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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Cyprus

GENEVA (4 May 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-third and twenty-fourth periodic report of Cyprus on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Leda Koursoumba, Law Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, outlined the achievements in the battle against racial discrimination since 2012, which included the development of national action plans, the enactment of several anti-discrimination laws, criminalizing public incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the addition of racist, xenophobic and homophobic motivations as aggravating circumstances in criminal offences.  The ongoing process to reunify Cyprus and bring a lasting settlement to the 43-year-old conflict was expected to reach its final stages in the coming months.  The settlement should safeguard the rights of all Cypriots without any discrimination and Cyprus was committed to protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people within its jurisdiction, notwithstanding the ongoing effects of the aggression against it.  All schools were encouraged to adopt the anti-racism policy and develop activities with students, teachers and parents. The goal extended to the need for promoting tolerance and peace in the context of the current effort towards a solution to the political problem and the reunification of the island.

Committee Experts welcomed the progress in the negotiations for a comprehensive settlement to the conflict in Cyprus and expressed hope that a lasting peace would soon be reached.  They noted the diversity of ethnic, religious and linguistic communities in Cyprus and inquired about policies and measures in place to facilitate their social integration.  Concerns were raised about hate speech by political figures and the increase in racially motivated crimes, and the situation of refugees and asylum seekers, in particular changes they faced with social inclusion and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they suffered.  Experts congratulated Cyprus on making substantial steps forward in combatting human trafficking, but noted that the phenomenon remained a source of concern.  The delegation was asked about obstacles to setting up a national human rights institution and to explain why the detention of non-European Union nationals was decided by the Director of the migration department and not the judiciary, which should be the normal practice.  Hate speech was also discussed in detail.

In concluding remarks, Alexei Avtomonov, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Cyprus, said that all groups living on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus ought to enjoy full rights; concerns remained with regard to migrants, refugees and domestic workers, and further measures should be taken to improve their situation.  

Ms. Koursoumba concluded by saying that the concluding observations would be submitted to the Council of Ministers, with a recommendation that they be taken fully into consideration when defining national policies.

The delegation of Cyprus included the Law Commissioner of Cyprus and representatives of the Cyprus Police, the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Interior, and the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today, when it is scheduled to start its consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of Bulgaria (CERD/C/BGR/20-22).

Report


The combined twenty-third and twenty-fourth periodic report of Cyprus can be read here: CERD/C/CYP/23-24.

Presentation of the Report


LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of Cyprus, started by informing the Committee about the achievements in the battle against racial discrimination since 2012, such as the development of national action plans and the enactment of several anti-discrimination laws.  The respect of human rights was of paramount importance and the efforts of the authorities to this effect would continue unabated despite the economic difficulties.  The Government of the Republic of Cyprus was unable to ensure the application of the Convention in areas outside of its effective control; no reliable data was available on the enjoyment of the relevant rights by the population living in the 36.2 per cent of its territory illegally occupied by Turkish military forces.  

The legal framework had been improved through the amendments to the criminal code which penalized public incitement to discrimination, and hatred or violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The general legal framework on racial discrimination had been strengthened by the addition of racist, xenophobic and homophobic motivations as aggravating circumstances.  In 2016, new rights for applicants for international protection had been added to the legal aid law, notably the right to legal aid when lodging a recourse before the Administrative Court in matters of provision of benefits, residence or the right to free movement.  The revision of the law on human trafficking had expanded the definition of the victim to include persons trafficked or exploited irrespective of whether they had sustained damages, enhanced victim protection, and covered various forms of trafficking in human beings.  The national action plan against human trafficking 2016-2018 and the guide for handling cases of victims of trafficking in human beings had been adopted.

Ms. Koursoumba then addressed the question of ongoing efforts to reunify Cyprus and bring a lasting settlement to the 43-year-old conflict and said that much progress had been made in the current round of negotiations, probably more than ever in the past.  The process had recently resumed and was anticipated to reach its final stages in the coming months.  Cyprus was insistent that the settlement should safeguard the rights of all Cypriots without any discrimination and was committed to protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people within its jurisdiction, notwithstanding the ongoing effects of the aggression against it.  

