26 August 2013
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today considered the combined seventeenth to twenty-second periodic report of Cyprus on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Leda Koursoumba, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, said Cyprus had achieved many important goals in the battle against racial discrimination, especially since accession to the European Union in 2004. Despite its economic difficulties Cyprus was determined to continue to ensure full compliance with all international human rights treaties to which it was a party but regretted that due to the continuing illegal occupation by Turkish military forces it could not ensure the application of the Convention in 36.2 per cent of its territory. Good progress had been made in the integration of third-country nationals legally residing in Cyprus, tackling the sexual exploitation of women and incorporating anti-racism policies into the Cyprus Police, as well as awareness raising among young people on xenophobia, homophobia and racist behaviour, in addition to educational reform. The Government sought to promote tolerance, understanding and dialogue between the Greek and Turkish communities with the aim of liberation from the occupation and the reunification of the country and its people. Cyprus was determined to intensify its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination and promote tolerance and understanding among all ethnic groups.
During the interactive dialogue, the Committee acknowledged the current political impasse in Cyprus and reiterated the United Nations position that as a consequence of the events of 1974 resulting in the occupation by Turkey, Cyprus was not in a position to exercise control over all of its territory. That concerned the Committee as the report said little about the state of race, ethnic and related issues in the northern territories of Cyprus. Experts asked about the growth of neo-Nazi and far-right political groups, and the use of racist hate speech, propaganda and racist stereotypes, particularly in the context of the economic crisis in Cyprus which had worsened race and ethnic relations and xenophobia. Measures to tackle trafficking in persons, racism in schools and protect domestic workers were also raised. Support to minority groups, including the Roma, were discussed, as were measures to assist foreign workers, migrants and asylum seekers, including Syrians fleeing the conflict.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill, Committee member acting as Country Rapporteur, said the history of Cyprus included both times of peace and times of divisions based on ethnic and religious identity. In the next report the Committee would welcome a better understanding on how national minorities made positive contributions to the society of Cyprus, culturally and economically, rather than just hearing about them as recipients of welfare. She added that racist hate speech was something the Committee took very seriously, especially as it was so predictable, particularly in situations of economic decline when societies created scapegoats.
The delegation of Cyprus included representatives from the Office of the Law Commissioner of Cyprus, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Cyprus Police Headquarters, the Ministry of the Interior and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cyprus to Geneva.
At 3 p.m. on Friday, 30 August, the Committee will issue concluding observations and recommendations on States reviewed during the session: Belarus, Burkina Faso, Chad, Chile, Cyprus, Jamaica, Sweden and Venezuela and close the session.
The combined seventeenth to twenty-second periodic report of Cyprus can be read via the link: CERD/C/CYP/17-22.
Presentation of the Report
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, began by saying that during the period under review (2001 to 2011), Cyprus had achieved many important goals in the battle against racial discrimination, especially since accession to the European Union in 2004. Cyprus set fighting racism as a priority during its Presidency of the European Union Council, in the second half of 2012. Cyprus had enjoyed a robust economy for many years until 2009 when it was hit hard by the global financial crisis. However, despite its economic difficulties Cyprus was determined to continue to ensure full compliance with all international human rights treaties to which it was a party. Ms. Koursoumba said she regretfully reminded the Committee that, due to the continuing illegal occupation of 36.2 per cent of its territory by Turkish military forces, Cyprus was not in a position to exercise control over all of its territory and consequently could not ensure the application of the Convention in areas not under its control, as reflected in the report of 1 February 2013 by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on the Question of Human Rights in Cyprus. Furthermore, no reliable data on the enjoyment of human rights by the population living in the occupied area of Cyprus was available, and consequently all of the information and data presented in the report and today’s dialogue concerned the Government-controlled areas.
