Posts Tagged ‘racism’

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

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37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

Sinterklaas 2016: Pieten in color the answer?

November 12, 2016

pieten-in-color pieten-protest

 

 

 

 

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: “States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up”

September 14, 2016

Readers are forgiven for not remembering that in the 1980’s it was forbidden for UN officials to name and shame countries by name (with a few exceptions) and those that did usually paid a price for that (e.g. Theo van Boven in 1982 and the curtailing of terms for some High Commissioners). Now, in the span of one week the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has first named and shamed some politicians as dangerous demagogues (6 September 2016 in the Hague): Mr. Wilders. Mr. Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, and Mr. Farage. He followed this up in his opening statement at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council on 13 September 2016 with a forceful attack on countries that refuses to cooperate with his Office or other UN procedures: foremost Syria but also Venezuela, Turkey, Ethiopia, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Mozambique, USA, Gambia, China, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Dominican Republic, Belarus, Eritrea, Iran, and Burundi. The non-cooperation by those in control of areas such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, and Nagorno-Karabakh was also singled out.

The part that underpins the ‘legitimacy’ of his interference is of special relevance: “Under international law, wrongful “intervention” – as prohibited in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter – is by nature coercive. And it should be obvious that my Office has no coercive power. No activity that we undertake can possibly be considered constitutive of a prohibited “intervention”. …We request access so we can better work to help bring your laws and practices in line with international agreements which you, the States drafted and ratified – and to assist you to comply with recommendations which you have publicly, and often fulsomely, accepted….Are human rights exclusively a national issue? Governments have the responsibility to uphold their human rights obligations and to respect the standards. But the human rights of all people, in all countries, also require – unquestionably ­– our collective attention. The Vienna Declaration, adopted unanimously 23 years ago, confirmed this..”

“Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us? I classify as refusals of access all unreasonable delays, elaborately ritualised and unreasonably prolonged negotiations, and responses to specific requests which seem to seek to fob us off with inadequate alternatives to real, fact-based assessment. Access delayed is access denied: two weeks is surely amply sufficient to secure a decision from all relevant officials. Claims that insecure conditions make it impossible to give my staff access are also less than acceptable. My staff work with great courage in some of the world’s most severely threatened communities, and will continue to do so when called upon – or at least, we could be the judge of that.

States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us. If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations. Our remote monitoring is likely to involve witness testimony, credible third-party reports and use of satellite imagery, among other techniques. Certainly, remote monitoring is a poor substitute for in-person observation by expert analysts. It makes it more difficult to verify and confirm the competing allegations of any party – including the Government. I regret that imprecision, and encourage all States to assist us to correct it, by permitting my teams unhindered access to events on the ground when requested.

The two texts follow below in toto; summarizing them would not do justice to the elaborate and courageous words of this High Commissioner, who seems not to be concerned about securing a second term. Moreover, the one in the Hague stands out by its eloquence!

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Opening Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council’s 31st session

February 29, 2016

The Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on 29 February 2016 is worth reading (as usual). Some of the highlights are: UN HCHR Al Hussein
Today we meet against a backdrop of accumulating departures from that body of institutions and laws which States built to codify their behaviour. Gross violations of international human rights law – which clearly will lead to disastrous outcomes – are being greeted with indifference. More and more States appear to believe that the legal architecture of the international system is a menu from which they can pick and choose – trashing what appears to be inconvenient in the short term.
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Judicial harassment of human rights defender Dimitras in Greece

February 1, 2014

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), a member of OMCT SOS-Torture network, about the ongoing judicial harassment against Panayote Dimitras, GHM Spokesperson. According to the information received, on 14 January 2014, Mr. Panayote Dimitras received an indictment from the Misdemeanours Prosecutor of Athens, summoning him on 27 February 27 before the Court to stand trial on charges of “perjury” and “defamation” of Mr. Konstantinos Plevris, a member lawyer of the Athens Bar Association.

The  accusation relates Panayote Dimitras’ statement as a witness before the First Chamber of the Five Members Appeals Court of Athens on 23 January  2009, during a hearing of a case against Mr. Konstantinos Plevris, who then stood accused of racial discrimination”. During the hearing, Mr. Dimitras testified that “during the last two months Mr. Plevris ha[d]threatened [his] life”. Yet the indictment accuses Mr. Dimitras of making a false statement that could harm the honour and reputation of Mr. Plevris while knowing that it was untrue.

The International Secretariat of OMCT is concerned that Mr. Panayote Dimitras received this indictment merely one week before the charges become time-barred. Although the events took place in January 2009 and a preliminary investigation took place in February 2010, suddenly charges are pressed. The prescription period is now extended by three years.

