USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus, while the northern part, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remained on the island. A buffer zone, or “green line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two parts.
The Republic of Cyprus is a constitutional republic and multiparty presidential democracy. On May 22, 56 representatives were elected to the 80-seat Vouli Antiprosopon (House of Representatives) in free and fair elections, and in 2008 President Demetris Christofias was elected in free and fair elections. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The most significant problems during the year were reports of police abuse and degrading treatment of persons in custody and asylum seekers; violence against women, including spousal abuse; and instances of discrimination and violence against members of minority ethnic and national groups.
Other problems during the year included prison overcrowding; a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice; and several incidents of violence against children. Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation continued to be a problem, and trafficking for labor was also reported.
The government generally investigated and prosecuted corruption and abuse cases against officials but cases usually moved at a slow pace.
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; there were reports, however, that police abused detainees. There continued to be reports that police engaged in heavy-handed tactics and degrading treatment of suspects. The Independent Authority, an independent committee appointed by the Council of Ministers, had the authority to investigate complaints of police bribery, corruption, unlawful financial gain, violation of human rights, abuse of power, preferential treatment, and conduct unbecoming of police officers.
There were several allegations of police abuse during the year. For example, on April 26, Politis newspaper reported that police, acting on a narcotics tip, intercepted and searched a car with three 19-year-old men inside. According to the press report, police did not find any narcotics but beat two of the passengers. The men received treatment at Famagusta Hospital, but the medical staff allegedly refused to give them a medical report without police instructions. The newspaper’s sources were reportedly other police officers who participated in the operation but disagreed with the mistreatment of the men. The officers claimed the officer in charge threatened to transfer them to a less favorable position if they reported the abuse. The police reported that although no official complaint was submitted, the deputy attorney general appointed a criminal investigator to the case and the investigation was pending at year’s end. The police were simultaneously investigating a case of traffic violations and violation of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law against the three passengers.
On February 19, the Nicosia Criminal Court sentenced eight police officers involved in the 2005 beating of two students to prison for two months to one year, but it suspended those sentences for three years, stating that if the defendants commit any crimes within that three-year period, they will be required to serve the sentence. The officers had been acquitted by a court in 2009, but the attorney general appealed the decision, and the Appellate Court ordered a retrial. In a separate process in April, the police disciplinary committee fined 10 officers involved in the incident, including the eight sentenced by the court, suspending their pay for periods of one to eight days, based on the severity of the charges. The assistant chief of police appealed the disciplinary committee decision. The appeal was pending before the Appeals Board at year’s end.
During the year the ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) received complaints that police subjected inmates to physical abuse and discriminatory treatment. The ombudsman reported that during the year her office received one complaint from a prisoner concerning physical violence allegedly committed by prison officials and one complaint of physical violence and degrading treatment allegedly committed by police officers in detention centers. The first complaint was investigated and the ombudsman found there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the prisoner was abused. The ombudsman halted the investigation of the second complaint when the complainant signed a statement denying police mistreatment. However, the ombudsman prepared a report noting that the prison management had asked the prisoner to sign the statement and urged the prison management not to repeat such a practice. The ombudsman prepared a report on systemic violence against prisoners by prison officials, to be included in her 2011 annual report on the National Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). In 2010 the ombudsman’s office investigated 13 complaints of physical violence against prisoners. Of those, one complaint resulted in a report to the Independent Authority, which brought the case before the attorney general; one complaint was transferred to the OPCAT unit and was still under investigation; one complaint was still under investigation by the ombudsman; eight were found to be unsubstantiated; and two investigations were terminated for reasons that were not specified.
During the year overcrowding remained the Nicosia Central Prison’s greatest problem. Prison authorities acknowledged that many of the prison buildings were constructed prior to 1960 and in need of renovation. In a September report the ombudsman stated that overcrowding had become a permanent problem and had a negative impact on prisoners’ living conditions. The prison’s capacity was 520, but at times it housed up to 710 inmates. Extension and renovation works completed in 2011 added 89 new cells to the prison. Approximately 62 percent of the prisoners were non-Cypriots imprisoned for illegal entry, stay, and employment, as well as theft, burglary, and other offenses. Community service is an option for nonviolent offenders.
On September 28, a 40-year-old detainee, held on suspicion of robbing a church, hanged himself in his cell in a detention center in Limassol. The Independent Authority was investigating the conditions of his death at year's end. On October 16, a Georgian national, held on a detention and deportation order for living in the country illegally, was found unconscious in his cell in Nicosia’s Lakatamia Detention Center. He was transferred to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A police spokesman stated there was no suspicion that a crime had been committed. A forensic post mortem examination did not reveal the cause of death. The results of a histological examination expected to determine the exact cause of death were pending at year’s end. The deceased had spent two months in the center. The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Legal Affairs, Ionas Nicolaou, criticized police for holding foreign prisoners in detention centers for extended periods of time. Nicolaou stated that cells in detention centers were too small, lacked natural light, and were likely to cause serious health problems for detainees held there for more than a few days.