New anti-discrimination legislation included laws on combating trafficking in persons, a law on legal aid and a law on equal pay between men and women. The National Action Plan for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals Legally Residing in Cyprus: 2010 to 2012 had been successfully implemented. Successful efforts had been taken to improve working conditions, especially for more vulnerable groups. Significantly, the abolition of the ‘artist visa’ and the new replacement system had brought a major change in society by greatly limiting the sexual exploitation of women, as it caused many businesses, such as cabaret shows, to close down. Healthcare developments included the National Action Plan on Minimizing the Consequences of the Economic Crisis in Public Healthcare which targeted vulnerable groups such as irregular immigrants, prisoners, children, pregnant women and asylum seekers, who were entitled to access necessary medical care free of charge.
The Cyprus Police had made significant steps in incorporating anti-racism policies in its curricula and operations, and the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints Against the Police closely monitored policy behaviour, providing annual statistics on police work. The establishment of an Ombudsman to serve as an Independent Equality Authority and Anti-Discrimination Body had had an important influence on the formulation of Government policy and awareness-raising generally. An example of interventions by that body was its intervention in the arrest and detention of Syrians irregularly residing in Cyprus who were due to be deported back to Syria. The Independent Equality Authority and Anti-Discrimination Body underlined the illegality of that practice as deportation was practically impossible, leading to granting of a six-month temporary residence and work permit for all Syrians in Cyprus and other assistance to Syrian asylum seekers.
The National Action Plan for the Elimination of Discrimination in the Sport Facilities was currently being drafted and aimed to sensitize and raise-awareness among young people on issues including xenophobia, homophobia and racist behaviour. The Government promoted education as an important tool to effectively combat all forms of racism and inequalities, and restructured the school curricula to include a new subject of ‘Health Education’ which covered human rights education and issues of discrimination. Other new measures included a Task Force on School Violence, a policy on multicultural education, educational psychology service, career counselling, and a Pedagogical Institute for teacher training, as well as actions at the level of higher education to promote social cohesion and combat racism. Turkish-Cypriot pupils could attend a public or private school of their choice and the fees of Turkish-Cypriot pupils attending private schools in Government-controlled areas were fully subsidized by the Government. There was no segregation of pupils.
The Government sought to promote tolerance, understanding and dialogue between the two Greek and Turkish communities of the island with the aim of liberation from the occupation and the reunification of the country and its people. Cyprus was determined to intensify its efforts to eliminate any stereotypes leading to racial discrimination in all its forms and to promote tolerance and understanding among all ethnic groups. The greatest challenge for the future was to maintain and secure the necessary resources for the effective operation of mechanisms and further development of equality programmes. Equality in times of hardship should not be regarded as an economic burden for society but a prerequisite for social development and growth.
Questions from the Experts
PATRICIA NOZIPHO JANUARY-BARDILL, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, commended Cyprus for a very detailed and extremely comprehensive report and up-to-date core documents, but noted the long gap since its last report. The Committee also welcomed analysis from reputable Cypriot and European non-governmental organizations that monitored the implementation of international human rights treaties, as well as reports from other United Nations and treaty bodies, including the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.
It would be short-sighted to fail to acknowledge the long history of the State party that had led to its current political impasse, the Country Rapporteur said. The political, economic, social and cultural context had been shaped by historic and prevailing divisions in the State. The Committee reiterated what other committees had noted, that the State party, as a consequence of events that occurred in 1974 resulting in the occupation by Turkey of part of the territory of Cyprus, was not in a position to exercise control over all of its territory. As a result it could not ensure the application of the Convention in areas not under its control, specifically the northern territories. That reality concerned the Committee as the report said little about the state of race, ethnic and related issues in the northern territories of Cyprus, as highlighted in the Committee’s decision of August 2001. A more recent and important contextual issue was the current global economic downturn that since 2008 had hit southern European States very hard. Economic growth had slowed down in Cyprus and unemployment had risen from 6.9 per cent in March 2011 to 10 per cent in March 2012. That reality had the effect of worsening race and ethnic relations, xenophobia and related intolerances and required States to be more vigilant in the protection and promotion of the human rights of vulnerable groups.