OMCT is concerned about these new acts of harassment against Mr. Panayote Dimitras, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities, and in particular his activities against discrimination, anti-Semitism and minority rights in Greece, and calls upon the Greek authorities to ensure that he is able to carry out his legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.  OMCT recalls that this is not the first time that Panayote Dimitras is facing judicial harassment by Konstantinos Plevris, who has been referred to trial several times for, among others, violation of [anti-racism] Law 927/79, concurrent aggravated defamation, and false accusation following GHM complaints.

For more on this procedurally complex but interesting case see:

Greece: Ongoing judicial harassment against human rights defender Mr. Panayote Dimitras / January 30, 2014 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

UN now asks for calm debate on Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Dutch Sinterklaas tradition

November 22, 2013

Not the last word on the Black Pete issue but a step in the right direction, that is how I would qualify the report of the UN [Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, WGPAD] who looked into Zwarte Piet. On Tuesday 19 November it called on the Dutch Government to take the lead in the ongoing debate about whether it is time the tradition undergo a change. The experts said that facilitation by Government of the debate would serve to promote understanding, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue. “In the meantime we ask for calm and an end to the abuse directed at opponents of the tradition in the Netherlands and the UN Experts”.

Verene Shepherd (Jamaica Observer photo)This is a lot more realistic than the rather sudden and uninformed demand by Group Chairperson Verene Shepherd who –in anticipation of the final report– told newspapers that her own opinion was that “Zwarte Piet should be abolished” which then created a strong popular backlash against any changes. The experts now explain in the statement that their task had not been an ‘investigation,’ nor was there any intention to reach a judgment [SIC]. They pointed out that the Zwarte Piet tradition has evolved and continues to evolve, saying: “Cultures and traditions are not static – they change in response to evolving contexts and in the light of understanding of how dignity and all human rights can be enjoyed by all.” They added though that it is clear that many people, especially people of African descent living in the Netherlands, consider that aspects of it are rooted in unacceptable, colonial attitudes that they find racist and offensive.

They said it is for the people of the Netherlands to discuss and decide how elements that offend might be modified. “Zwarte Piet is interpreted in different ways, but critical questions are how to treat the concerns of those who feel offended, and those who are unhappy about changing a long-held tradition for children? How do we respect the views of all those living in multicultural societies?” The experts recommended Government facilitate an “open, inclusive, non-confrontational and respectful” debate on the issue. This is a lot closer to what I advocated in this blog. Let’s continue next year.

[The statement by the experts comes just days after the Second Chamber almost unanimously 9135 of 150 MPS) voted against a motion that aimed to forbid giving Zwarte Piet a different color than black. Exactly one of the future modifications I had suggested – see link below. The motion was brought by the extreme nationalist PVV party which felt that the calls for a Piet with different colors were a “blatant assault” on Dutch heritage and tradition.]

via Panel: Calm debate on Zwarte Piet needed – NL Times.

Related articles

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Latest news: Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) welcome in Amsterdam says Dutch judge

November 8, 2013

Sintpietreus

A judge in the Netherlands has just now (8 November) decided that the annual event of Sinterklaas arriving in the capital Amsterdam – with Black Petes – can go ahead as planned on Sunday next week. The judge is of the opinion that the mayor has been right in giving permission. As this was an urgent procedure there is no appeal possible, but the case could proceed before a regular bench and the judge pointed out that the national discussion should not have to end with this judgement.

via Zwarte Piet welkom bij intocht in Amsterdam, oordeelt rechter – nrc.nl.

My own view on the Sinterklaas and Black Pete controversy: different colors

October 23, 2013

English: Sinterklaas en zwartepiet

Sinterklaas en zwarte piet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that some politicians expressed as their view that the UN should act on Syria as quickly as on the Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) issue! A bit unfair given that smaller problems (and Black Pete is a comparatively small one) are easier to tackle and allow show some quick progress.  While the popular feelings in my country of origin (the Netherlands) run high and are overwhelmingly against any changes in the Sinterklaas celebration, I personally feel that some chances would not do great harm. In fact, I think both parties are exaggerating. Those who think it is institutionalized racism have not experienced the celebration and seen the happy faces of small children, including black kids. Those who think this is purely hypersensitivity or political correctness gone overboard have never been discriminated on the basis of the color of their skin.

The Sinterklaas celebration is a marvelous and unique event that enthralls kids enormously. It is very old (17th century, I believe) but the ‘black Pete’ helper was added only around 1850. In view of the sensitivity of a minority of Dutch citizens and that of a majority of world citizens (however much they misunderstand the issue) it would not be great disaster if there were some more changes to accommodate ill-feelings. After all,  few years ago the Dutch introduced women ‘black Petes’ – so why not another novelty: e.g. color them in a few different colors. In a decade from now nobody (especially small kids under 10 who are the only ones who believe in the good man!) will remember anything about all this history, the black color, the controversy.

