The Office for Combating Discrimination of the Police, set up in 2005 with the mandate of, inter alia, recording of racial incidents, [1]  has recently published on its website data concerning racial incidents between 2005-2010. The table with the data in Greek is available at:$file/Racial_Incidentsgr.doc

whilst the table with the data in English is available at:$file/Racial_Incidentsen.doc

The incidents recorded led to a total of 18 convictions. Although the police declined requests to provide details about these convictions, it is believed that at least 16 of them concern the same incident, which took place in 2006, and the other two convictions concerned another single event. Thus in 5 years since the police records racial incidents, only two cases were filed in court on racially motivated crimes.

The data recorded by no means reflects the picture on the ground. Constraints related to the under-resourcing of this Unit and the lack of training of the policemen mandated with the recording of the incidents. The Head of this unit was interviewed for the purposes of a study carried out by the author for a FRA study in 2010, where he explained that his department is understaffed and underfunded and additionally mandated with two other authorities, that of domestic violence and child abuse as well as youth delinquency, adding that often he is confronted with the choice of prioritising between the different pressing needs of the authorities he is heading and saving children from imminent child abuse is prioritised higher than recording racial incidents, which are, at any rate, relatively few in number. The officer acknowledged that the problem of racist crime is certainly much more serious than what is recorded, essentially because there is under-reporting by the victims; he denied any attempt by the police to cover-up or under-record racist crime.[2] The officer was forthcoming and frank in admitting the weaknesses of the current recording mechanism and discussed the difficulties involved in the establishment of a credible, accurate and effective recording system. When asked to comment on the fact that there is an abundance of racial abuse and incitement to racial and other hatred on Cypriot-based websites and blogs, the officer responded that he is aware of this but the resources required to deal with these, in terms of prosecution of these sites are such that go beyond the current priorities.

The lack of resources of this police special unit and the absence of legislation regulating the collection of data, are not the only obstacles to the accurate and rigorous collection of data. An Equality Body investigation in 2008[3] showed that the Police Bureau for Combating Discrimination whose mandate was extended on 11.02.2008 following the equality body’s recommendation, to cover and record not only racial offences but also racial incidents (as defined inter alia by the victim), does not have any mechanism in place to record racial incidents; only a small number of racial offences were recorded none of which led to any conviction. This is, according to the Equality Body, evident of the role of the police in handing the investigation and the criminal procedure. It also emerged from the investigation that the system of recording racial offences is such that, unless the investigating officer chooses to classify an offence as racial, the Police Bureau for Combating Discrimination is not informed of the incident at all.  The head of the Police Bureau for Combating Discrimination admitted that no special training is offered to police officers on the identification and recording of racial motive and expressed the view that the change of mentality within the police body will come gradually through experience. The Head of the Police Bureau for Combating Discrimination informed the equality body that in the particular case under investigation, which involved a group attack by Cypriots against a group of migrants in the rural village of Ypsonas,  there did not seem to be a prima facie case of offences in violation of the anti-discrimination legislation, a view which was strongly criticised in the equality body report. The equality body referred to the Second and Third ECRI reports on Cyprus of 03.07.2001 and 16.05.2006 respectively which noted that the legislative provisions relating to racism are not adequately implemented, that awareness of these laws is low amongst legal circles and the public at large, that the police is not adequately trained to identify and address racial motive, that racial crime is not adequately recorded and that the bodies involved in the criminal justice process are not adequately aware of the need to address racism. Reference was also made to the reports of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights where the data collection carried out by Cyprus appears to be inadequate. The equality body concludes that previous investigations have also shown the failure to prosecute racial incidents, adding that although the legislative framework appears to be adequate, the authorities stubbornly refuse to prosecute racial incidents reported by victims or by NGOs or appearing in the media. The report notes with concern the fact that in the incident under investigation the migrants attacked did not file a complaint with the police, which indicates that vulnerable groups feel discouraged from reporting racial incidents for fear of deportation or for lack of trust in the police. At the same time, the underreporting phenomenon shows a general failure of the existing system to record the real picture of racism in Cyprus.

This report was not the first instance where the police’s recording mechanism was criticised. Similar comments were made both by the Equality Body both before and after this report, with emphasis on the inadequacy of the system of recording racist incidents maintained by the police who clearly make an underestimation of the problem.[4] The inadequacies of the recording mechanism of the police were also highlighted by ECRI reports on Cyprus in 2006 and 2011.

[2]Interview with the officer in charge of the Police Bureau for Combating Discrimination 19.08.2010.

[3] Equality body report Ref. ΑΚΡ/ΑΥΤ 2/2008, dated 26.01.2009.

[4] Similar comments where made by the Equality Body in previous reports: Ref. ΑΚR 37/2005, dated 11.07.2005; Ref. ΑΚR 7/2006, dated 01.08.2007; and Ref. ΑΚR/ΑΥΤ 2/2008, dated 26.01.2009.