By Jean Christou
THE UN Committee Against Torture, in its latest report raps Cyprus on a number of issues from asylum to domestic violence.
An advance unedited version of the ‘fourth report’ compiled this month, details the specific areas of concern. It says the law does not provide for detained person to be examined routinely and free of charge by an independent doctor from the outset of the deprivation of liberty.
The Committee also notes repeated allegations that people deprived of their liberty were not given information on their rights, or not in a language they understood, and individuals were not assigned legal aid. This needs to be reversed, the report said.
From the 128 complaints relating to torture and ill-treatment investigated by the Independent Authority for the Investigation of Allegations and Complaints, only one case ended with a criminal conviction for common assault.
“This low rate of convictions does not correspond to the documented allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, particularly against immigrants,” the report said.
The Committee also referred to the lack of transparency of the investigations and insufficient protection afforded to complainants. Cyprus needs to ensure that all public officials under investigation of having committed acts of torture or ill-treatment are immediately suspended and remain so throughout the investigation.
On domestic violence, the Committee was again concerned over the low rate of investigations and convictions in this area, the majority of which ended in only a fine.
There was also a reluctance by migrant spouses or migrant live-in workers to report violence against their employers, since their right to a residence permit is linked to the consent of the very same person they intend to denounce.
The Committee had the same concerns about trafficked persons where Cyprus needs to provide an effective remedy to all victims, ensuring prompt and adequate psychological support, medical care, access to welfare benefits, adequate shelter, and work permits, irrespective of their ability to cooperate in the legal proceedings against traffickers.
It also said it was worried by reports indicating that asylum seekers had been deported to their countries of origin despite serious risks of torture or religious persecution.
Asylum seekers, it said do not have access to legal aid at the first instance administrative level of the process. The Committee also notes with concern that asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, including unaccompanied minors, can only have access to legal aid to challenge their deportation and detention orders if they are able to argue before a legal aid judge of the Supreme Court that they have good chances of success because of “blatant illegality” or “irreparable damage”.
The report goes on to mention the spate of suicides last year at the Nicosia central prisons, referring to the high rate of deaths in custody, especially suicides, as well as the incidents of inter-prisoner violence, including gang rape, with the connivance of prison guards. Turkish Cypriot prisoners were being impeded when it came to receiving visits from family and friends, it added.
On detention of asylum seekers, the UN body said that although the Refugee Law permits the detention of asylum seekers only in exceptional cases and for a maximum of 32 days, in the majority of cases asylum seekers are detained under the Aliens and Immigration Law as undocumented immigrants, or for minor offences, and will remain detained for protracted periods of time during the whole status determination procedure.
Asylum seekers are also detained when their claims are refused at administrative level but pending judicial review.
While welcoming the appointment of a Complaints Committee in May 2013 to handle complaints regarding ill-treatment and detention conditions in Menoyia Detention Centre, as well as the decision to refrain from using handcuffs, the Committee remains concerned by the numerous allegations of ill-treatment by police in the Centre, leading to protests and hunger strikes. The Committee said it also received information regarding very limited outdoor access, poor quality of food and frequent resort to solitary confinement.
It urged the state to ensure that the legal regime at Menoyia was suitable for its purpose and that it differs from the regime of penal detention.
While acknowledging the efforts of the state to limit the detention for the purpose of deportation of unaccompanied children and families with children, the Committee notes that the detention is still permitted in case the mother with minor children “refuses to cooperate” or during the age verification process of the unaccompanied minor.
“The right of children not to be forcibly separated from their parents should be respected, no matter which is the age of the child,” said the report.
“The Committee regrets the absence of comprehensive and disaggregated data on complaints of, investigations into, and prosecutions and convictions for cases of torture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement, security, military and prison personnel, at the criminal and disciplinary levels, as well as on deaths in custody, crimes involving trafficking, domestic and sexual violence.”
REDRESS FOR RELATIVES OF THE MISSING
IN A special section, the UN Committee welcomes the work of the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons in (CMP), which has identified, as of 22 November 2013, a total of 359 Greek Cypriots, out of the 1493 officially reported missing, and 97 Turkish Cypriots, out of the 502 officially reported missing as a result of the inter-communal fighting (1963-1964) and of the events of July 1974 and afterwards.
But it said the CMP was not empowered to grant redress to the relatives of the missing persons. While welcoming the fact that the Attorney-general has opened some criminal investigations as a result of the CMP’s successful identification of the remains, some relatives of missing persons have not been given the opportunity to challenge the acts or omissions of the investigating authorities in court, it said.
“The State party should redouble its efforts to guarantee that the relatives of missing persons identified by the CMP receive appropriate redress, including the means for their psychological rehabilitation, compensation, satisfaction and the right to truth,” the report said.
It added that “judicial remedies must always be available to victims” as should “all evidence concerning acts of torture or ill-treatment upon the request of victims, their legal counsel, or a judge”.