In May 2016, Cyprus had initiated the establishment of a National Roma Platform which aimed to strengthen and deepen multi-stakeholder accountability, the Roma ownership of the results, and the commitment to the outcomes of Roma integration.  Steps had been taken to eliminate all forms of discrimination or violations of human rights related to the performance of police duties.  A memorandum of understanding had been signed with 12 non-governmental organizations to strengthen the cooperation on issues relating to the protection of human rights.  A policy statement had also been agreed with the Office of the Ombudsman in 2013 for the prevention, handling and combatting of discrimination and racist crimes, which emphasized the development of proactive and deterrent action, victim encouragement, support and protection, and more effective intervention and investigation measures.  The Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints against the Police kept the police behaviour under close monitoring and provided annual statistics of its work.  The Ministry of Education had adopted the annual goal of raising awareness against racism and intolerance and promoting equality and respect, and all schools were encouraged to adopt the anti-racism policy and develop activities with students, teachers and parents.  The goal extended to the need for promoting tolerance and peace in the context of the current effort towards a solution to the political problem and the reunification of the island.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

 
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Cyprus, noted the diversity of communities in Cyprus which was divided in two territories and urged Cyprus to ensure that thedefinition of racial discrimination in the law conformed to article one of the Convention.

The legislation on domestic workers limited the number of times in which an employer could be changed, and prohibited the change after six years of service.  Could the delegation explain the rationale behind this provision which was in violation of principles of the open labour market?

The country Rapporteur noted the presence of several ethnic, religious and linguistic groups in Cyprus, such as Russians, Armenians, and others and inquired about the degree of their social integration.

There was a concern about hate speech involving a neo-Nazi party which had won about 3 per cent of the votes during the last elections and had two members in Parliament.  What steps were being taken to address hate speech by political figures?

Mr. Antonomov raised the issue of the social integration of asylum seekers, noting that a significant number were held in Kofinou reception centre which was quite isolated and they were also experiencing language barriers.  Asylum seekers could look for work only six months after lodging the asylum request, and only in agriculture and fisheries, which further hampered and delayed their social integration, particularly for refugees from Syria and Iraq who predominantly came from urban areas and did not have those skills.  

Asylum seekers who moved away for work from the Kofinou reception centre would lose their health benefits.  In 2016, Cyprus had 5,800 refugees and persons with subsidiary protection; it had received 2,936 new applications, including 1,214 from Syria and 224 from Somalia.

Questions from the Experts

 
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, commended Cyprus for providing prompt information on the three articles in the concluding observations which had been identified for follow-up, including on combatting racial stereotypes and on full operational independence of the Ombudsman according to the Paris Principles.

A Committee Expert congratulated Cyprus on making substantial steps forward in combatting human trafficking, but the phenomenon remained a source of concern.  The delegation was asked to inform the Committee about the situation of the refugee population which faced difficulties, including information on their country of origin, numbers, conditions in places of detention, and the right to work.

Another Expert commended the progress made in the peace negotiations and in efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement to this long-lasting conflict and expressed hope that a lasting peace would soon be reached.

What were the ‘special visas’ for artists about?

Experts welcomed the efforts of Cyprus to strengthen the anti-discrimination framework, in particularly the inclusion of ethnicity, nationality, race and colour as aggravating circumstances.  Improvements in the legislation on hate speech were also commended.  

What were the reasons behind the increase in racially motivated crimes and what more could be done to address racial discrimination?

The statistics provided by Cyprus indicated that people of African descent were mostly complainants and not perpetrators of crimes; how were their complaints of racial discrimination addressed?

Gender-based violence in shelters and reception centres, coupled with race, was of concern.  What measures were in place to ensure the safety and protection of residents there?

What was the ethnic composition of the prison population?

Another Expert raised concern about the detention of non-European Union nationals which was decided by an officer of the migration department and not a member of the judiciary, which should be the normal practice.  Such a person could be detained for a period up to 18 months.

How long could a detainee be held in a police detention centre?

The Administrative Court, tasked with providing extra protection to persons seeking international protection, was to have been set up by January 2016 – what was its status?

What were the intentions of Cyprus regarding the ratification of the key international conventions addressing statelessness, namely the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?

How was the right to freedom of movement guaranteed for refugees and asylum seekers?

A Committee Expert said that the report did not provide data on complaints of racial discrimination and asked the delegation to inform on how many complaints of racial discrimination had been received and how many had been referred to the courts.  How many times had the Convention been evoked by the courts?

The national human rights institution was still not in place, what were the key obstacles to having an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles?

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Cyprus, inquired how labour laws dealt with racial discrimination in the labour market and the possibility of the labour inspectorate to receive complaints.  Had there been any studies into the conditions of different groups in the labour market, particularly third-country nationals who represented 19 per cent of the labour force?

