Human Rights from the Robert Schumann University in Strasbourg. In 2000, she was admitted to the National School of Public Administration, Department of Communication Advisers and Attachés and started her career in public administration. Between 2004 and 2009, she served in the Permanent Representation of Greece to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, with responsibilities for press, communication and culture.  From 2002 to 2012, she represented Greece in dozens of European Union and Council of Europe committees, with a focus freedom of speech, human rights and audiovisual media.

Ms Giannakaki is the author of two books and numerous articles. Her scientific interests focus on migration, refugees, minorities, international relations, Turkey and Cyprus. She is as well committed to combating violence against women and domestic violence, as member for Greece of the Parliamentary Network “Women Free from Violence”.