IT WOULD be no exaggeration to say that Cypriots are obsessed with issues of human rights. Everything seems to be reduced to an issue of human rights, often taken to an absurd extreme. Respect of human rights is even cited to protect law-breakers, as in the case of people who park their cars on the pavement and argue that it was violation of their rights for traffic wardens to take pictures of the cars to use as proof of the law-braking; the court agreed with this line of argument.
Then there was the case of an independent state service being told by the courts that installing CCTV – to ensure under-performing workers were productive and not taking unauthorised breaks – was a violation of employees’ right to privacy. We have also heard that shouting abuse and threats at political opponents in the street was an exercise of the right of free speech, while more recently we were told that free bus travel for students was a human right.
Our education in human rights stemmed from the Turkish invasion which violated human rights on a grand scale, something that was constantly referred to in the speeches of politicians and newspaper articles. The successful applications to the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey further increased public awareness of the issue on which everyone was claiming ownership.
But this awareness and sensitivity only seems to apply to the human rights of Greek Cypriots. In the case of third country migrants and asylum seekers basic rights are systematically violated by the police and immigration authorities, without this ever becoming an issue. The immigrant support group KISA will issue a statement and the odd newspaper might carry a report but nobody takes the slightest notice. The authorities carry on abusing their powers, because no pressure is applied by politicians or the media. It is almost as if society approves of the non-recognition of any rights for immigrants, often portrayed as welfare scroungers.
Amnesty International, which recently looked into the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants, was scathing about the Cyprus government, accusing it of “displaying a chilling lack of compassion and a complete disregard for its international obligations.” It castigated the practice of using “the systematic detention of migrants to intimidate and deter potential immigrants and asylum seekers,” as well as the inexcusable practice of “separating a woman who has committed no crime from her children.”
Amnesty’s head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights was unsparing in his criticism. “It is shameful to think that within the EU, people who have committed no crime are being held in harsh prison-like conditions for prolonged periods, in some case for up to 18 months or longer,” he said. Interior minister Socratis Hasikos claimed the report “contained inaccuracies and generalisations” and was one-sided because most information was taken from NGOs.
Even if there were inaccuracies in the report, everyone knows how third country nationals are treated by the Migration Department and the police. What a shame that our championing of human rights does not extend to non-Cypriots.