ANOTHER damning report about Cyprus’ reluctance to enforce the law against the killing of protected bird species was issued this week. It was not the first and it would certainly not be the last such report given the authorities dubious stance, based on the misguided belief that it could keep both sides happy – conservationists and poachers – when this is practically impossible.
There is no middle way for issues in which there is right and wrong. The use of mist-nets and lime-sticks to trap hundreds of thousands of birds is against the law and should be stopped. However, the authorities seem to believe that by occasionally enforcing the law and taking a few poachers to court every year the state was fulfilling its conventional obligations. This allowed it to argue that it was enforcing the law, but could not catch all the law-breakers.
While this argument would be valid with regard to burglaries and arson attacks, it cannot hold sway in relation to bird-poaching, which takes place in specific parts of the country and at specific times of the years everyone is aware of. If the authorities genuinely wanted to stop bird-poaching they could have done so, but the truth is that they do not want to alienate the law-breakers who, with their families account for many votes in the Famagusta district.
The ambiguous stance of the authorities was recorded in the latest bird protection report prepared by activists from the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro-Biodiversity (SPA) that were in Cyprus in April to collect information and monitor the enforcement of anti-poaching laws. Members of the groups took part in police operations that confiscated over 3,000 lime-sticks, but the minister of justice Ionas Nicolaou called off the police raids, after pressure was applied by protesting locals who claimed that the activists were trespassing and destroying property.
Poachers have strong support from the political parties, which had tried in the past to reduce the punishment for poaching, because of the many votes they represent. Populism it appears is stronger than the rule of law. But rather than taking this ambiguous stance of occasionally enforcing the law and occasionally pandering to the law-breakers, the authorities should take a decision and stick to it, because they are fooling nobody.
In fact, there are broader implications to this stand. It sends out the message that rule of law is a negotiable principle and that the authorities are willing to turn a blind eye to some forms of law-breaking.