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Cyprus in the hot seat on human rights

Cyprus in the hot seat on human rights Law Commissioner Leda Koursoumba could be in for a tough time in Geneva next Tuesday

By Stefanos Evripidou

THE CYPRUS Republic will find itself in the hot seat on Tuesday, answering questions on its human rights record as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under the auspices of the Human Rights Council.

The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. It provides the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

It is also designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.

Cyprus’ first and only review was in November 2009, during which a series of recommendations were made by UN member states on how Cyprus can improve its human rights record.

On Tuesday, Cyprus will be one of 14 states to undergo a second review of its record. Any UN member state can take part in the discussion with the reviewed states.

The Cyprus delegation- headed by Law Commissioner Leda Koursoumba- will present a national report in Geneva on purported improvements in its promotion and protection of human rights, and respond to questions and recommendations by other UN member states.

Cyprus will argue it has an improved track record on human rights and highlight implementation of the various 2009 recommendations.

Previous recommendations focused on a wide range of areas, including: monitoring adherence to human rights; women’s rights; children’s rights; human rights education; non-discrimination and protection of vulnerable groups; discrimination based on sexual orientation; measures for the support of religious minority groups; migrants’ rights; anti-trafficking policy; treatment of detainees; missing persons in Cyprus; and, cooperation with civil society.

Koursoumba, who also serves as Child Commissioner in Cyprus, will be in the rather awkward position of having to defend Cyprus’ track record with regards to the rights of children, an area for which she has been known to voice criticism of state practices and flag the authorities’ failure to adopt her own recommendations.

Other areas where Cyprus might expect to get a grilling is the issue of migrants’ rights, including the long-term detention of irregular migrants, and the provision of legal aid for alleged victims of trafficking, including children.

Regarding the treatment of domestic workers who file complaints against their employer, Cyprus will argue that complainants are now allowed to stay or work for a different employer until the dispute with their employer is settled by the Labour Dispute Committee.

The delegation may have to respond to questions on the alleged practice of employers submitting a counter-complaint against their domestic worker, usually the charge of theft, which can result in the complainant facing detention and deportation before the initial dispute is even settled.

Koursoumba may also come under fire for Cyprus’ anti-trafficking policy, specifically the problem of the lengthy duration of trafficking-related trials, which does not encourage alleged victims to stay the course and testify against those accused. This in turn could have an impact on the rate of convictions in trafficking-related cases.

Regarding the treatment of detainees, the recent revelations of suicides and alleged gang rape in the central prison may come up during the three and a half hour cross-examination in Geneva, as well as the recent allegations of mistreatment at the Menoyia detention centre for prohibited immigrants awaiting deportation.

The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006, along with the establishment of the Human Rights Council.

It is a cooperative process which, by October 2011, has reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. The second review cycle officially started in May 2012, and foresees the review of 42 states each year. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the UPR as having “great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world”.

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