The political history of Cyprus was of course that of a unique island shaped by ‘bicommunalism’, enshrined in the 1960 Constitution of Cyprus. That description characterized the Committee’s notion of ‘intersectionality’, as seen in General Recommendation 25. Ethnic and religion affiliations overlapped and were seen by many to be inextricably intertwined.
The report claimed that almost all Greek Cypriots were Christian Orthodox and all Turkish Cypriots were Muslim. Armenians, Maronites and Latins had their own Christian denominations and had chosen, according to the Constitution, to be considered as part of the Greek Cypriot communities. They were recognized as national minorities, along with the Roma. The demographics of Cyprus were shaped by the large movement of peoples in 1974 when 57,000 Turkish Cypriots emigrated to the south and Greek Cypriots were forcibly expelled from the north-east by the Turkish army and now lived in the Government-controlled area. Today 71.5 per cent of the population were Greek Cypriots, 9.5 per cent were Turkish Cypriots, 0.4 per cent were Armenians, 0.7 per cent were Maronites and 0.1 per cent were Latins. Other foreigners including British, Greek and other Europeans, Arabs and South-East Asians made up 19 per cent of the population and were known as ‘third-country nationals’. The fourth category was ‘undocumented migrants’. The official languages were Greek and Turkish.
The Country Rapporteur noted that, like other international conventions, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination superseded domestic legislation. However there was evidence in case law that the Convention had never been invoked before the courts. Could the delegation comment on that? However, the Country Rapporteur commended Cyprus for the institutions and initiatives it listed in its report including the National Action Plan Against Racism, the National Action Plan Against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Police Human Rights Office and several others. She said it was important for the Committee to know that those measures were not informed just by the European Union directive but also by the Convention.
Regarding the Roma community of Cyprus, they were described in the report as belonging to the Turkish community as per the Constitution, and how they moved to the Turkish part of Cyprus after the occupation. The report listed social services provided to the Roma by the Government. However civil society had reported that the Roma community had never been granted national status, even by the Constitution of 1960. Aligning them with Turkish Cypriot communities had excluded them. The Roma did not have the right of self-identification and had in effect been ignored. They were the most segregated and lived in the worst housing, often described as ‘sub-human conditions’ and little was being done to protect their rights or engage them in meaningful dialogue to address their marginal status.
The Committee was equally concerned about the state of human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, so-called third-country nationals. There were numerous complaints of discriminatory practices ranging from selective entry permits to wealthy European Union nationals and wealth Gulf State nationals; to gross violations of human rights and discrimination of poorer migrant labourers, especially from South-East Asian communities, including those who practiced Buddhism, were Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Domestic workers, farm labourers, and women in particular, suffered the worst forms of racial and ethnic discrimination. The delegation had said much about gender policies which was appreciated by the Committee, as it was important to understand the relationship between race and gender, and it commended the State party for its adoption of measures in that area.
Regarding racist propaganda, the report cited measures taken to tackle ethnic and religious discrimination and to enhance awareness-raising measures to combat racism, said the Country Rapporteur. However, civil society claimed that nationalist, racist and anti-immigrant propaganda promoted by individuals, right-wing groups and some elements of the media was not condemned or prosecuted. They claimed that organizations and far-right parties such as ELAM, the Movement of Greek Resistance and The European Party had become very brazen at propagating racism with impunity. It was claimed that hate speech by them was not condemned by local or national authorities, and those parties continually scapegoated immigrants and third-party nationals, and accused them of scrounging from the Cypriot welfare state.
Other Committee members asked the delegation questions about the report. An Expert said focusing on the Latin minority, he believed they were a group who came from northern Mediterranean regions including Portugal, Spain and Italy and were the remnants of the ‘Latin Peoples’. He asked whether they were officially seen as a minority group in Cyprus, and if they were of a Catholic religion – would that group also include Romanian nationals, who usually were of the Orthodox religion?