Inmates in the Central Prison during the year included 447 females, one of whom was a juvenile, and seven male juveniles. Juveniles were held separately from adults, women separately from men, and pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. The ombudsman investigated two complaints by Turkish Cypriot prisoners made in 2009 that they were subjected to discriminatory treatment at the Central Prison, and found them unsubstantiated at the conclusion of the investigation in 2011. In 2010 the ombudsman examined a complaint that female inmates were treated unequally because they were not given the option to serve their prison sentences or portions of them in the Open Prison or the Out of Prison Employment Center as was the case with male inmates. Restoration work completed in 2011 allowed women inmates to serve part of their sentence in the Open Prison. Turkish Cypriots who lived in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration were admitted to the Open Prison but were granted exit permits only with an escort.
An NGO reported in August that it received multiple complaints of police brutality against foreign detainees held in detention centers in Larnaca, Nicosia, and Paphos and complaints of discrimination in the Central Prison. The NGO reported that police officers also verbally abused foreign detainees using derogatory language about their ethnicity and religion. Foreign detainees were reportedly tasked with heavier work than local prisoners, were not informed about the full extent of their visitation rights, and in some cases, unable to receive visits from their families.
The ombudsman reported that overcrowding posed great challenges to maintaining the absolute separation of convicted criminals from pretrial detainees and that long- and short-term prisoners were held together. According to the ombudsman, overcrowding had serious repercussions on the health of both prisoners and staff due to the lack of sufficient hygiene facilities and a health center. Also, prisoners with mental health problems did not receive specialized treatment. During the year prison management implemented the ombudsman’s recommendation to operate a special rehabilitation program for drug addicts within the prison. Prison authorities confirmed that overcrowding prevented separation of prisoners by health condition. Community service is an alternative to prison confinement for nonviolent criminals.
Prisoners in the Central Prison had access to a church and a mosque, and prison management stated that it made every effort to facilitate religious observance. Detention centers did not have facilities for religious observance. Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to the ombudsman without censorship. The ombudsman reported one case of a prisoner who was asked by prison management to revoke the complaint.
The ombudsman reported in October that an investigation deemed conditions in Famagusta detention center incompatible with international standards and conducive to inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees. The detention center lacked basic hygiene components, and toilet paper, soap, and shampoo were available only on demand. There was no exercise area, and detainees were confined 24 hours a day in their cells. Due to the lack of a proper visitors’ room, detainees were handcuffed when they received visitors. The ombudsman recommended the immediate closing of the detention center.
Construction work was underway during the year to increase capacity and improve sanitary conditions at the Central Prison.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits, unrestricted and unannounced, occurred during the year. The ombudsman and the prison board visited Central Prison on a regular basis. The Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives also visited the prison and examined the living conditions of the detainees. After a visit on March 2, the Human Rights Committee underlined that the problems its members observed in previous years, such as overcrowding, lack of staff (especially medical staff), and inadequate training of existing staff remained unresolved.
In 2008 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) conducted one of its periodic spot checks. CPT representatives visited several sites, including the Central Prison, the psychiatric unit in Athalassa, and several police stations, and privately interviewed detainees and prisoners. The CPT’s report on the visit had not been released by the end of 2011.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
The police enforced the law and combated criminal activity. The Greek Cypriot National Guard (GCNG), backed by a contingent of Greek military forces, the Hellenic Force in Cyprus, protected national security. The GCNG reports to the Ministry of Defense, which reports to the president. The police report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Order. The president appoints the chief of police. The police force is composed of a headquarters with six functional departments, six geographic district divisions, including one inactive district for the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, and seven police units that provide specialized services. One case alleging serious police corruption was before the court.
The Independent Authority appoints independent investigators from a list submitted by the attorney general to look into complaints. On January 25, the chairman of the Independent Authority stated that police refused to hand over complete case files, hampering the authority’s ability to conduct objective investigations.
According to its June report, 137 complaints were submitted to the Independent Authority in 2010, a 22 percent increase over 2009. One complaint concerned alleged police corruption and complicity, 63 complaints alleged violation of human rights; and 63 complaints claimed favoritism or behavior on the part of police that undermined police standing in society. Ten complaints were deemed outside the scope of the authority and not investigated. The Independent Authority appointed criminal investigators in 60 cases: In four cases investigators recommended criminal prosecution of the police officers involved to the attorney general, and the attorney general concurred with three of the recommendations; in 30 cases there was no evidence of criminal or disciplinary offenses; in two cases investigators recommended that the chief of police initiate a disciplinary process; in three cases the investigation was suspended because the complainants did not give a statement; one complaint was withdrawn; and 20 cases were under investigation at year’s end. In the remaining cases received in 2010, the Independent Authority conducted 25 preliminary investigations, referred 17 cases to the chief of police for handling, and had requested and was awaiting additional information in 22 cases. Three of the cases were withdrawn by complainants. In the first 10 months of the year, the Independent Authority received 117 complaints.
During the year the Independent Authority recommended to the attorney general the prosecution of police officers allegedly involved in three criminal cases. The attorney general ordered the prosecution of the police officers involved in one of those cases. An examination as to whether the prosecution of the police officers involved in the other two cases was warranted was pending at year’s end. During the year police investigated 26 criminal cases against members of the force. At the end of the year, 18 of those cases were still under investigation, six were pending trial, one case was completed and the defendant fined, and one case was withdrawn at the instruction of the attorney general. Of the 11 cases pending investigation at the end of 2010, two resulted in the resignation of the police officers involved, two were pending trial, four were still under investigation, and one was dropped by the court. In the two remaining cases, prosecution of one was suspended on the instruction of the attorney general while, in the second, it was concluded that no crime was committed.
