The latest report of the US State Department on Human Rights Practices in Cyprus found that members of ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to be subjected to abusive and degrading treatment in prison, although it did also note some progress in detention conditions.
The 2018 Country Report said that human rights issues in Cyprus included crimes involving violence against members of minority ethnic and national groups.
The report refers to the findings by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published in April last year that said that persistent credible allegations of police mistreatment of detainees, including one allegation of sexual abuse of a woman.
The CPT found that persons detained by police, particularly foreigners, risked physical or psychological mistreatment at the time of apprehension, during questioning, and in the process of deportation.
As regards prison and detention centre conditions, including detention centres for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, Cyprus did not meet international standards, the report said.
In its April report, the CPT recommended reducing the prison population as in some blocks of the Cyprus prisons department that many cells did not have toilets and prisoners lacked reliable access to toilets at night. Prison authorities held juvenile pretrial detainees in cells separate from convicted juveniles, but the two groups shared the same grounds in their daily activities.
The CPT reported a few allegations of physical abuse of detainees by staff at the Menoyia Detention Centre, it said, as well as allegations of prison staff physically abusing prisoners and threatening them with reprisals for making complaints.
Migrants rights group KISA however, reported police treatment of detainees at the Menoyia detention centre for undocumented migrants improved significantly compared with last year, it said.
The CPT, it said, also raised concerns that insufficient resources and personal ties between accused police officers and investigators (most of whom were former police officers) weakened investigations into allegations of police abuse.
The report also noted improvements in prisons such as increasing the prisons’ capacity, an additional prison block, renovation of another, improvements to detention centres to increase natural light and airflow and the addition of televisions in the five largest detention centres.
It also said that trial delays were common and partially caused by lengthy legal procedures, which created a larger workload for the courts.
Detainees generally had access to an attorney but the CPT reported that, in practice, police officers prevented detainees from contacting a lawyer until they had given a written statement. To qualify for free legal aid, however, detainees first require a court decision confirming their financial need. This system inevitably delayed indigent detainees’ access to a lawyer, the report said.
As regards the north, a rather lengthy executive summary notes that human rights issues included trafficking in persons and crimes involving violence against ethnic minority groups.
Authorities, it said, took steps to investigate police officials following press allegations of human rights abuses but there was evidence of impunity.
Prison and detention centre conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, in particular for sanitary conditions, medical care and food. Lack of security cameras allowed police officers and prison guards to abuse detainees with impunity.
The report also mentions that police officials reportedly failed to intervene effectively when a protest against the Afrika newspaper turned violent.
Journalists practised self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on the Turkish leadership.
The report also refers to widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism, violence against women, including spousal abuse, while there are no ‘laws’ regarding child pornography.
It also said that Greek Cypriot and Maronite enclave communities in the north directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognise them. Greek Cypriots and Maronites, it said, could take possession of some of their properties in the north but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the government-controlled area.
The report also notes discrimination allegations against women, migrants, African students, persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons.
Child labour in the urban informal economy was also a problem as well as in agriculture and manufacturing, it said, while there was little improvement in working conditions, particularly for hazardous sectors and vulnerable groups. “Authorities reported 10 fatal accidents at nine work places during the year.”