An Expert asked about attempts to combat hate or racist speech. He complained that there was not one single law that banned racial discrimination. Nor was there an explicit definition of racial discrimination in law, except for in employment legislation. The Committee had heard, via non-governmental organizations, about a 2008 directive from the European Union about implementing a criminal law on racial discrimination – could the delegation provide information on that?
The independent authority to investigate complaints and allegations was an innovative step and one to be applauded. The Committee asked States to create such institutions, but very few countries actually set one up. The same was true for the establishment of the Independent Equality Authority and Anti-Discrimination Body. Cyprus had also adopted special measures for marginalized and vulnerable groups, for example for the disabled, persons who had disappeared, and for minorities attending tertiary education. Measures taken to tackle the exploitation of women migrant workers were also commended. Questions were asked about the National Action Plan on integration, and specifically the language used in relation to women sex workers.
A Committee member said that as an Irish national she had special sympathy for the situation of Cyprus and the difficulties the country had. The Expert referred to the impact of the economic recession, and the diversification of the population of Cyprus. She asked specifically about the work of the Ombudsman, and whether that actually was a National Human Rights Institution following the Paris Principles. Had the Ombudsman received any complaints relating to acts of a racial or ethnic nature?
An Expert asked about education, particularly support for vulnerable pupils, human rights education for pupils and teachers, and measures to tackle ongoing racism in schools. How was history taught in Cyprus, an Expert asked. Was the modern history of Cyprus described to children with openness, and how was the question of reunification taught? Was the Turkish language also taught in schools in the Government-controlled area?
Cyprus was one of the ‘nightmares’ for diplomats of a certain generation, as it was a very difficult situation to analyze and understand, a Committee member commented. He said that many diplomats would wish they had had access to the current report and core documents many years ago. He thanked the delegation for their comprehensive documents, and thanked non-governmental organizations for providing supplementary information.
The historical evolution and geographical situation of Cyprus meant it was a focal point for all the problems faced by Europe today, and the Committee realized that. Cyprus was directly concerned by two Committee Decisions. The first, in 2001 following the last review of Cyprus, was devoted solely to Cyprus and the fact the Government could not provide information on the entire territory. The second decision was a general one that drew attention to States – including Cyprus – badly affected by the economic crisis and said that the most vulnerable people in countries should not become victims of the economic crisis.
An Expert asked about the composition of the population, as the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots, the Armenians, Maronites and the Latins. He noted that statistics for other minorities were not included, such as, from a religious perspective, Muslims; and from an ethnic perspective, the Roma.
Regarding the situation of migrants, an Expert specifically asked about their difficulties in entering the labour market. There were a large number of people who were overworked, marginalized and had precarious jobs. There were reports of racist attacks and racist harassment towards people of African descent, particularly by youths. How did the Government tackle impunity for such actions? There were also reports of attacks, led by young people, on immigrant housings. Furthermore there were reports of racist attacks and racist talk in schools. It seemed there was a real problem of racism among young people. The European Union worked hard to promote and protect human rights, particularly the right to immigration and free movement of labour, and those racist attacks on immigrants undermined the position of Cyprus as a member of the European Union.
Foreign-born workers had a below-average income compared to the rest of the population, especially domestic workers and agricultural labourers. They did not enjoy the rights of the majority of the population. Of course the majority of the population avoided working in those jobs. The far-right had become vocal in attacking those immigrants. Those workers from overseas faced problems, even though there were non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders which defended and supported them. The Expert sought reassurance that the Government supported those organizations and rights defenders, and protected them from attacks by far-right organizations as well.
An Expert asked how the Government was controlling the growth of neo-Nazi and far-right parties, such as ELAM. The parties held fascist-like positions and were anti-immigrant. One far-right party in Cyprus was even called ‘The European Party’. Those parties could become democratic and be elected, as seen with The Golden Dawn political party in Greece. What was the delegation’s opinion of their attitudes?
