Committee concerned about treatment of migrants and enforced disappearances in Cyprus

Published on 16 Jul 2023, 08:21 PM

The Human Rights Committee reviewed Cyprus on 28 and 30 June 2023

Iakovos Hatzistavrou | AFP

The Human Rights Committee reviewed Cyprusfifth State report on the implementation of the ICCPR in 2023. Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, but the Northeastern part of the island (36%) is occupied by Turkey. The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey, and the State delegation, governing the rest of the island, the Republic of Cyprus, mentioned that the dialogue would only concern the parts of the island that they have effective control over, excluding the Northeastern part.

The dialogue was constructive, the delegation was well-prepared and was able to reply to most of the questions. However, we regret that almost no civil society followed the dialogue in Palais Wilson, especially given the fact that the Cypriot government seemed open to their participation.

Enforced disappearances from the previous century still being investigated

The Committee asked for an update on the remaining missing persons from events in 1963, 1964 and 1974. A Domestic Committee on Missing Persons was established, which has continued to investigate cases from Greek and Cypriot communities. Remains of disappeared persons continue to be identified, but the numbers are decreasing gradually. According to the delegation, this is due to the passage of time, the death of witnesses and changes in the geomorphology of the country. According to the delegation, that is not something they can do much about, especially in the occupied part of the country, because Turkey does not sincerely cooperate on these issues. The delegation also underlined the need for the Turkish authorities to release information from their military archives and provide unimpeded access to military zones for excavations. Access to military areas in the Republic of Cyprus has never been impeded, said the delegation.

Regarding investigations, the delegation clarified that the Committee on Missing Persons, following the terms of reference, does not attribute guilt or determine the cause of death. However, if relevant information occurs, this is investigated by a Special unit within the police department. Currently, 44 cases are ongoing. There have not been any convictions due to insufficient evidence: there are often no eyewitnesses, and if there are any, they refuse to provide written statements, which means they cannot be brought to court. There is also a lot of hearsay, which cannot be used in court either.

The Human Rights Committee referred to a report from the Working Group on enforced disappearances, which visited Cyprus in 2022. It noted considerable progress, but was concerned that there were no recent prosecutions for enforced disappearances. The Committee asked whether the Cypriot government plans to add enforced disappearances to the penal code as a crime, and whether it planned to establish a truth and reconciliation mechanisms for the events of 1963, ’64 and ’74. The response of the delegation was that a Truth and Reconciliation Committee is not on the table at the moment.

Approach on migrants raises many questions

The Committee had several concerns about the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Cyprus. There are reports about discrimination and racism of children and their limited access to health care and social services because of the legal status or the nationality of their parents. There is overcrowding in the reception centers, which causes challenges to the sanitary conditions and orderly processing of cases. There are also reports of 700 Syrians being pushed back to Turkey, and this does not comply with Cyprus’ international obligations under non-refoulement.

The delegation was firm in its answer that “it does not do any pushbacks”, despite several civil society reports in recent years.

The delegation referred to the EU regulations on multiple occasions, and said that it has taken measures to deal with the challenges: they are amending legislation to distinguish the “normal” and the “accelerated” procedure, to ensure that inadmissible applications are processed faster so that there is more time for genuine applications. Cyprus also extended the list of safe countries to 27. The question is whether these measures are in line with Cyprus’ international human rights obligations.

The Committee also asked clarifications about the green line, the demilitarized zone established after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It wanted to know what policies are in place for asylum seekers who cross the green line, and whether they can submit an asylum claim at any point of entry into the country. The delegation stressed that the green line “is not a border, it is a sui generis situation”. Regular crossings can only be done at the external and territorial borders, not at the green line, but asylum claims are accepted at the green line.

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Cyprus' fifth periodic report were released on 27 July 2023. The State party is requested to provide, by July 2026, information on the implementation of the following recommendations:

Non-discrimination, hate speech and hate crime

The State party should intensify its efforts to combat hate speech and incitement to discrimination or violence on the grounds of, inter alia, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, with particular attention to rural areas, in accordance with articles 19 and 20 of the Covenant and the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The State party should, inter alia:

  • (a) Promptly elaborate and adopt the proposed national action plan to combat discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, age, disability, ethnicity and religion, ensuring effective consultation of civil society;
  • (b) Take effective measures to prevent and sanction both online and offline hate speech, and improve the collection of disaggregated data on discrimination, hate speech and hate crime;
  • (c) Strengthen awareness-raising efforts aimed at promoting respect for human rights and for diversity, and eradicating prejudices based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • (d) Encourage the reporting of hate crimes and ensure that such crimes are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if found guilty, appropriately punished, and that victims receive full reparation;
  • (e) Reinforce cooperation among relevant stakeholders, including civil society, and provide adequate training to national and local authorities, law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors on addressing hate speech and hate crimes and to media workers to promote the principles of equality and diversity.

Liberty and security of person

In the light of the Committee’s general comment No. 35 (2014) on liberty and security of person, the State party should:

  • (a) Ensure that statutory limits to the duration of pretrial detention are enforced;
  • (b) Increase the availability of and recourse to alternatives to pretrial detention, in the light of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules);
  • (c) Ensure that persons awaiting deportation are detained for the shortest period of time necessary and adopt alternatives to detaining migrants and asylumseekers whenever possible;
  • (d) Guarantee that persons being held in pretrial detention are held separately from convicted prisoners.

Right to participate in public life

The State party should take immediate steps to remove all barriers in law and practice inhibiting Turkish Cypriots as well as persons with physical, intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities from exercising their right to vote and stand for elections, giving full effect to the right of every citizen to participate in public affairs without discrimination and guaranteeing the full participation in political life of Turkish Cypriots and of persons with physical, intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities.

Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Cyprus on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2026. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2029, and the next periodic report is due in 2030.

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