Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides on Thursday condemned what appears to be racist violent attacks against food delivery drivers, saying they are “offensive to the culture and values” of locals and called for additional anti-racism training in schools.
The recent violent incidents towards food delivery drivers in the Nicosia district are concerning and they might be motivated by racism and xenophobia, Lottides said in a report published Thursday. The report will be submitted to the justice minister, the chief of police and the education minister.
Greek Cypriots appear to “blindly targeting people because of their profession (food delivery drivers on mopeds) whether they are, or are perceived to be, foreigners,” the ombudswoman said, as at least three violent incidents have been reported in recent days.
She added various state services “must react promptly, effectively and decisively”, in the light of the state’s responsibility to combat racism and discrimination and to protect all persons within its territory, irrespective of their origin, colour, religion, ethnic or national origin.
The report referred to a specific attack which took place on Sunday night in Pallouriotissa by a group of 14-to-16-year-olds and some of their family members which resulted in a 28-year-old delivery driver being injured.
Three food delivery drivers and four youths were injured, Lottides said, while the 52-year-old father of one of the Greek Cypriots was arrested for the assault. He was later released.
Following the assault, police called for an end to the “violent incidents”, saying there have also been thefts against food delivery drivers which led to the force increasing patrols.
According to Lottides, the relevant legal framework is satisfactory but hate crimes are still a “real phenomenon in Cypriot society” which requires an “intensive and collective” response from all stakeholders involved in the matter.
The repudiation of racism “denies the fundamental principle that all human beings are equal and that no group of persons is hierarchically superior or inferior to any other.” she said.
“Hate crimes…are not related to any individual behaviour of the victim, but are caused, in whole or in part, by hostility and prejudice against his or her national, racial, religious, cultural, sexual, etc. identity.”
Apart from being criminal offences, such incidents “are offensive to the culture and values of the state and society itself”.
Therefore, “the state has an increased obligation to act preventively, deterrently and repressively against racism,” Lottides explained.
The ombudswoman also focused on the ages of the culprits, saying the attack has highlighted the need to educate youth on such issues in schools and universities.
“Minors have not received an education that excludes intolerant practices and are likely to be proceed to potentially violent acts, choosing their victims on the basis of these characteristics.”
She added the state’s intervention is imperative and reflects its commitment to the principles of human dignity, equality, freedom and democracy.
“The state should not stand idly by and remain mute in the face of any incident that fosters racism.”
The ombudswoman’s office already carries out training courses and seminars in schools to instil a culture of respect for diversity and to combat any form of discriminatory behaviour on the basis of their characteristics.
Furthermore, the office is collaborating with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to develop and promote interagency co-operation between relevant public authorities and civil society actors, with a view to addressing hate crimes in Cyprus more effectively.
In the context of this cooperation, a group has already been established to define and promote specific actions that will strengthen and improve the framework for addressing racially motivated crimes in Cyprus and supporting victims, the ombudswoman said.
But additional training is needed, Lottides said in her report, adding she will seek a meeting with Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou to intensify these seminars.
The training sessions will begin in primary school so children “are not driven by feelings of hatred and aversion towards our fellow human beings”.