Hate speech affecting several groups remains widespread in the Cypriot public discourse, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said on Tuesday in a report on Cyprus. The Commission, established by the Council of Europe, is an independent human rights monitoring body specialized in questions relating to the fight against racism, discrimination (on grounds of “race”, ethnic/national origin, color, citizenship, religion, language, sexual orientation and gender identity), xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance.
The Commission made fifteen recommendations to the Cypriot authorities in this report, noting at the same time that since the adoption of its fifth report on Cyprus on 17 March 2016, progress has been made and good practices have been developed in a number of fields. “ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Cyprus. However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern,” the Commission underlined.
"...instances of a firm and prompt condemnation of racist and other forms of hate speech and counter-speech by public figures remain sporadic..."
In its report, ECRI requests that the authorities take action in a number of areas and makes a series of recommendations. The Commission says that measures should be taken to ensure the effective implementation by school management of existing anti-racist policies developed by the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth (MOESY).
The Cypriot authorities should prepare a national LGBTI strategy, accompanied by a national action plan, with enhanced action against hate speech against LGBTI persons, among its central elements, it is added.
Moreover, ECRI says that the authorities should furthermore address a number of long-standing gaps in the implementation of criminal legislation to combat hate speech and hate-motivated violence.
The authorities, it notes, should inter alia review the criminal legislation pertaining to hate speech and hate-motivated violence, including remedies available to victims, and provide suitable training to police officers, prosecutors and judges on the use of appropriate criminal provisions on combating hate speech and hate-motivated violence.
Moreover, ECRI urges expedited action to support child asylum seekers and other migrant children in acquiring the Greek language skills they need to follow ordinary primary school classes taught in Greek, measures which should be accompanied by individual skills assessments to determine the most appropriate school grade to place such children in.
It also says that appropriately funded policies specific to supporting Roma in the areas of education, health care, housing and employment should be developed. The registration rules introduced for NGOs in the reporting period should be reviewed in order to ensure that NGOs are not prevented from providing much-needed support to asylum seekers and other migrants.
As regards the progress achieved, the Commission said that in line with a recommendation in its fifth report, the Ombudsman institution was authorized in 2019 to organize its own recruitment examinations for hiring new staff.
As it is noted, the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth (MOESY) developed a 2018-2022 National Strategy for Preventing and Combating School Violence, in addition to which the Cyprus Observatory on School Violence of the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute has been developing and implementing actions and programs aiming at preventing and addressing bullying and violence in schools, while also promoting and monitoring the implementation of the MOESY’s anti-bullying policy, introduced in 2020.
In February 2021, the Code of Principles and Ethics for Members of Parliament entered into force. It inter alia prohibits hate speech, incitement to violence and sexist/racist behavior by MPs in the performance of their duties.
Further welcome steps were that the Ministry of the Interior in August 2019 made the change of names and gender in official documents easier, including for transgender people, while all restrictions linked to sexual orientation in the context of donating blood were lifted in April 2022. In further positive developments, the procedures for employing asylum seekers were made significantly easier as of October 2021, while the range of sectors in which they are allowed to work was extended already in 2019, the Commission said.
ECRI was also pleased to note during its visit to the Agios Antonios Primary School in Limassol that Roma pupils appear to be receiving considerable empowerment in their learning of Kurbetcha while significant efforts have been made to minimize the impact on Roma pupils of the restrictions related to the COVID-19 sanitary crisis, including through the provision of tablets and internet access to all Roma pupils involved in online education. “ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Cyprus,” the report noted.
Issues of concern
However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern, it is added.
More concretely, it says that the Ombudsman institution, which is the only equality body in Cyprus, still does not have the competence to initiate or participate in court proceedings on behalf of victims of discrimination or intolerance.
ECRI is also concerned about Orthodox confessions reportedly being organized in schools without the consent of pupils or their parents, and with disregard to their views on religion, which, it says, cannot be considered conducive to inclusive education.
ECRI said it regrets that so-called firewalls are not in place in all main policy areas relevant to the human rights of irregularly present migrants and that any procedures involving such migrants in labor tribunals are likely to lead to their deportation.
ECRI also finds the reported practices of subjecting some gay and lesbian people to so-called conversion therapies a matter of serious concern.
“Hate speech affecting several groups of concern to ECRI remains widespread in the Cypriot public discourse. There is no comprehensive system in place to monitor hate speech incidents. In addition, instances of a firm and prompt condemnation of racist and other forms of hate speech and counter-speech by public figures remain sporadic,” it is noted.
According to the report, “the fact that child applicants for international protection who are of primary school age are usually placed in ordinary school classes based on their age, with disregard to their previously acquired skills in central school subjects and without preparatory Greek language classes is a major obstacle to their integration and achievements in school.”
Moreover, it is noted that “despite the commendable work of many NGOs, especially but not limited to those in support of migrants in Cyprus, their possibilities to provide such support have been put at risk by new registration rules introduced in 2017.”
The report also includes an appendix with the viewpoint of relevant Cypriot authorities.