Hate speech remains widespread in public discourse in Cyprus, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said on Tuesday in a country report.
ECRI, founded by the Council of Europe, is an independent body monitoring racism, discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance.
Among others, ECRI noted 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.
The report also expressed concern about Orthodox confessions organised in schools without the consent of pupils or their parents, and with disregard for their views on religion.
Furthermore, ECRI said that there are not enough policies in place to ensure the protection of the human rights of irregularly present migrants and that any procedures involving such migrants in labour 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 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.”
In its report, ECRI recommends that authorities take action in a number of areas. The Commission says that steps should be taken to ensure the effective implementation in schools, of existing anti-racist policies developed by the Ministry of Education.
Furthermore, authorities should prepare a national LGBTI strategy, based on a national action plan, with a specific focus on battling hate speech against LGBTI persons.
Moreover, ECRI says that the authorities should address gaps in the implementation of criminal legislation to combat hate speech and hate-motivated violence, such as remedies available to victims.
ECRI also recommends providing training to police officers, prosecutors and judges on the use of appropriate criminal provisions in combating hate speech and hate-motivated violence.
Moreover, ECRI urges expedited action to support child asylum seekers and other migrant children in acquiring Greek language skills.
It also says that appropriately funded policies specific to supporting Roma people in education, health care, housing and employment should be developed.
In addition, 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, ECRI said that in line with a recommendation in its fifth report, the Ombudsman institution was authorised in 2019 to organise its own recruitment examinations for hiring new staff.
As it is noted, the Ministry of Education 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 programmes for 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, prohibiting hate speech, incitement to violence and sexist/racist behaviour by MPs.
The report also commended Cyprus for facilitating the process by which people can change their names and gender in official documents.
Also, it commends the lifting of restrictions linked to sexual orientation for donating blood.
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, ECRI said.