Was the State secular or religious, an Expert asked. What did the Constitution say about that, he asked, saying he did not understand why some minorities were recognized and some were not, such as Jews. Citizenship in Cyprus covered the whole island, did it not? When the State party referred to Cypriots did it only mean Greek Cypriots?
Response by the Delegation
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, first explained that the Law Commissioner was independent of the Government and had the status of a Minister and was responsible for making recommendations on laws to the Government and for ensuring that Cyprus was in compliance with all international treaties it had ratified, as well as advising on the ratification of new treaties. Ms. Koursoumba said she had additional duties, and was currently serving her second six-year team.
Speaking as the head of the delegation, Ms. Koursoumba gave an explanation of how the Constitution of 1960 set out national status, particularly in regards to voting. The electoral system required that Cypriots registered to vote either as a Greek Cypriot or a Turkish Cypriot. The Constitution allocated political office and Members of Parliaments to the two Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, in accordance with their proportion of the population: a ratio of seven to three. For example, Greek Cypriots voted for the President, Turkish Cypriots voted for the Vice-President, and there was a 7:3 allocation for Greek and Turkish Cypriot parliamentarians.
Answering the question of who were officially concerned as minorities under the Council of Europe Constitution, the answer was those who were traditionally on the island when the Constitution was drafted in 1960. Of course, at the time of the drafting of the Constitution it was recognized that there were other groups who were neither traditionally Greek or Turkish-speaking, or Christian or Muslim. If those ‘religious groups’ – who were namely Armenians, Maronites and Latins - numbered 1,000 or more then the Constitution held that they would be given National Status. The Roma who lived in Cyprus were not considered to be Turkish Cypriot. In 1960 there were less than 1,000 Roma in Cyprus, so they were not defined as a group in the Constitution. However, the Roma were considered Cypriot and were given the right to vote. Although they did not speak Turkish, it was tacitly accepted that they were part of the Turkish Cypriot community. Ms. Koursoumba said as strange as her explanation sounded in the twenty-first century, that was the reality of human rights in the 1960s, not only in Cyprus but in the international community. The Roma community was a fluid community, not a stable one, and the more so in Cyprus where the Roma came and went.
The two official languages of Cyprus, from 1960, were Greek and Turkish. All Government documentation was promulgated in two languages. In 1963 the Turkish civil community decided to withdraw from the Government, the legislature and the courts. So after 1964 it was no longer practical to function as a bilingual State. There were not enough people, enough parliamentarians, to use the Turkish language. So the Turkish language ceased to be used. There was case law, in the European Court of Human Rights, for example, that recognized the legitimacy of the State even though by the doctrine of necessity all organs of Government operated only in the Greek Cypriot language.
As for the Roma people, those who lived in the Government-controlled area, measures were taken to help them integrate. Cyprus was a small island and the Roma chose to live in one area of it, and attend particular schools. There were measures to help the Roma, but they were not as effective as they could be, which was difficult as it was a group that was never the same.
After the invasion of 1974 the country was split. United Nations resolutions and court decisions proclaimed the legitimacy of one State, the Republic of Cyprus, which had sovereignty. All of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus acceded to the European Union, not part of the territory, as under international law the Republic of Cyprus consisted of the entire territory of the island. But in reality the Government of Cyprus had no control over a part of its territory. So with the accession of Cyprus to the European Union all members of the population of Cyprus became European Union citizens and enjoyed European Union rights and privileges. Then there was an influx of Turkish Cypriots coming to the Government-controlled area, the south, where they were entitled to a passport or Identification Card which made them European Union citizens. They were then free to go into any European Union country. All Cypriots benefitted from becoming a part of the European Union. Turkish Cypriots were known to be very happy about that, commented Ms. Koursoumba.
