Improvements have been made towards treatment of minorities but hate speech remains pervasive on the island, according to findings published by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Tuesday.

In terms of progress made, the ECRI report recognised that, as per its previous recommendations, the institution of the Commissioner for Human Rights was authorised in 2019 to autonomously manage its staffing needs.

The Ministry of Education, in 2018-2022, developed a national strategy for the prevention of violence in schools, and the Cyprus pedagogical institute implemented programs aimed at preventing bullying, in line with the anti-bullying policy of the ministry, introduced in 2020.

The Commission recognised the introduction of a code of principles and rules of conduct for MPs, which entered into force in February 2021, and, among other things, prohibits hate speech, incitement to violence, and sexist or racist behaviour by MPs in the course of their duties.

Further welcome steps were legislation introduced in August 2019 enabling the legal name and gender change on official documents, and the lifting in April 2022 of restrictions for blood donors, linked to sexual orientation.

Job-finding procedures for asylum seekers became much easier from October 2021, the Commission found, while the range of employment sectors open to them has been expanded since 2019.

Another positive was the integration of the Roma minority children and their encouragement to learn their own Gurbeti language, which the Commission observed during its visit to Agios Antonios Primary School in Limassol.

Additionally, a significant effort was made during the Covid related school-closures to supply tablets and internet access to all Roma students enabling their participation in e-learning.

Notwithstanding progress made since the previous 2016 report, concerning issues remain, the ECRI said.

Among its concerns, the Commission listed the fact that the Commissioner for Human Rights, the only equality body in Cyprus, lacks the capacity to initiate or participate in legal proceedings on behalf of victims.

ECRI also reported concern over Orthodox confession allegedly promoted in schools without students’ or parental consent, ignoring their religious views–a phenomenon which can hardly be reconciled with inclusive education.

It also deplored the absence of firewalls in policies related to irregular migrants, and that any law proceedings involving migrants are likely to result in deportation.

Reported practices of subjecting homosexuals and lesbians to so-called conversion therapies are also listed among the concerns.

“Hate speech against various groups remains widespread in Cypriot public discourse. There is no comprehensive system for monitoring incidents…cases of strict and direct condemnation and counter-speech by public figures remains sporadic,” the ECRI said.

The Commission made fifteen recommendations to authorities, including steps to be taken by school administrations to ensure effective implementation of anti-racism policies designed by the Ministry of Education.

It also said that a key element should be preparation of a national LGBT strategy, accompanied by a national action plan.

Authorities should also address long-standing gaps in implementation of criminal legislation to combat hate speech and hate-motivated violence.

Among other things, a review of legislation is required, including legal recourse for victims, and adequate training for police, public prosecutors and judges, on use of appropriate criminal provisions.

Supporting the children of asylum seekers and other migrant children in Greek language acquisition is also urgently lagging.

This measure should be accompanied by assessment to determine the most appropriate class for placing each child.

The ECRI pointed out that primary school children who apply for asylum are usually placed in classes based solely on their age, without taking into account their skills in basic subjects, and without preparatory language courses.

This creates is an extreme barrier to their inclusion and school success, the report stated.

ECRI was established by the Council of Europe as an independent human rights monitoring mechanism against racism and other forms of discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.