What should not be done is to abolish or condemn the whole Sinterklaas tradition on 5 December which is much bigger and richer than the relative minor issue of the color of the helper.

PS In the informative piece of ABC News (see link below) there is an indication of the strong popular feeling in the Netherlands: a Facebook page seeking to preserve the clowns in blackface makeup known as “Black Petes” as part of the “Sinterklaas” childrens’ festival has become the fastest-growing Dutch language page ever, receiving a million ‘likes’ in a single day.

Is Dutch Sinterklaas celebration racist?

October 20, 2013

Two Zwarte Pieten [660x300]

(Two blackfaced white Dutch girls walking the streets during the Sinterklaas/Zwarte Piet celebration)

Although not directly related to human rights defenders, as a Dutchman I feel obliged to alert readers to the issue of whether the longstanding tradition of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (black Peter) is an innocent cultural exception or an expression of deeply ingrained racism. It has become a hot potato in the Dutch media after a letter by four UN Special Rapporteurs asked for a clarification from Dutch authorities on whether a Dutch caricature called “Black Pete” who accompanies Saint Nicholas during a traditional children’s festival is racist. “Please indicate to which extent your government has involved Dutch society, including African people… in the discussions regarding the choice of ‘Santa Claus and Black Pete’ as expression of cultural significance in the country,” it said. According to information we have received… the character and image of Black Pete perpetuate a stereotyped image of African people and people of African descent as second-class citizens, said the letter, dated January this year and published Saturday on the NRC’s website.

In the Netherlands itself emotions are flaring over the sensitive issue. The big majority of Dutch people clearly feel that a marvelous old tradition (I certainly have very fond memories of the Dutch Sinterklaas festivities) is being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness ( according to the Dutch newspaper the Telegraph some 66 percent said they would prefer that the entire Saint Nicholas festival be dropped rather than stripping it of the Black Pete character).  On the other hand, when Amsterdam held a public hearing on Thursday, 21 complaints about Black Pete were filed asking the Dutch capital to revoke the permit for this year’s festival. Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is to rule on the permit in early November, his spokeswoman Tahira Limon said.

But Black Pete’s supporters called for the children’s Saint Nicholas festival to go ahead, arguing that it has been part of a Dutch tradition dating as far back as the 16th century, with the Black Petes first appearing around the 1850s.

Seen from outside the Netherlands the tradition argument seems not get much track. A blog post in the UK Telegraph makes strong arguments against its continuation and refers to a a piece in This Is Africa, where the journalist Siji Jabaar mounts a “formidable evisceration of the tradition, in which he forensically lays bare the history and evolution of Zwarte Piet, and demolishes one by one the arguments in favour of the practice“, which has this nugget of a question:  “If the Dutch government thinks that Zwarte Piet is correct, just invite Barack Obama over for dinner on the 5th of December. But we all know they ain’t gonna do that; they ain’t that dumb.”.

Judge for yourself by reading the full references below:

But please note that the phrase: ‘In the United stated you have Santa Claus, in the UK he’s Father Christmas, and in the Netherlands he’s called Sinterklaas” is not fully correct. Sinterklaas is celebrated on 5 December not 25 December and the Dutch now also embrace a different Santa ClausRelated articles

Documentary exposing Golden Dawn racism awarded in Sarajevo

August 28, 2013


Golden Dawn election candidate Alekos Plomaratis talks openly about turning migrants into soap
(Golden Dawn election candidate Alekos Plomaratis)

The 37-minute film The Cleaners, exposing the racist views and politics of hatred shared by Golden Dawn members, has picked up the special jury prize for documentary films at the 19th Sarajevo Film Festival. The award comes with a €2,500 prize, sponsored by Al Jazeera Balkans. The Cleaners, an extract of which was shown in a news report in March on Britain’s Channel 4, follows Golden Dawn members in Athens during last year’s parliamentary elections. In the film, candidate Alekos Plomaratis says: “We are ready to turn on the ovens“, adding that immigrants will be turned into soap for washing cars. Last month, it was confirmed that Plomaratis will stand trial for his remarks under the 1979 antiracism law. Georgousis, a graduate of the UK’s National Film and Television School, filmed the documentary over the period of a month. He said: “It is a great honour for me to find myself in a city that has suffered so much from nationalism, and it is a double honour to win the prize considering that the [Thessaloniki Film Festival] did not want to screen it.

 

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