Ms. Koursoumba said the Constitution had a good Bill of Rights in Article 28. The newly established Republic, from the 1960s onwards, developed common jurisdiction, or case law, through the courts, which could only be changed by a subsequent law. Human rights law was inspired by other European countries and Commonwealth countries, as Cyprus was a former colony. Human rights was an evolving issue, and had greatly evolved since the 1960s. More legislation, either for the Convention or other reasons, had been enacted since then while case law continued to develop, especially in a great rush to harmonize with European Union Directives law prior to Cyprus’s accession to the European Union in 2004. Ms. Koursoumba noted she was a member of that ascension team, in charge of the legal side. The Government felt it had sufficient criminalization of racial discrimination. Ms. Koursoumba regretted that Cypriot lawyers did not invoke the Convention, or indeed any other international treaties, but it was because they were unfamiliar, but she hoped that lawyers would begin to do so. It was impossible to just re-draft an entire State’s Constitution and legislature with twenty-first century sensibilities – it had to be an evolving process.
The institution of the Ombudsman was established by law in 1991 and had been very successful, Ms. Koursoumba said. It was the general monitoring body of Cyprus with a staff of almost 50. The Government of the day planned to open an National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles prior to the financial crises, but they soon realized, as the financial crisis hit, that it would be too expensive. So they turned the Ombudsman into the National Human Rights Institution, and Ms. Koursoumba said she felt it complied with the Paris Principles and had only not been accredited yet due to practicalities. Ms. Koursoumba said she agreed that it was not ideal to give too much authority to one institution, but the Ombudsman did a good job, especially for a small country.
Cypriot legislation was piecemeal and fragmented, but there were penalties and sanctions for any violations covered by the Convention.
Ms. Koursoumba said unfortunately there were far-right groups in Cyprus; it was not a phenomenon just in Cyprus, it was also in other European countries, such as Greece and Austria. If those groups overstepped the line and committed an offence, such as hate speech or racial discrimination, then they would be prosecuted. There were many non-governmental organizations in Cyprus and they were well respected, including KISA, the leading anti-racism non-governmental organization in Cyprus. KISA and its members were always chosen by the Government of the day to join in monitoring activities, such as with the Ombudsman, or to lend their expertise and views. Incidents against members of KISA, including its Executive Director Doros Polycarpou, were unfortunate.
Regarding complaints against the police, a member of the delegation said that 45 per cent of the complaints received between 2009 to 2012, which were within the jurisdiction of the authority, concerned alleged human rights violations. Of those, 11 per cent of the complaints resulted in referrals or recommendations for disciplinary prosecutions and 12 per cent were found upon preliminary investigation to be of minor importance and referred to the Police Chief for action. Between 2009 and 2012 there were 228 criminal cases investigated against members of Cyprus Police, of which 79 cases were still pending, 7 convicted in court and 3 acquitted. In the same period there were 386 disciplinary cases investigated against police, 52 were pending, 8 convicted and 2 acquitted. Sanctions imposed included dismissals, suspension of salary, fine and transfer. Regarding the prosecution of cases of racism, a delegate said that between 2005 and 2012, 78 per cent of all cases with a racial nature or motive resulted in conviction. All those statistics were publically available on the website of the Cyprus Police.
Giving examples of convictions in racially-motivated cases, a delegate said that 12 accused students aged between 15 to 18 years old were convicted and given either custodial sentences or community work. In another case eight people were charged, convicted and sentenced for racist assaults in 2010 at and against the organizers of the Rainbow Festival, an annual festival celebrating multiculturalism and ethnic diversity in Cyprus, including against its organizer, the Executive Director of KISA, Doros Polycarpou.
