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Hate speech remains widespread

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Hate speech against various groups remains widespread in Cypriot public discourse, a European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report on Cyprus said.

“There is no comprehensive system in place to monitor hate speech incidents,” the report said.

The Commission, established by the Council of Europe, is an independent human rights monitoring body to fight racism, discrimination and intolerance.

It made 15 recommendations to the Cypriot authorities, noting that since the adoption of its fifth report on 17 March 2016, progress has been made, but weaknesses remain.

“ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Cyprus. However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern,” the report underlined.

Recommendations

It said that measures should be taken to ensure the effective implementation by school management of existing anti-racist policies developed by the Ministry of Education.

And 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.

“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.”

Authorities were advised to review the criminal legislation on hate speech and hate-motivated violence, including remedies available to victims, and provide suitable training to police officers, prosecutors and judges on using appropriate criminal provisions to combat it.

Moreover, ECRI urges expedited action to support child asylum seekers and other migrant children in acquiring the Greek language skills to follow regular primary school classes and individual skills assessments to determine the most appropriate school grade to place them in.

“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.”

Progress

In line with a recommendation in its fifth report, the Ombudsman institution was authorised in 2019 to organise its recruitment examinations for hiring new staff.

The Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth developed a 2018-2022 National Strategy for Preventing and Combating School Violence; the Cyprus Observatory on School Violence of the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute has been developing and implementing actions and programmes aiming at preventing and addressing bullying and violence in schools.

In February 2021, the Code of Principles and Ethics for Members of Parliament entered into force.

It prohibits hate speech, incitement to violence and sexist/racist behaviour by MPs in performing their duties.

Further welcome steps were the Interior Minister in August 2019 made the change of names and gender in official documents easier, including for transgender people.

In addition, all restrictions linked to sexual orientation in the context of donating blood were lifted in April 2022.

Procedures for employing asylum seekers were made significantly easier from October 2021, while the range of sectors they are allowed to work was already extended in 2019.

Concern

“However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern.”

It said the Ombudsman institution, the only equality body in Cyprus, still has no competence to initiate or participate in court proceedings on behalf of victims of discrimination or intolerance.

ECRI is also concerned about Orthodox confessions reportedly organised in schools without the consent of pupils or their parents and disregarding their views on religion, which, it says, cannot be considered conducive to inclusive education.

“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.

“In addition, instances of firm and prompt condemnation of racist and other forms of hate speech and counter-speech by public figures remain sporadic”.