The refugee law provided for free health care to asylum seekers who lived in the reception centres.  The capacity of the Kofinou reception centre was insufficient to meet the demand and some refugees and asylum seekers lived outside of the centre, for which they received an independent living allowance.  Independent living however exempted them from free health care, while the allowance was not sufficient to cover medical costs.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked about the coordination and alignment between different equality, non-discrimination and human rights bodies and how those would be brought together under the national human rights institution.  

What were differentials and challenges in education, employment and other sectors of relevance to the small Turkish Cypriot community that lived in Cyprus?

What were the concrete outcomes and results expected from the National Roma Platform?

Responses by the Delegation


Responding to questions raised about national minorities, the delegation noted that Cyprus was a party to two European conventions related to the rights of national minorities.  Under the 1960 Constitution which preceded these conventions, political and civil rights had been granted to the two communities, the Greek Cypriots, Greek speaking Orthodox, and Turkish Cypriots, Turkish speaking Muslims.   Smaller religious groups did not fall under this classification framework and had been referred to as such and were required to join one of the two communities.  The concept had evolved and with the ratification of the European conventions the definition of nationality minority had been formally accepted.  This explained the use of mixed terminology in relation to those groups, as religious minority or national minority.  The three groups historically present in Cyprus had thus been recognized as national minorities.  There was another minority group – Roma; this was the moving population, whose numbers changed.  Measures had been taken to protect their rights.

With regard to the definition of racial discrimination, the delegation explained that any treaty ratified by Cyprus became part of the national law and prevailed over national legislation.  The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination could be invoked in the courts.  In 1992, the criminal offence of racial discrimination had been created and it referred to the notions contained to the Convention.

The delegation stressed the importance of changing the attitudes and culture of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to this end the State was taking measures for training and education, particularly from a very young age, as well as training and education of the police, lawyers, judges and social workers.  The media also had an important role to play in changing attitudes and cultures.

The Administrative Court had been set up in 2015 and had commenced its operations in January 2016.  The court was an innovation for the country, as it had a new competence to examine the substance of administrative decisions in relation to persons seeking international protection and modify such decisions where necessary.  In 2016, 43 recourses had been filed by asylum seekers, and 50 to date in 2017.

The Ombudsman (Commissioner for Administration) had been in operation since the 1990s as an independent institution; following the accession to the European Union, Cyprus had enacted the law to create an independent equality and anti-discrimination authority and so comply with the European requirements.  Those competences had been added to the mandate of the Ombudsman, as were other competences required by United Nations instruments, such as the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Law to create a national human rights institution had been prepared, but before it had reached Parliament, the Government had decided not to create another entity, as a successful independent organ had already been in place – this decision had been based mainly on financial and resource considerations.  Instead, the law of the ombudsman had been amended: all competences of a national human rights institution had been added to that Law and the Ombudsman who had been renamed the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights.  This institution had received status B accreditation by the International Coordinating Committee of national human rights institutions.

The Ministry of Education and Culture had adopted the annual goal of raising awareness about racism and intolerance and promoting equality and respect, and all schools were encouraged to adopt the anti-racism policy and develop activities with students, teachers and parents.  If Schools had incidents of racial discrimination,  then they were submitted in a summary report  to the Ministry at the end of the school year.

The Ministry was  implementing inclusion projects for Roma children, and the diversity of all children, including Roma, was respected through the promotion of language, culture, poetry, food days and other activities.

Education in Cyprus was compulsory and free for 10 years.  Turkish Cypriots could attend private or public schools and private school fees were fully subsidized by the State.  Children studied Turkish language during school hours in the upper grades of secondary school or through the adult education centres which offered free Turkish language classes to adults and children alike.

Asylum seekers could apply for work after a legally defined period following the asylum request; during that period, the State fully provided for all their needs, either by accommodating them in the Kofinou reception centre where their needs were met, or by providing assistance in the form of material aid, such as food, clothing,, health care and rent coverage. The problem arose with regard to healthcare provision for those asylum seekers who refused to be accommodated in the Kofinou centre.  There had been two incidents of violence against women in the reception centre, and in both cases the perpetrators had been removed and banned from the centre and all necessary action was taken

The delegation explained the process of detention of  persons who had entered or were staying illegally on the territory of the Republic and explained that all such decisions could be challenged in the Administrative Court.

The rights of stateless persons were protected by the national law.  Nationality could be obtained after a period of five or seven years of residence in the country, depending on the circumstances.

Housing was provided to Turkish Cypriots under the same conditions as Greek Cypriot refugees.