On March 15, police arrested the deputy chief of the Police Aliens and Immigration Service as a prime suspect in a case of trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation of Chinese women at an illegal Nicosia brothel. The suspect was released on bail but rearrested in October for attempting to influence witnesses in the case. The trial was under way at year’s end.
The law requires judicially issued arrest warrants, and authorities respected this requirement in practice. Persons may not be detained for more than one day without referral of the case to a court for extension of detention. Most periods of investigative detention did not exceed 10 days before formal charges were filed. The attorney general generally made efforts to minimize pretrial detention, especially in cases of serious crimes. Attorneys generally had access to detainees. Bail was permitted. The government claimed the right to deport foreign nationals for reasons of public interest, regardless of whether they had been charged with, or convicted of, a crime. While lengthy pretrial detention was not a problem, trial delays were common and partially caused by lengthy legal procedures, which resulted in an accumulated workload for the court system.
While authorities detained aliens without identity documents when they did not know where to deport them, the government’s policy was not to hold such persons long term in detention centers. Instead, if deportations could not be executed in a reasonable amount of time--generally six months--the government’s policy was to release undocumented migrants and rejected asylum seekers and give them residence permits for a limited period, provided they had not been found guilty of a crime. Residence and employment permits were renewable provided the released detainees signed a contract of employment approved by the Department of Labor. On October 24, the press reported that a group of 52 foreign detainees in Central Prison’s Block 10 staged a hunger strike protesting the length of their detention. An NGO reported that a number of undocumented foreigners arrested for illegal stays in the country remained in long-term detention. One foreigner who had been previously detained for over three years was released in 2010, only to be rearrested four months later. According to the NGO, the detainee attempted to commit suicide. At least one additional long-term detainee reportedly attempted suicide. The same NGO reported that undocumented aliens were only released if they signed a document consenting to the issuance of travel documents by their home country. The NGO also reported that released detainees did not have access to health care or social benefits and were not entitled to permanent residency permits unless they had a job.
The law and constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
Most criminal and civil cases begin in district courts, from which appeals may be made to the Supreme Court. There are no special courts for security or political offenses. There are military tribunals that have jurisdiction over members of the GCNG.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The constitution provides for public trials, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Jury trials are not used. An attorney is provided for those who cannot afford one, and defendants have the right to question witnesses against them and present evidence or witnesses on their behalf. The law also provides that defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence related to their cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have a right of appeal. The government generally respected these rights in practice.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
During the year the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued one judgment that found the country in violation of a provision of the European Convention on Human Rights. There were no reports that the government failed to comply with ECHR decisions.
In January 2010 the ECHR ruled in Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia that Cyprus failed to protect 20-year-old Russian cabaret artist Oxana Rantseva from human trafficking and failed to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances of her death in 2001. The government made a unilateral declaration before the court acknowledging that it had violated the convention and offered to pay pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages to the applicant. The attorney general opened a new investigation into the case in 2009, which continued at year’s end.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, permitting claimants to bring lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations, and citizens successfully availed themselves of it. Individuals could appeal cases involving alleged human rights violations by the state to the ECHR once all avenues of appeal in the domestic court system had been exhausted.
According to a law enacted in 1991 and amended in 2010, the minister of interior is the guardian of the properties of all Turkish Cypriots who do not have their permanent residence in the government-controlled part since 1974. Ownership remains with the original owner, but the sale or transfer of Turkish Cypriot property under the guardianship of the minister of interior requires the approval of the government. The minister of interior has the authority to return properties to Turkish Cypriot applicants after examining the circumstances of each case. Owners can appeal decisions of the minister of interior at the Supreme Court.
Turkish Cypriots have filed a total of 104 court cases, 20 of them during the year, to reclaim property located in the Republic of Cyprus. The Supreme Court issued judgments in five cases concerning Turkish Cypriot properties that were under the guardianship of the Ministry of Interior, and one decision was issued by a civil court. The Supreme Court found it did not have jurisdiction in three of the cases; in the two remaining cases, the court ruling upheld the right of guardianship. The Civil Court rejected the owner’s claim that the guardian’s interference with his property constituted trespass.
In September 2010 the ombudsman, in her capacity as the authority with oversight in matters involving racism and discrimination, reported that the examination of two complaints submitted by Turkish Cypriots revealed that the state was discriminating against Turkish Cypriot property owners and restricting their property rights. Both Turkish Cypriots had applied to the Land Registry Department to secure title deeds for their properties in the government-controlled area and were told that they needed the prior approval of the Ministry of Interior. The ombudsman recommended abolition of the 1963 law that restricts the property rights of Turkish Cypriots for reasons of public safety. The attorney general studied the recommendation and decided against the abolition of the law.
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including e-mail.
There were generally no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, but certain oversight efforts threatened academic independence and activities. The government continued to exert political pressure on universities to refrain from any contact with universities in the Turkish Cypriot community because the government considered them illegal.
The law and constitution provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt.
The law provides for freedom of movement within government-controlled areas, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
The government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but it generally advised them against spending the night at Greek Cypriot properties, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there.
The government allowed EU citizens and citizens of other countries not subject to a visa requirement, who entered from ports of entry in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, to cross the green line into the government-controlled area; the government maintained, however, that all ports of entry in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots are illegal.
Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots were required to show identification cards when crossing the green line. Members of each community were required to obtain insurance coverage in the community where they planned to drive their vehicles. Turkish Cypriots flew in and out of Larnaca and Paphos airports without obstruction. The government issued 7,650 passports to Turkish Cypriots during the year.
The government considered Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of IDPs. At year’s end, these individuals and their descendants numbered 202,334. Depending on their income, they are eligible for financial assistance from the government. They have been resettled, have access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year 53 persons were recognized as refugees.
In contrast to previous years, refugees and NGOs did not report that any asylum cases were closed without consideration or receipt of a government response. NGOs and asylum seekers alleged that the Nicosia District Welfare Office continued to be inconsistent in the delivery of benefits to eligible asylum seekers. The ombudsman continued to receive such complaints and reported that in many cases the allegations were well-founded. To remedy the situation, the ombudsman proposed modifying the Public Subsidies Law. An NGO and the ombudsman reported that the 2011 decision of the House of Representatives to review, monthly, benefits granted to non-Cypriot beneficiaries before releasing the funds, caused two- to three-month delays in the delivery of such benefits.
The NGO Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) claimed that authorities detained and deported asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected and who were appealing the decision, before the Supreme Court undertook a final adjudication of their applications. KISA and the ombudsman also reported complaints from asylum seekers concerning difficulties in accessing the asylum application procedure and delays in the examination of their applications.
Employment: The government granted individuals determined to be refugees permission to stay and gave them temporary work permits, but it did not grant permanent resettlement rights. The law allows asylum seekers to be employed in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery. However, KISA claimed the Labor Office refused to approve and renew labor contracts for asylum seekers outside the farming and agriculture sector.
Asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication were allowed to work after residing six months in the country, but they were limited to the areas permitted by law. During the six-month period, asylum seekers had access to a subsistence allowance and could live in one of three reception centers for refugees located in Kofinou, Larnaca, and Paphos. There were complaints regarding the remoteness and lack of facilities at Kofinou, but improvements were made in the areas of psychological support, activities for children, and transport. The government operated the center under a private-public partnership with a university. For the other two reception centers, Onissilos reception center in Larnaca and Agapinor reception hotel in Paphos, the government contracted services from a private company.
Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be cut off from state benefits. To obtain welfare benefits, asylum seekers had to have a valid address, which was impossible for many who were homeless. KISA reported delays in the delivery of checks to asylum seekers who were eligible for benefits. According to NGOs, asylum seekers reported discrimination in the provision of state medical care. On February 10, a group of Palestinians with recognized refugee status stormed the district welfare office in Larnaca, complaining about delays in the delivery of their monthly allowances. The protesters beat an on-duty police officer. Eleven Palestinians were arrested and formally charged. The minister of interior announced that four would be deported and the rest subjected to local law.
Following a government inquiry into the 2010 death of a diabetic Congolese asylum seeker whose social welfare benefits were discontinued three months after he refused to take a job offer, the Ministry of Labor changed the procedure for handling similar cases. Asylum seekers with a medical condition rendering them unable to work or able to perform only light work are referred to a medical board for assessment and are entitled to public assistance while awaiting a decision. Two cases resulting from the death of an asylum seeker who allegedly did not receive timely medical treatment in 2009 were still pending.
Durable Solutions: The government provided funding to a local university and an NGO for educational services aimed at helping recognized refugees and asylum seekers integrate into society and also to a local NGO to help victims of torture.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 16 individuals whose refugee status was under determination during the year.
The law and constitution provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage. In national elections only those Turkish Cypriots who reside permanently in the government-controlled area are permitted to vote and run for office. In elections for the European Parliament, all Cypriot citizens and resident EU citizens have a right to vote and run for office, including Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. All resident EU citizens are eligible to vote and run for office in municipal elections.
Recent Elections: On May 22, free and fair elections were held for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held six of the 56 seats filled in the House of Representatives and three of 11 ministerial posts. They also held senior positions in the judicial branch.
There were no members of minorities in the House of Representatives. The small Armenian Orthodox, Maronite Christian, and Roman Catholic communities elected special nonvoting observer representatives from their respective communities to the House of Representatives. Twenty-four seats assigned to Turkish Cypriots were unfilled.
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, which vary depending on the charges, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption.
While the government generally investigated and prosecuted cases of corruption, these usually moved at a slow pace, and the evidence law, which prohibits wiretapping and electronic surveillance, made obtaining convictions difficult.
On June 22, the head of the Cyprus EU Presidency office resigned following accusations that he had rigged the hiring process to employ a family friend. The auditor general confirmed that the hiring process was flawed but stated that she did not have the authority to pursue a criminal investigation. The government did not seek a police investigation into the case. Two similar cases in which government employees were charged with misusing their position for personal gain or exerting influence in hiring procedures were pending at year’s end.
On April 5, three police officers received suspended sentences ranging from four to six months in connection with the high-profile 2008 escape of double murderer and rapist Antonis Procopiou Kitas from a Nicosia private hospital, where he had stayed while serving a life sentence. In addition, the three officers received disciplinary sanctions following the completion of a disciplinary investigation ordered by the chief of the police. The minister of justice and public order resigned over the escape, and the government appointed independent criminal investigators to determine possible police and government officials’ involvement. In January 2010 the attorney general filed two criminal cases against six police officers and the director of the central prison. A hearing of the case against the former director of the Central Prison began in 2009 and was still in progress at year's end.
