CYPRUS: Murders of foreign women points to justice deficit and racism

4 mins read

Following the murders of five women, and possibly two children, investor concern has arisen, not so much over an increase in the crime rate, as much as the failure of authorities to act on reports to prevent what appears to be serial killings.

International media has turned its focus on Cyprus for all the wrong reasons, while economists and sociologists say the authorities are rightly being accused of blatant institutional racism while democracy and justice deficit is becoming apparent.

Cyprus police are under the spotlight in what appears to be a failure to take reports of disappeared persons seriously after the bodies of three missing women, thought to be Filipino, were recovered from a disused mineshaft in Mitsero and a firing range in Orounda.

Authorities had been warned by friends of the victims, with the Justice Minister being addressed via an open letter (published in Politis newspaper) by a representative of a foreign housemaids’ association that a serial killer targeting foreign women was on the loose. These warnings were not acted upon.

The Filipino women were found, after a body emerged to the surface after heavy rainfall had filled a mineshaft, with police acting on the evidence presented to them almost a year ago arrested a 35-year-old National Guard officer.

The suspect had initially confessed to the murders of two women, while later on in the week confessed to the killing of a third Filipino woman. The third Filipino woman was reported missing on four separate occasions to the police by her employer. It later emerged that the Greek Cypriot suspect confessed to a total of seven murders.

An economist, working closely with international institutions on preparing reports on Cyprus’ performance in a number of fields, from fiscal policies to the implementation of justice, said that the latest developments are an unpleasant surprise for the international community which now has its eye on the island for one more issue.

“Police failure to act on reports in these specific cases just reeks of institutional racism. There is no other way to go about it. Family, employers and friends were sent on their way with some being asked by officers ‘why do they care about a Filipino?’” the economist said without wanting to be named.

He added that this, especially if other cases of authorities failing to act on reports, for whatever reasons will add to the list of surprises, increasing the country’s risk.

“This could have a series of chain reactions, amongst others, putting off foreign investors from considering Cyprus as a destination”.

Echoing the same concerns, economist Yiannis Tirkides said that recent crimes are appalling, but also reveal a degree of inactivity on the part of the police and at the same time reveal a degree to which the police is impeded in doing its job by restrictive legislation.

“These are facets of perceived corruption and underpinning factors must be checked. Cyprus does not rank very well in the corruption perceptions index of the public sector, compiled by Transparency International. There is a lot that we can do to improve our ranking like safeguarding the independence of institutions, empowering them and improving their accountability. Cyprus has some serious catching up to do,” said Tirkides.

Institutional Racism

Disappointed over the way authorities handled these crimes, a Senior Expert heading the Cypriot Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU said it would appear that the good image Cyprus built around its institutions was just hot air being sold to foreign investors.

Nicos Trimikliniotis, also a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nicosia, said that institutions are applying the laws with different standards, one being the race of the complainant or in these cases the missing person.

Τhe term institutional racism was invented by an investigating judge Sir William Macpherson in the well-known case of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black youth in Greenwich.

The judge was known for his conservative views. But when he investigated the case, he discovered that perceptions, practices, attitudes, without necessarily being the intention of the police in Britain, had the effect of disregarding testimonies and evidence that would lead to the prosecution and prosecution of the guilty. He called this institutional racism. This is exactly the syndrome the Cypriot police is suffering from.” 

Trimikliniotis added: “For the police officers, it was not important that a Filipino woman was missing. They acted as if foreigners lives don’t matter. They may not have been inclined to racism, but the way the institution operates made them act in that manner. It is indicative that the force needed some time to admit that their members had not acted according to protocol.”

He said a year on from the reported disappearance of a six-year-old child the authorities did not issue an amber alert according to two protocols signed by the Justice Ministry.

The Fundamental Rights expert said that there is also a democracy and justice deficit as citizens are witnessing people in key positions getting away with serious crimes, such as embezzlement and scamming investors who invested in the banking system.

Trimikliniotis referred to a recent case where a high-ranking bank official was acquitted by a court of law after blatantly admitting to lying to investors.

“Citizens feel that if you are a member of a high social cast, you can get away with anything.”

He added that as a society we are witnessing rich foreigners being given full rights, while foreign members of a poorer cast are being ignored.

He added that foreign workers were the backbone of the country’s development during the 1990s and early 2000s when workers from third countries were responsible for 53% of the wealth produced in Cyprus.

Trimikliniotis concluded by saying that reform should take place within the law enforcement agencies, with the introduction of a code of conduct for officials on how to handle such cases without allowing their personal sentiments to take over.

Commenting on the murders, Doros Polykarpou the head of immigrant support group KISA, told the Financial Mirror that although he would be cautious about attributing racist motives to the suspect, it would appear the culprit was targeting vulnerable members of the society.

“Usually serial killers target vulnerable members of their society, which are not necessarily of a certain ethnic origin. Unfortunately, third country citizens in Cyprus are treated as second class citizens.

They are faced with racist behaviour from people they meet on the streets, while also being faced with institutional racism when they go to report mishaps to the police or when they visit the public health system which does not treat them equally”.