Domestic workers were considered as temporary migrants who were employed based on contracts which defined the terms of employment.  Domestic workers could change employer three times during a period of six years; this period could be extended for another two years during which a change in employer was not allowed.  Domestic workers were protected by the law from abuse and exploitation and compalints could be made to a specially designed Complaints Mechanism for Domestic Workers.

Until April 2015, only blind and wheelchair bound persons could employ male domestic workers; this provision had been changed and now all persons eligible to employ domestic workers may employ either a man or a woman. 

The Roma population in Cyprus was very small and the Government had adopted an approach to aid their social inclusion within the existing social and economic policies of the State, including their protection from discrimination.  The National Platform for Roma played an important role in the dialogue with Roma on their needs and perceptions and also served as an important vehicle of informing Roma people of the current legislative and policy initiatives to aid social inclusion.

People of African descent had access to work based on their nationality – if they were European Union nationals they had free access to the labour market.  

All information about hate crimes, including incidents that were racially motivated, were published annually and were publicly available on the website of the Cyprus Police.  All complaints were investigated and criminal charges were brought in cases where a foundation was found.  Convictions and sanctions had been meted out based on the anti-discrimination legislation and the provisions of the Convention, and articles of the Convention and the Committee’s general comments were cited in some of those court decisions.

The ‘artist visa’ had been revoked as one of the measures to fight trafficking in persons; those visas used to be issued to persons who worked in cabarets.

Thanks to training activities conducted within the police, there were tangible improvements in the investigation and processing of all racially-motivated crimes and it was hoped that this would also bring an increase in charges in which racial discrimination would be cited as an aggravating factor, which would also trigger the application of anti-discrimination legal provisions.

Complaints for ill treatment by the police were no longer investigated by the Police Directorate for Professional Standards, but by the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints Against the Police.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

 
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Cyprus, asked the delegation to explain how exactly the Convention was integrated into the domestic legal system.

Roma, as a semi-nomadic population which experienced particular challenges, needed particular attention to their specific needs.

Looking at the data provided by Cyprus on racially-motivated crimes and incidents, the Country Rapporteur noted the increase in 2010 in both the number of complaints received and the number of sanctions.  Why was this the case?

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the targeted strategy for Roma 2010-2020 and the results achieved during the previous strategy up to 2010.  What steps would be taken to ensure that Roma were fully part of the decisions taken that were of concern to them?

The delegation was asked to explain why asylum seekers could work only in agriculture and fisheries, and how the allowance for refugee families was set.

Responding, the delegation noted that as a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974 and continued occupation, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus was not in a position to exercise effective control over the whole of its territory..  This was a fact acknowledged by the European Court of Human Rights.  Consequently, though in 2004 the Republic of Cyprus acceded to the European Union with the whole of its territory, Protocol 10 to the Treaty of Accession to the European Union exempted the Government from the obligation to ensure the application of the European Union acquis  in the occupied area.  Cypriots – Greek and Turkish – had the same rights under the Constitution, but the effective protection of the rights of all was dependent on the ability of the Government to exercise effective control over the territory.  Irrespective of where they lived (in the Government-controlled area or the occupied area), all Cypriots had a possibility to obtain European citizenship provided that they held an identity card/passport of the Republic of Cyprus.

Explaining the legal system in Cyprus and the position of the Convention therein, the delegation said that the approval of Parliament was necessary for the ratification of any treaty, and for this reason a Law was necessary to be enacted in which the text of the treaty in its original language, together with a translation into Greek, were placed before Parliament and approved.  Therefore the text of the Treaty became part of the domestic law.

With regard to the national human rights institution, Cyprus considered that it had been created, but instead of setting up a separate or new institution, Parliament had amalgamated the mandate of the national human rights institution with the mandate of the existing Commissioner for Administration who was renamed Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights.  Cyprus was aware that steps must be taken to ensure that its accreditation be upgraded from the current status B to status A under the Paris Principles.

With regard to the statistics on hate crimes, the delegation noted that the data provided to the Committee included charges of a racist nature that had been raised in court on the basis of the Convention.  It was anticipated that – due to measures taken to strengthen the capacity of the police in handling and investigating hate crimes - more recent cases would be reflecting an increase in the invoking of the Convention or other anti-discrimination legislation.

Cyprus recognized its responsibilities with regard to marginalised groups, and this included Roma.  A strategy for social inclusion of Roma had been adopted, but separate monitoring mechanisms had not been set up as Cyprus had adopted the approach of social inclusion through integrated policy measures within existing structures.