In May the Supreme Court upheld its 2009 ruling that a law, first passed and challenged in 2004, that requires state and public officials to declare their assets was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the said law violated the constitutionally protected right to respect for private and family life.
The constitution provides citizens the right of access to government information, but there were no specific laws to ensure public access. Civil servants were not allowed to provide access to government documents without first obtaining permission from the relevant minister. An Access Info Europe report issued in November stated that, according to a survey conducted by the organization in 2010, 72 percent of the 220 requests for information which it sent to 20 public agencies were not answered, and 8 percent were denied in writing or orally.
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. There is a government ombudsman, whose portfolio includes human rights, and a legislative committee on human rights.
Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the ombudsman received complaints from citizens and foreigners living on the island who believed their rights had been violated by the government. During her fully independent investigations, the ombudsman generally enjoyed good cooperation with other government bodies. The ombudsman’s annual reports focused on police misconduct, treatment of patients at state hospitals, treatment of asylum seekers and foreign workers, and gender equality in the workplace. The Office of the Ombudsman was well respected and considered effective.
The legislative Committee on Human Rights, which most local NGOs considered effective, consists of 10 members of the House of Representatives who serve five-year terms. The committee discussed wide-ranging human rights problems, including trafficking in persons, prison conditions, and the rights of foreign workers. The executive branch did not exercise control over the committee.
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions.
Rape and Domestic Abuse: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. Most convicted offenders received considerably less than the maximum sentence. Police indicated that 26 cases of sexual assault were reported during the year.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was reported, and there has been a sharp increase in recent years in the number of reported cases. The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence and provides that the testimony of minors and experts, such as psychologists, may be used as evidence to prosecute abusers. The law provides for the imprisonment of persons found guilty of abusing family members. Doctors, hospital workers, and education professionals are required to report all suspected cases of domestic violence to police. Many victims refused to testify in court, however, and by law spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other. Courts were obliged to drop cases of domestic violence if the spousal victim was the only witness and refused to testify.
During the year police received 600 cases of domestic violence. They initiated criminal investigations in 307 of these and filed 129 criminal cases in court. In 75 percent of the cases, the victims were female.
An NGO working with domestic abuse victims reported an increase in the number of telephone calls to its hotline from 2010. The NGO reported that 1,323 callers, of whom 75 percent were women, 17 percent children, and 8 percent men, claimed to be victims of domestic violence. The NGO also operated a shelter for women and children in Nicosia that served 78 victims of domestic violence during the year.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it was reportedly a widespread problem, with most incidents unreported to authorities. In 2009 a Cyprus University of Technology (TEPAK) report showed that 6 percent of employees in the country had experienced sexual harassment in their workplace. During the year the Labor Office received nine complaints regarding sexual harassment, eight by non-Cypriots. The office’s investigation found one complaint to be valid, and the complainant received 2,000 euros ($2,600) in compensation.
In one of the two sexual harassment complaints filed and deemed valid in 2010, the victim received free legal aid to present her case before the Labor Disputes Court for compensation in 2011. In the second case, the complainant, a foreign housekeeper, was granted permission to seek a new employer in 2011. Permission is required for such a change because one’s presence and work permit are tied to a particular employer. In April the ombudsman criticized the decision of the Department of Labor not to examine a 2009 complaint of sexual harassment because the case was under police investigation. The complaint was submitted by a foreign housekeeper, who claimed that she had been sexually harassed by her employer. The police investigation did not result in a criminal prosecution, and the complainant was eventually arrested because her residence permit had expired. The ombudsman recommended the examination of the complaint by the Department of Labor and the revocation of the detention and deportation order until the completion of the investigation. The government complied with the recommendation; as a result, the complainant’s work permit was renewed.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals were generally able to freely decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. There was easy access to contraception, skilled attendance during childbirth, and women were diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, equally with men.
Discrimination: Women generally have the same legal status as men under family and property law and in the judicial system. The National Mechanism for Women’ Rights under the Ministry of Justice and Public Order was tasked with the promotion, protection, and coordination of women’s rights. Laws requiring equal pay for men and women performing the same work were enforced effectively at the white-collar level. Despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance's enforcement was ineffective at the blue-collar level. Research by one NGO suggested that remuneration for female blue-collar workers was 25 to 30 percent less than for their male counterparts. The ombudsman reported serious cases of gender discrimination in the workplace particularly against pregnant women who were either not promoted or dismissed from employment. The ombudsman’s 2010 report, released in 2011, expressed concern over the increasing phenomenon of dismissal of working women on the grounds of pregnancy. The ombudsman reported that 30 percent of the complaints submitted with regard to discrimination against women concerned discrimination on the grounds of maternity, pregnancy, or childbirth.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents, and there is universal birth registration at the time of birth.
