Until today, Cypriots have not adequately addressed hate speech and hate crime.
Perpetrators of such crimes have mostly gone unpunished and the incidents have largely been overlooked so as ‘not to damage relations between the two communities’, ‘not to draw attention to the act and therefore encourage’, or on grounds that ‘the act is isolated and not systematic’.
However, as we inch towards a settlement in what many see as the best chance for the reunification of Cyprus, it is high time that we demand a sound legal framework – both at federal and constituent states’ level – and strict enforcement to address cases of hate speech and hate crimes.
A zero-tolerance approach to such acts by all the institutions of the federation will be vital for the successful re-integration of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and the restoration of trust and confidence in a reunited island.
These are ‘acts committed to intimidate, harm or terrify not only a person, but an entire group of people, where the victims are targeted for who they are, not because of anything they have done’.
There have been many cases of hate crimes – mostly against Turkish Cypriots – in the 14 years since the crossing points have been opened.
Most of the time, it was not the extremists who committed the crime that cause the main concern, but the reported inaction of the police, the judiciary, and the tolerance of the state as a whole.
Such acts and the ensuing impunity, unfortunately, are big factors behind the Turkish Cypriot demand for Turkish guarantees in case of a solution, according to Dr. Alexandros Lordos and Professor Ahmet Sozen, who carried out an extensive security survey recently.
“The Turkish Cypriot concern is that they will be targeted by extremists, and they will not get justice,” said Lordos.
“No one will be punished; impunity will set in as a culture… Many Turkish Cypriots feel that the Turkish army…would be a credible deterrent in the sense that ‘if the Turkish army is here, Greek Cypriot extremists wouldn’t dare’,” he added.
“The narrative is: ‘the Greek Cypriot extreme groups are doing it now in the presence of the Turkish army. Imagine what would happen if there was no army’,” said Sozen.
“Over and over in our research, Turkish Cypriots demonstrated this concern of ‘will the Greek Cypriot police or legal system be ethnically blind, will I have justice’ in cases of hate crimes committed against me,” he added.
The future Federal Cyprus, with all its institutions and through exemplary penalties, should demonstrate that hate speech and hate crime will not be tolerated.
Unity, reconciliation and coexistence in Cyprus depends on this.
And ultimately the best guarantee for both communities in a federal Cyprus will be ethnically blind, communally unbiased, effective institutions – from judiciary to police – that offer equal treatment and justice to all its citizens, and a school system that has reconciliatory teaching and peaceful coexistence as its focus.