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European Court of Human Rights: Greece Found Responsible for Discriminating Against a Muslim Mother

(July 15, 2009) Under Greek law, mothers of large families, that is, those who have four or more children, enjoy certain benefits, such as cash incentives, annual monetary government contributions, and pensions, provided that they meet certain criteria. A basic constitutional and statutory requirement is that no discrimination is permitted on the basis of sex, religion, race, or ethnic origin.

A Greek national, who is Muslim and the mother of four children and a resident of Thrace, a northern area of Greece where most of the Greek Muslim minority lives, applied for a pension payable for life as the mother of a large family. Greek authorities refused her application on the grounds that one of her four children did not have Greek nationality. Previously, the applicant and her family had their nationality revoked by a decision issued by the Minister of Interior while the family was visiting relatives in Turkey. The Minister had utilized article 19 of the Nationality Code, which at that time gave grounds to strip the Greek nationality of Greek citizens of foreign ethnicity who leave Greece with no intention to return.

Article 19 was abolished in 1998 due to a public outcry against and criticism of its discriminatory use, and those who had been stripped of their Greek citizenship were asked by the Greek authorities to apply for naturalization. The applicant and three of her four children had their Greek citizenship reinstated.

The applicant brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) (Zeïbec v. Greece). She challenged the rejection of her application for a life pension based on article 1 of Protocol No. 1, on the right to enjoyment of personal property, and article 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECPHRFF), which prohibits discrimination.

On July 9, 2009, the ECHR issued its judgment. It found Greece to be in violation of article 1 of Protocol No. 1, taken alone and in conjunction with article 14 of the ECPHRFF, because the applicant was treated differently, such differential treatment was not based on “objective or reasonable justification,” and she had had to suffer an excessive and disproportionate burden. The ECHR expressed astonishment over the decision of the Greek Supreme Administrative Court to deny the applicant's right to a pension on the grounds that granting of social benefits to large families was associated with the “need to preserve and promote the Greek nation.” Subsequently, the ECHR awarded the applicant €13,455 (roughly US$18,800) in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and €2,500 (about US$3,500) for costs and expenses. (Press Release, ECHR, Chamber Judgment, Zeïbec v. Greece (July 9, 2009), available at
; ECPHRFF [text in English], Council of Europe website,
(last visited July 14, 2009).)