Education: The ombudsman's investigation into a 2008 complaint that Romani children in public schools were not taught their local language, history and culture, concluded that the complaints were valid. The ombudsman found that the Romani children, as members of the Turkish Cypriot community, were taught Turkish language and culture but that their curriculum did not take into consideration their distinctive language and culture as members of the Romani community. The ombudsman recommended that the Ministry of Education engage members of the Romani community in a dialogue aimed at developing teaching methods and educational programs more appropriate for Romani children. The ombudsman also urged the immediate implementation of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommendation to offer free transportation to Romani children living in the Polemidia housing settlement. The ECRI report released in June stated that the Polemidia housing settlement for Roma constituted de facto segregation from the majority population, while the children there were denied their right to education due to lack of free transportation to and from school.
In September the ombudsman reported that the Ministry of Education had yet to officially withdraw a 2004 circular requiring schools to report to immigration authorities the contact information of parents of foreign children enrolled at schools in order to help authorities determine if they reside in the country legally. The Ministry of Education subsequently issued instructions to school principals to enroll all students without exception. However, according to the ombudsman and the ECRI’s June report, the new policy was not always implemented, and in practice the contact information of foreign students was regularly sent to police.
Child Abuse: The Welfare Department reported that it received 251 cases of child abuse in 2010 compared with 281 in 2009 and that 92 percent of cases of abuse were linked to domestic violence. During the year police conducted 152 criminal investigations of child abuse compared with 155 the previous year. An NGO working with domestic abuse victims reported that cases of child sexual abuse doubled in 2011 reaching a total of 16 from eight in 2010.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 17, and sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 17 is a criminal offense. The penalty for sexual intercourse with a person between the ages of 13 and 17 is a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. The criminal penalty for sexual intercourse with a person under 13 is up to life in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_4308.html.
There were approximately 2,150 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israeli, British, and other European Jews.
There were continued reports of verbal harassment of members of the Jewish community.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services, and in practice the government generally enforced these provisions. While the law mandates that public buildings and tourist facilities built after 1999 be accessible to all, government enforcement was ineffective. Older buildings frequently lacked access for persons with disabilities. There were no appropriate institutions for adults with mental disabilities who were in need of long-term care.
The amended People with Disabilities Law, which extended the ombudsman’s authority to cover discrimination based on disabilities in both the private and public sectors, had not been fully implemented by year’s end. Problems facing persons with disabilities included narrow or nonexistent sidewalks and lack of transport, parking spaces, accessible toilets, and elevators. During the year the ombudsman examined two complaints of discrimination against persons with disabilities. The ombudsman investigated a complaint by the Association of Parents of Persons with Mental Disabilities that persons with mental disabilities were discriminated against in relation to persons with other disabilities in the area of subsidized transport. The investigation did not establish discriminatory treatment but recommended to the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance the immediate amendment of government programs to allow subsidies for the general transport of persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities, and a special subsidy for their transport to schools, care centers, and related places.
There are no long-term care facilities specifically for persons with mental disabilities, but many such persons were housed at the Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital. In February parents of children with special needs complained to the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights about a lack of services and opportunities for children with severe forms of mental disability after they graduated from special school at the age of 21. According to a study presented at a meeting of the committee in May 2010, one in three patients discharged from the Athalassa facility lived in a retirement home and experienced difficulty integrating into society. Ten percent of these former patients were under the age of 30. Members of the committee noted there was no infrastructure to support mental health patients with the result that, when they left the psychiatric hospital, their medication was stopped. There were no programs for their social integration or aftercare in general, a situation that could lead to serious problems.
In November the House Committee on Human Rights discussed the lack of reintegration plans for psychiatric patients discharged from the Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital. According the information presented to the committee by the Social Welfare Services, 300 former patients of the hospital were at the time living in homes for the elderly due to lack of half-way houses. Members of the committee pointed out that there has been no progress in developing any reintegration plans and improving benefits to persons with psychiatric conditions. One committee member stressed that existing legislation discriminates against psychiatric patients, entitling them to lower benefits than persons with other disabilities.
On December 13, the ombudsman, in her capacity as the head of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, visited Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital and collected material for a report with recommendations for the improvement of patients’ living conditions and the protection of their rights.
In August 2010 the Paraplegics Association complained that new public buses, introduced in June of that year as part of the overhaul of the public transport system, did not meet the needs of wheelchair users in that they only had space for one wheelchair instead of two. After a meeting with the minister of communications and works in September 2010, the Paraplegics Association stated that the government had agreed that all future orders for buses would provide for two wheelchair spaces. The government also agreed to modify buses then in use if demand showed a need for two wheelchair spaces.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The minister of labor and social insurance chaired the Pancyprian Council for Persons with Disabilities, which included representatives of government services, organizations representing persons with disabilities, and employer and employee organizations. The council monitored actions that affected the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and served as a forum for such persons to contribute to public policy.
Several incidents of government and societal discrimination against members of minority national and ethnic groups occurred during the year.
On February 16, approximately150 Greek Cypriot and 25 Palestinian students clashed at a high school in Larnaca. Three students, a Greek Cypriot and two Palestinians, suffered light injuries and received first aid. The incident was attributed to increased tensions between Greek Cypriot residents of Larnaca and Palestinian refugees who had settled in the city. The government, the school parents association, and the student council condemned the incident.