The new Minister of Education and Culture had met with representatives of national minorities and other groups in order to receive proposals on ways to preserve their cultural identity and raise awareness through education. Regarding racism in schools, a multidisciplinary expert had been installed in the Ministry to provide guidance to schools on cases of racism and youth delinquency. The Ministry offered services such as regular psychological support to vulnerable pupils. There was no discrimination against Turkish Cypriot pupils, and pupils from all minority groups had the choice of attending a public or private school of their choice, fully subsidized by the Government – a choice that was not available to Greek Cypriot pupils. Furthermore those pupils were exempted from religion and history lessons, during which they could attend lessons taught in their own language or work on a project of their choice. The Government provided Turkish Cypriot and bilingual teachers.
Large-scale educational reform had been initiated in recent years, in order to include all pupils irrespective of their background or ability, to assist pupils to become active and democratic citizens who achieved their potential. The new curriculum aimed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. The ultimate goal was to create a culture of understanding, tolerance, non-discrimination and friendship and to provide support, especially to vulnerable groups. The teaching of history was to develop historical knowledge, understand the past and use history as a field for reflection and understanding in order to better understand the present and look to the future. The teaching of history did not include any stereotypical references or degradations of any group of people. Teachers, pupils and parents were encouraged to participate in events relating to the teaching of history, aimed to tackle intolerance and misunderstanding.
Religious education was a core subject in the curriculum and the Constitution set out freedom of religion in Cyprus. The majority of students were Christian Orthodox therefore the religion that was largely taught at public schools was Christian Orthodox, although it was taught in a way appropriate to the twenty-first century. Any pupil not of the Greek Orthodox religion could be exempted from religious instruction on grounds of conscience, as well as from attending religious services.
Actions to tackle the problem of pupil drop-out of minorities, particularly Roma children, began by identifying key schools, reducing class sizes, employment of bilingual teachers to help communication between pupils, teachers and parents and offering of extra and after-school classes.
In recent years between 650 to 700 Roma people had crossed into the Government-controlled area of Cyprus. The Government provided them with housing units, schooling, health services and when necessary a monthly allowance. Most lived in the city of Limassol, and had chosen to return to the houses they had before the Turkish invasion of 1974. There were also Roma living in the town and area of Pafos District. The annual budget of the Ministry of Interior for providing support to Roma communities was in 2010 €30,000, in 2011 was €28,000 and in 2012 was €38,000.
All religions were respected in Cyprus and everyone had the right to practice their own religion. There was at least one mosque in every city of Cyprus and further mosques in other villages, which were mostly used by migrants. There was also a synagogue. The law was recently amended to allow people to have a cremation, which previously was not allowed in Cyprus.
Domestic workers were one of the most vulnerable groups in Cyprus. It was difficult to examine their working conditions as they lived within families and the Ministry of Interior did not have easy access into people’s houses. There was a dispute committee for employer or employee complaints. On 2 July 2013 the Ombudsman issued a report on the conditions of domestic workers in Cyprus and made recommendations on areas including the reduction of sexual harassment and other violations against domestic workers, their employment contracts, access to health services and more.
The Ministry of Interior had a committee that coordinated the fight against trafficking, and the delegate speaking said she was the Secretary of that body. Prior to 2007 there was only a theoretical fight against trafficking in persons, but when new legislation was introduced that year the real fight began, and today the National Action Plan Against Trafficking in Human Beings was in operation. Since 2012 the membership of the committee were four active and equal non-governmental organizations, including KISA. A success of the committee had been its work to abolish the ‘Artist Visa’ which was well known for facilitating the sexual exploitation of women; it was given to women who came to supposedly work in cabaret shows but who were forced into prostitution. When the Artist Visa was abolished the cabaret industry gradually diminished, and from approximately 180 cabarets in Cyprus in 2010 there were today just nine or ten cabarets still in operation. Other measures to fight trafficking including awareness-raising and dissemination of information leaflets to migrants in multiple languages. There were no restrictions on where victims of trafficking could work, if they wished to work. Otherwise they received a public allowance.
Victims of trafficking could claim compensation from the State or from the perpetrators, and at least three cases were pending, the delegation said. In the last year the number of convictions for work or sexual exploitation had increased, although the Government agreed that overall conviction numbers were still low and should be raised further.
