05.11.2023 • 20:44
Just a few weeks ago, the 2022 annual report of the National Abuse Investigation Mechanism was published. This is a thematic presentation of the actions of the Ombudsman, in the context of the exercise of the Authority’s special authority regarding the investigation of incidents of arbitrariness in the security forces and detention centers. The Weberian take on the state as a monopoly agent of legitimate violence makes accountability especially critical here, as the highly sensitive field of policing tests the limits of liberal democracy and the libertocratic coherence of modern institutions of repression.
Part of the credibility of the institution, as by extension the prestige of its conclusive findings, is credited to the timeless quality of the activity reports through which the independent authority is accountable before the competent parliamentary bodies and society itself. In the report, the Ombudsman points out, among other things, an increase in related complaints, up to 50% compared to pre-pandemic data. The event is attributed on the one hand to the restoration of a post-COVID normality, on the other hand to the assimilation of the Ombudsman’s role as an institutional receiver of relevant reports. Of particular interest are the complaints about alleged refoulements of foreigners through land and sea borders, as well as the complaints communicated to the Authority by Frontex’s fundamental rights officer.
The statistical findings of the Ombudsman are not at all encouraging: Almost half of the disciplinary investigations carried out by the involved agencies are burdened with substantial misconduct; mainly at the level of sufficient documentation. And only one in ten internal administrative investigations successfully pass the Authority’s audit, being assessed as “complete and thorough”. It is also worth highlighting the fact that part of the educational mission of the independent authority concerns the demonstration of the binding nature of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. And this, because not even in the cases of issuing judgments against our country, the obligation of compliance produced for the competent authorities, by the decisive ruling can be considered as self-evident.
Certainly, the issue of police arbitrariness as an excessive use of force is not counted among exclusively endemic pathologies. The memories of the tragic stories of Nikos Sampanis and Costas Fragoulis intersect with those of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Adama Traore. The movements of Black Live Matters, Verité et Justice, and the “I can’t breathe” cry go far beyond national borders and jurisdictions within which disproportionate police brutality often affects members of marginalized social groups.
The exhibition converses – in its absence, most likely – with the original sociological study of the renowned Didier Fassin, the Greek translation of which we owe to a recent release by Polis publications. The great French doctor, professor of social sciences, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Collège de France and director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales attempts to assign a history of police violence by going beyond the finite consideration of state institutions. The case concerns a member of the “community of travellers”, as the Gypsies of France define themselves. Angelo was shot dead by police officers, who were carrying heavy weapons as members of an elite repression force. The event took place at the young “traveller’s” family farmhouse, where the latter had taken refuge in breach of the terms of the leave granted to him by the prison board, in which he was serving a prison sentence for minor offences.
Only one in ten internal administrative investigations successfully passes the Authority’s control, being assessed as “complete and thorough”.
Fachen methodologically chooses the dirty path of evaluative neutrality, refusing to advocate for one side or the other. What he mainly attempts to highlight is the normalization of the exercise of disproportionate violence against vulnerable social groups, a kind of “structural racism” and “institutional lying”, which are fundamentally based on the state’s overinvestment in an archaic version of security. The author is not limited to the official version, as it was shaped by the police and judicial authorities. It broadens the scope of the search and constructs the narrative using the testimonies of all those involved in the tragic incident. In other words, the word of the family is not suppressed, nor are the findings of the forensic examination and the journalistic investigation downgraded.
Fassen is clear: harsh repression through the reproduction of stereotypical discourse and the demonization of social outcasts on ethnic, racial, etc. criteria. clearly undermines the conditions for an impartial investigation. The search for the truth is, by definition, a difficult task, and it nevertheless presupposes, on the part of those who bear the relevant institutional responsibility, sobriety and the breaking of ties with irrefutable presumptions of established perceptions. “There is a systemic police cover-up when their officers kill someone. The Justice accepts the version of the police and acquits the perpetrators. The government protects the police and refuses to acknowledge their violence. The presence of courageous men and women in positions of power is necessary to defend democracy and the truth.” According to the author, this is the only way to mediate the “collusion [που υπάρχει] in France, for years … between governments and the police.”
In this direction, the highly prestigious guarantees of the Citizen’s Ombudsman as an institutional counterpart give added value to the role of the Authority. Mainly because as a reliable observatory for recording and investigating incidents of arbitrariness, it contributes to capturing reality without euphemisms and guild leniency. And even more, in the education of the actors in the field, with the point of balance between operational efficiency and authoritarian self-restraint.
Dr. Aikaterina Papanikolaou is a lawyer, former member of the Communications Privacy Authority, specialist scientist at the Ombudsman.