In its new report on Cyprus, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted progress since its last report some five years ago.
ECRI highlighted a number of positive developments in the country. For example, the criminal code punishes public incitement to hatred or violence against any group of persons, or a member of a group, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and a new law enacted in November last year allows registered same-sex partnerships. Furthermore, a code of conduct against racism and guide for managing and reporting racist incidents in schools has been developed and the national policy for employing domestic workers has been revised and now permits changes of employer and sector.
In spite of these positive developments, problems remain.
Racist statements in the public sphere continue to be a common phenomenon. Migrants are frequently presented in the media in a negative light and associated with problems of rising unemployment and criminality. There has also been a rise in racist violence against migrants, and ECRI notes with particular concern that members of the police have reportedly been implicated in such acts.
The 2011 law on Combating Certain Forms and Expressions of Racism and Xenophobia by means of Criminal Law has not been applied in any case so far.
Cyprus still has not developed a proper strategy for Roma inclusion in all areas of life. Despite the implementation of measures to address the educational needs of Roma pupils, school enrolment and attendance among Roma children are low and drop-out rates in the transition between primary and secondary school are high. The policy of constructing prefabricated housing units for Roma in isolated areas promotes a practice of de facto segregation.
ECRI has made several recommendations to the authorities. The following two require prompt implementation and will be reviewed by ECRI in two years’ time:
The report, including Government observations, was prepared following ECRI’s visit to Cyprus in April 2015 and takes account of developments up to 9 December 2015.
(page 13) 16. The Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights is the Ombudsman of Cyprus as well as the national Equality Body. Within the latter, two departments operate: 1) the Equality Authority, dealing with discrimination in the field of employment and occupation, and gender issues in all fields, and 2) the Antidiscrimination Body, dealing with all other grounds except gender, in all fields except employment/occupation. It is an independent quasi-judicial body which hears, investigates and decides on individual instances of discrimination brought before it. The Equality Body is empowered to issue binding decisions or make recommendations and impose small fines (not exceeding 350 euros). It carries out all the functions specified in ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No. 2 on national specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level, as well as in GPR No. 7 § 24, with the important exception that it has no right to initiate and participate in court proceedings.
4. (§ 17) ECRI recommends that the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights is granted the right to initiate and participate in court proceedings.
15. (§ 99) ECRI strongly recommends that the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights is consulted on all appointments of staff to her office, thereby contributing to her independence, and that the authorities allocate an adequate budget for her to carry out her functions properly.