Cyprus is 29th out of 49 countries in the Council of Europe when it comes to LGBTI+ rights, ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides said on Wednesday.

In a statement made on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Lottides stressed that the seriousness of such incidents must not be concealed under the guise of “isolated incidents,” but “to be recognised and assessed as offences, in order to remind and underline the state’s zero-tolerance stance against them”.

The ombudswoman reminded that in 1993, a landmark judgement of European Court of Human Rights (Modinos v. Cyprus) led to the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual relationships in Cyprus.

Since then, “with the support of both European and local institutions, and in light of the guarantees now provided by the improved legal framework, Cypriot civil society has gradually achieved substantial progress in terms of the protection of LGBTI+ rights,” she said.

Examples of this are the criminalisation of homophobic and transphobic hate speech, the criminal recognition of prejudice against a group of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the legal recognition of same-sex cohabitation through the adoption of civil partnerships, she said.

Despite the legislative improvements leading to the institutional protection of LGBTI+ people, “our constant vigilance as a society becomes imperative in light of incidents of discrimination, negative stereotypes, intimidation and even violent attacks against members of this community in Cyprus,” she stressed.

The ombudswoman recalled as an example the February incident wherein an event by Accept-LGBTI at the Cyprus University of Technology (Tepak) was interrupted by a group of hooded people shouting homophobic slurs.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is extremely harmful to human dignity, since it strikes at the core of our humanity and violates essential human rights,” she said, adding that this also affects democracies as a whole.

It is therefore important and necessary that the seriousness of homophobic/transphobic incidents is not underestimated or concealed through their characterisation as “isolated incidents”, Lottides stressed.

Finally, she said that her office “remains steadfastly an ally of the LGBTI+ community in Cyprus, and will continue to work for the non-negotiable human rights of every member of the human family”.

Earlier, Justice Minister Anna Koukkides-Procopiou issued her own statement on the matter, saying that the elimination of discrimination against LGBTI+ people is a priority.

“We are firm supporters of LGBTI+ rights,” she said. “We are advocates of equal treatment and demonstrate zero tolerance towards any kind of prejudice, discrimination, or violence”.

Procopiou added that guided by principles and values ​​of equality, and respect for dignity and diversity, her ministry supports and will continue to support the rights of every individual to free self-expression, autonomy, and equal treatment.

“The injustices and discrimination that our fellow citizens are, unfortunately, to this day, subjected to, must finally be eliminated,” the statement said.

“[Our] obligation [is] to build an open and inclusive society where each person can define their own identity and freely express their personality without obstacles, violence, discrimination and exclusion,” it concluded.