On March 23, police charged 14 persons for rioting and, in some cases, causing bodily harm in connection with the November 2010 clashes in Larnaca between participants in an antiracism NGO event, the Rainbow Festival, and demonstrators marching against the presence of undocumented migrants. One Turkish Cypriot, a member of a music group participating in the NGO event, was stabbed and several police officers and demonstrators injured. The mosque in Larnaca was vandalized following the riot. Nine of the persons charged participated in the Rainbow Festival, and the other five participated in a demonstration against undocumented migrants. Doros Polycarpou, the executive director of KISA, one of the organizers of the antiracism event, was among those charged with rioting. The hearing of Polycarpou’s case was scheduled for February 2012 after two postponements in July and December. International human rights groups following the case protested the delays in the hearing. In a joint statement on December 13, a delegation of eight international organizations protested the cancellation of its meetings with government officials to discuss the case. Two of the other persons charged were accused of publicly insulting Doros Polycarpou.
In March the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) issued a report assessing the situation in Cyprus. Among several areas that needed improvement, the report noted that legislation against racism was rarely implemented and no records were kept on discrimination cases that reached the courts. It noted a disproportionately high concentration of Turkish Cypriot and Romani children in certain schools and a lack of educational access for the Romani children living in the Polemidia area outside of Limassol, a situation described as de facto segregation from the general population. The report also noted a marked increase in racism in schools and a rise in prominence of extremist and anti-immigration groups.
In November the ombudsman issued a report expressing serious concern over the increase of racist attacks in Cyprus and calling on the authorities to take immediate measures to locate and punish the perpetrators of such incidents. After examining a series of attacks against foreigners in Nicosia in August for which no suspects had been arrested and convicted, the ombudsman made a series of recommendations to improve the situation.
During the year there was one report of violence against a Turkish Cypriot in the government-controlled area. In January a Turkish Cypriot man was reportedly attacked after an Apoel-Omonia soccer game, in the presence of his wife and child. The victim stated he did not file a complaint with the Greek Cypriot police because of a lack of action in other similar cases.
Some Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area reportedly faced difficulties obtaining identification cards and other government documents, particularly if they were born after 1974. Turkish Cypriots made few formal complaints to the UNFICYP about their living conditions in the south.
The ombudsman received complaints that the government denied automatic citizenship to children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Instead of granting citizenship automatically to such children, the Ministry of Interior routinely sought approval from the Council of Ministers before confirming their citizenship. In 2011 the Council of Ministers approved 119 cases. The ombudsman’s office had no authority to examine the complaints because the Council of Ministers decision to apply different criteria for granting citizenship to children born to one Turkish parent was a political one. Children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens and living outside of Cyprus were automatically granted citizenship. However, the ombudsman’s office issued a report in August following the receipt of a large number of complaints from children of Turkish Cypriots married to non-Cypriots for long delays in receiving a response to their applications for citizenship. The majority of the cases were pending for three years and in some cases for four to five years. The ombudsman recommended that the Ministry of Interior expedite the examination of the applications, inform the applicants before the end of the year, and inform those deemed ineligible in writing about the reasons for rejection. The ombudsman also urged the ministry to examine such applications in the future within a reasonable period of time.
Despite legal protections, gay men and lesbians faced significant societal discrimination, and few lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons were open about their sexual orientation. In May 2010 the first LGBT organization, Accept LGBT Cyprus, announced its operation and organized a series of events. The events were covered by the media and there was no negative public reaction. On October 19, Interior Minister Sylikiotis stated that the application of Accept-Cyprus to register as an association was accepted and the relevant certificate of registration was issued.
In November the press reported that a Foreign Ministry attache complained to the ombudsman that the ministry excluded him from a specific overseas assignment because of his sexual orientation. The permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry rejected the allegation on the grounds that the attache lacked the necessary experience for the specific appointment he had requested.
A report published in May by ILGA Europe (Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- and Intersex People in Europe) listed Cyprus among the countries that were not advancing towards greater recognition of rights for LGBT persons. The report noted that Cyprus lacked specific LGBT antidiscrimination legislation.
An NGO reported complaints of discrimination toward persons with HIV/AIDS and asserted that HIV-positive individuals faced social exclusion and termination from employment. The director of a clinic treating HIV-positive persons stated in December that due to prevailing prejudice, the majority of patients did not reveal their condition to their colleagues and some, not even to their families.
An NGO working on human rights issues reported receiving two death threats during the year. NGO personnel reported both to the police, who took note of the information and made some recommendations regarding personal safety.
Government-approved textbooks used at the primary and secondary school levels included language that was biased against Turkish Cypriots and Turks or refrained from mentioning the Turkish Cypriot community altogether. In addition, there were anecdotal reports of teachers using handouts or leading classroom discussions that included inflammatory language.
In March 2010 the minister of education announced that a special government committee established in 2008 to examine the question of education reform had completed work on a set of curricula on all subjects, including history. Implementation of the history curriculum was scheduled to begin in September 2011, but controversy over new language led to a postponement that had not been resolved at year’s end. Although teachers were instructed to use a variety of sources to promote critical thinking and avoid indoctrination by encouraging class discussion and asking students to consult alternative sources, an NGO involved with the training commented that, without evaluation, it could not be determined whether teachers acted as instructed in the classroom. The Ministry of Education ran seminars for teachers on promoting diversity in religion. However, a new textbook with a more diverse viewpoint was withdrawn prior to its introduction. According to one Ministry of Education official, the lack of education on LGBT issues in the education system contributed to the stigmatization of LGBT persons in schools.
