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Cyprus urged to focus on integration in racism report

Cyprus needs to come up with a new plan for the integration of non-nationals, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said on Tuesday.

Despite some human rights improvements in Cyprus in recent years, the ECRI came up with a long list of actions that still need to be taken, including those related hate speech and racial profiling by the police, Roma segregation and gender identity.

The ECRI, established by the Council of Europe, in its 47-page report covering developments up to December 9, 2015, said there were two main recommendations that needed to be tackled immediately.

One was to develop a new integration plan for non-nationals, including foreign domestic workers, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and other migrants. The second was to consult the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights – who is also the Ombudswoman – on all appointments of staff to her office “and allocate an adequate budget for her to carry out her functions properly”. She should also be granted the right to initiate and participate in court proceedings, ECRI said.

The government’s initial integration plan more or less expired in 2012. In February 2013, the cabinet announced that it would prepare an updated policy but it has not yet appeared, according to ECRI.

On top of that, the report says racist statements in the public sphere continue to be a common phenomenon and there had been a rise in racist violence against migrants.
The authorities should also define in law and prohibit racial profiling by the police, as well as provide further human rights training for them, the report added.

“The ECRI notes that a policy circular instructs police to ‘avoid’ such activities but racial profiling is not prohibited by law… and it… has substantial negative effects and undermines trust in the police”.

The body also considers hate speech particularly worrying because it is often a first step in the process towards actual violence.

According to statistics on “incidents and/or cases of a racial nature and/or with a racist motive”, which are collected exclusively by the police, between 2005 and 2014, around 120 such incidents were recorded. Of these, 58 were classified as verbal assault/hate speech. However, only two cases were tried, in 2009 and 2010, one of which ended in a conviction.

The report also said Cyprus had still not developed a proper strategy for Roma inclusion in all areas of life. Despite the implementation of measures to address the educational needs of Roma pupils, school enrolment and attendance among Roma children are low and drop-out rates in the transition between primary and secondary school are high.
“The policy of constructing prefabricated housing units for Roma in isolated areas promotes a practice of de facto segregation,” it added.

Other recommendations include amending the law to include the offence of public incitement to discrimination and the grounds of race, colour, language, religion, citizenship or national or ethnic origin. Public expression, with a racist aim, “of an ideology which claims the superiority of, or which depreciates or denigrates” these same groups should also be criminalised.

There should also be an increase in penalties for homo/transphobic hate speech under the new criminal code provision and police should be clearly instructed to record any racist motivation behind all offences involving violence, and collect data on the aggravating circumstances.

“Without such information there can be no solid basis for developing and implementing policies to address intolerance and discrimination against LGBT persons,” the report said. It also covered the issue of gender identity, recommending that legislation be amended to allow gender changes in personal documents without the requirement for gender reassignment surgery.

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