The delegation explained that with regard to the employment of asylum seekers, the sectors of their employment were determined according to labour market needs so as to ensure the smooth operation of the labour market.  This was a temporary measure as asylum seekers did not remain in these sectors for long because asylum applications were examined within a maximum period of six months.  

Another delegate referred to the housing of Roma, and explained that the Government had repaired and improved tens of houses in Limassol and Paphos, in addition to setting up fully equipped pre-fabricated housing units.  In any case, Roma were free to enjoy the right of free movement.


Final Round of Discussion


An Expert said that awareness-raising campaigns on racism were particularly important.  He wanted to hear about such campaigns in recent years and their outcomes.  

He also inquired about the use of special measures in line with the Convention.

The delegation was asked to provide some clarity on the dynamics in the detention centres in Cyprus.  Were there any employment opportunities for migrants in Cyprus? Had the restrictions on domestic workers been lifted, or were they still obliged to remain with the same employer for years?

The delegation said that special measures were indeed in place for pregnant women and children, irrespective of their status.  They received full-fledged health services.  Victims of torture and human trafficking also received free healthcare.

 A useful experience that other countries could use as a good practice was on how the State party addressed racism in schools by adopting a Code of Conduct; it was deemed beneficial to start from an early age, said a delegate.

The delegation explained that domestic workers’ contracts lasted for six years, during which they could change their employer three times; their permit could be extended for an additional two years, during which they could not change the employer.

The 18-month detention was used very rarely.  As soon as a person applied for an asylum, he was discharged from the detention centre.  There was only one detention centre for persons awaiting deportation.  Such a centre had been put into operation as a need for it arose; it was not comparable to police detention centres for people in custody, as it provided several facilities not available in normal detention centres.  

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, commented that the ILO Convention 189 was an international standard for protecting domestic workers, and, as such, it should be followed.

Another Expert asked whether those put into the detention centre were immediately informed of their rights.  If only one institution was doing everything in that regard, it went against the system of independence and control.

Returning to the issue of domestic workers, an Expert wanted to know about effective protection of their labour rights.  Were there regular – weekly or monthly – inspections of their places of work?

A delegate said that detained migrants were informed of their rights.  The administrative court in charge was staffed with judges trained in refugee law and transferred from other institutions and the outside legal world.  There was a formal procedure in place through which detainees were fully informed of their rights, in any of the more than 15 languages.  An agreed procedure was in place providing the right for non-governmental representatives to visit places of detention.

There were no regular inspections of places of work of domestic workers because inspecting private houses was somewhat complicated.  A complaint system was in place: 470 complaints by domestic workers had been submitted in 2016, out of which 316 had been resolved in the agreement of both sides to sign a release agreement.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, inquired about steps taken to prevent hate speech, particularly with regard to the the small Turkish Cypriot community in the southern part of Cyprus.
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Cyprus, added that combatting hate speech was one of the priorities for the Committee.

A delegate said that all incidents against Turkish Cypriots were promptly condemned; nonetheless, it ought to be noted that such incidents occurred very rarely and normally in the context of football hooliganism.  Perpetrators were pursued, and public statements by the authorities made it clear that such behaviour would not be tolerated.  To date, 35 hate incidents against Turkish Cypriots had been recorded; there had been six convictions.  Most such incidents were against property, primarily vehicles.    

Concluding Remarks


ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Cyprus, said that he was pleased with the constructive dialogue, which was beneficial for both the Committee and the delegation.  Several problems were noted, including the continuing division of the country, which impeded the full implementation of the Convention.  All groups living on the territory of the Republic if Cyprus ought to enjoy full rights; concerns remained with regard to migrants, refugees and domestic workers, and further measures should be taken to improve their situation.  

LEDA KOURSOUMBA, Law Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, expressed her appreciation for the very constructive interactive dialogue conducted in a positive atmosphere, which provided an opportunity to the delegation to immediately respond to the Committee’s questions.  Though naturally each treaty body had different concerns it might more beneficial for the whole system and the reporting States if the relevant guidelines were reconsidered so as to achieve a uniform system of reporting. The concluding observations would be submitted to the Council of Ministers, with a recommendation that they be taken fully into consideration when defining national policies.  Cyprus was committed to promoting and safeguarding human rights for all.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, said that the discussion had been very constructive and open.  She added that the Committee had indeed thoroughly discussed how best to enhance its working methods and make the reporting process as efficient as possible.

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