All workers, except members of the police and military forces, have the legal right to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. Police officers could form associations that had the right to bargain collectively. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. With the exception of members of the armed forces, police, and gendarmerie, all workers, including migrant and foreign workers, have the right to strike. The law provides for collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination is illegal.
Workers exercised the right to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively in practice. More than 70 percent of the workforce belonged to independent unions. The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference. Authorities have the power to curtail strikes in “essential services,” but this power was used rarely in practice. An agreement between the government and essential services personnel provides for dispute resolution and protects workers in the sector. Although collective bargaining agreements are not legally binding, their terms were effectively observed by employers and employees. Collective bargaining agreements covered approximately 60 percent of workers, both citizens and foreigners. Workers covered by such agreements were predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, the health industry, and manufacturing.
Union leaders contended that private sector employers were able to discourage union activity because the enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination was sporadic and penalties for antiunion practices were minimal.
The government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. However, NGOs reported isolated cases of asylum seekers subjected to forced labor in agriculture.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance continued to receive complaints of labor exploitation. Foreign workers, primarily from Eastern Europe and East and South Asia, were reportedly forced to work up to 13 hours a day, seven days a week, for very low wages. NGOs confirmed that employers often retained a portion of foreign workers’ salaries as payment for accommodations. The ombudsman reported that her office received a number of complaints during the year, and their investigation was pending.
Many domestic workers were reluctant to report contract violations by their employers out of fear of losing their jobs and consequently their work and residency permits. An NGO reported that there were cases of domestic workers whose travel documents were withheld by their employers. Two cases involving mistreatment of foreign domestic workers by their employers were pending trial at year’s end. In one of the cases pending before the court, the employer, who was a member of the fire service, was ordered by the service, following a disciplinary investigation, to pay a 170- euro ($220) fine for misconduct. He appealed the decision, and a final decision on the appeal was pending at year’s end. The domestic worker was identified as a victim of trafficking for labor exploitation.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
The law prohibits the employment of children, defined as persons under 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who have attained the age of 14 or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to certain rules limiting work hours. Nighttime work and engagement of children in street trading is prohibited. The law also permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons between the ages of 15 and 18, provided it is not harmful, damaging, or dangerous, and also subject to rules limiting hours of employment. Employment of adolescents between midnight and 4:00 a.m. is not permitted. The minimum age for employment in an “industrial undertaking” is 16.
The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors are responsible for enforcing the child labor laws and did so effectively. There were isolated examples of children under 16 working for family businesses.
Although there is no national minimum wage, there is a minimum wage for certain groups that are deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The official poverty line is set at 2,062 euros ($2,680) a month for a family of four; the rate was established in 2009. The minimum wage for shop assistants, nurses’ assistants, clerks, hairdressers, and nursery assistants was 855 euros ($1,110) per month for the first six months and 909 euros ($1,180) per month thereafter. For asylum seekers working in the agricultural sector, the minimum monthly wage was either 425 euros ($553) with accommodation and food provided or 767 euros ($997) without accommodation and food.
The minimum starting salary for foreign nationals working as live-in housekeepers was 456 euros ($593) per month. Medical insurance, visa fees, travel, and repatriation expenses were covered by the employers. Cabaret performers’ contracts typically stipulated that they receive at least 205 euros ($267) per week for 36 hours of work. Workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor, were covered under collective bargaining agreements. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the minimum wage.
Foreign workers were allowed to claim pensions, and in some cases bilateral agreements existed that allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. Unions and labor confederations were generally effective in enforcing negotiated wage rates (collectively bargained rates), which were generally much higher than the minimum wage. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not actively do so.
The legal maximum workweek was 48 hours, including overtime. Unions and employers within the same economic sector collectively determined the actual working hours. In the private sector, white-collar employees typically worked 39 hours a week, and blue-collar employees worked 38 hours a week. In the public sector, the workweek was 38 hours in the winter and 35 hours in the summer. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods; however, these benefits were sometimes stipulated in contracts and collective agreements. The law provides that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. Labor ministry inspectors are responsible for enforcing these laws. Labor unions, however, reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in the building industry, exploited illegal foreign workers by paying them very low wages.
There were reports that foreign domestic workers, primarily from East or South Asia, were mistreated by their employers or fired without cause in violation of their contracts. Some domestic workers, particularly live-in maids, reported working excess hours for employer families at all times, night and day, without additional compensation or time off. Although the law protects domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from being deported until their cases have been adjudicated, NGOs reported that many domestic workers did not complain to authorities about mistreatment due to fear of deportation.
Ministry of Labor inspectors were responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. The Ministry of Labor and labor unions reported that health and safety laws were satisfactorily enforced but that more needed to be done. The minister of labor stated in October that the majority of accidents involved non-Cypriots who were employed illegally. All four workers killed in work-related accidents in 2011 were non-Cypriots. Factory inspectors processed complaints and inspected businesses to ensure that occupational safety laws were observed. Their inspections were supported by close government cooperation with employer and employee organizations. However, inspections did not occur in private households where persons were employed as domestic servants.
From January to the end of September, four persons were killed in work-related accidents. In 2010 there were 20 workplace fatalities, 11 of which were migrant workers.
Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 - Cyprus, Republic of (Periodical Report, English)