Comments by the Experts
An Expert referred to the delegation’s statement that 36 per cent of the territory of Cyprus did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Government of Cyprus. Since 2003 to 2004, there had been freedom of movement around the entire territory of Cyprus, although there might be limitations to that movement. He was particularly concerned that the significant population of Greek heritage, Greek Cypriots, who lived in the northern part of the island where the Republic of Cyprus did not exercise sovereignty, had nobody to turn to for recourse when their human rights were violated. How could they raise a case of racial discrimination?
The asylum system, and support given to asylum seekers, was raised by an Expert who asked what support was given, whether applicants could work, and how it related to domestic workers.
An Expert praised the abolition of the Artist Visa in order to prevent conditions under which a person could be trafficked. She asked about training and identification of victims.
Response by the Delegation
The occupying force, Turkey, was responsible for many human rights violations of the people living in the occupied area of Cyprus, including rights outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, said the head of the delegation. The legitimate Government of Cyprus tried to alleviate their suffering and make amends for them but a solution must include the safeguarding of human rights. The Greek Cypriot people rejected the 2004 reunification solution backed by the United Nation in 2004, prior to Cyprus’s ascension to the European Union, because they were not satisfied that that solution sufficiently guaranteed the human rights of the enclaved people, the displaced people, the one third of the Cypriot population who were internally displaced persons in their own State.
Domestic workers were not asylum seekers. People came to Cyprus on a special contract of employment, one of which was classed as domestic workers, the head of delegation clarified.
It was true that not many people received the asylum status in Cyprus, partly due to problems a few years ago when there was a huge backlog of asylum claims, partly because so many claimants spoke languages that the Cypriot authorities could not understand or find interpreters for. Today, the law on asylum was finally correct, applications for asylum were usually processed within six months, and asylum seekers were treated in line with the Vienna Convention. Once an asylum seeker was recognized as a refugee they were given all their rights in that respect.
Two months ago the Ministerial Committee said that due to the economic crisis, instead of giving the full allowance to asylum seekers (a sum to cover essentials such as food and clothing) in cash, it would be provided in vouchers so those commodities could be bought from specific shops. A cash allowance to pay for rent was still given. The idea of vouchers was to support small businesses as the vouchers could not be spent in supermarkets.
Training on trafficking in persons was provided to every Ministry of Cyprus. Victims were identified by the police. There was discussion on involving non-governmental organizations in the identification of victims but it was decided not to so as some organizations had different standards of identification.
PATRICIA NOZIPHO JANUARY-BARDILL, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, said that examining Cyprus from the information given had been quite a challenge. The long history of Cyprus was very interesting and included both times of peace and times of divisions based on ethnic and religious identity. The Committee was pleased it had re-established a relationship with Cyprus and hoped the next report would not take as long as this one. In the next report the Committee would welcome a better understanding on how national minorities made positive contributions to the society of Cyprus, culturally and economically, rather than just hearing about them as recipients of welfare. The Committee would also like to hear more about the ‘bicommunalism’ approach, and how families were protected from ‘segregationalist’ policies. Racist hate speech was something the Committee took very seriously, especially as it was so predictable, particularly in situations of economic decline when societies created scapegoats. While racism was prohibited in areas such as employment and housing, discrimination was not fully prohibited in the political, economic, social and cultural fields.
LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, thanked the Committee on behalf of the Government for all of its constructive comments and questions, especially the in-depth, thorough and analytical presentation by the Country Rapporteur. Cyprus was grateful for the process as it was an opportunity to reflect on what it had done and to reflect on practice. It also gave departments and ministries an opportunity to get together and examine the impact of their work. The Committee could guide, put pressure on and assist Cyprus in its implementation of the Convention. Much work had been done, but Cyprus acknowledged there was still a lot more to do to combat racial discrimination.
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