Last edited: February 14, 2005

Cyprus should lift gay ban, European official says

Reuters, May 14, 1998

By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA -- A senior Council of Europe official urged Cyprus on Thursday to decriminalise homosexuality, arguing that the ban clashed with the principle of safeguarding human rights.

"Cyprus has no choice, no real choice in fact,'' Hans Christian Kruger, Deputy Secretary General of the 40-nation Council of Europe, said on the sidelines of an informal European sport ministers' meeting in Nicosia.

Cyprus has been under pressure to ditch a 99-year-old law criminalising homosexual activity since a ruling of the European Court of Justice in 1993 that sympathised with a Cypriot's fight to overturn the law.

Cypriot government officials openly advocate a change but are having a hard time convincing parliament to act before the end of May, their self- imposed deadline.

"This is an international obligation which the country has and must comply with ... You can prolong it here and there, but not in the long run,'' Kruger told Reuters in an interview.

"I believe that this country, with a solid human rights record, would not wish to be in breach of the European Convention of Human rights.''

Cyprus is the only member of the Council of Europe with laws banning homosexual behaviour.

Under the law, first promulgated in 1889, gay men can be imprisoned for up to seven years for sodomy. Cypriot authorities say the law is a dead letter, but gay rights' campaigners say its mere existence is enough to be concerned.

The dominant Greek Orthodox Church and religious groups are happy to leave things the way they are. Lifting a ban on homosexuality would taint traditional values, they say.

Last year monks and priests picketed parliament after rumours that parliamentarians would rush the amendment through.

There may be a repeat performance this year -- the issue is set to go to open debate in parliament on May 21 or 28.

The changes sought would allow intercourse between two consenting adults over the age of 18.

"There is an urgent need now to come to some rapport... I really don't know what would happen if the law is not changed,'' said Kruger, referring to some news reports that the island could even face expulsion from the Council of Europe if it fails to comply with the court ruling.

Locally, advocates of the change have long argued that non compliance would make Cyprus look hypocritical -- a country that is selective on human rights at home while frequently accusing Turkey of mass abuses. Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup.

But anti-gay activists, convinced all hell will let loose if the law is scrapped, are already doing their homework.

Newspapers have reported that the church has sent letters to each MP urging them to vote against proposed changes.

Petitions distributed by religious groups urge the public to condemn the "legalisation'' of homosexuality as a "sinful and heinous act against the law of God and natural law.''

Kruger dismissed suggestions the change would encourage perceived perversion and debauchery.

"This has been applied to other parts of the world as well and it hasn't led to an erosion of ethics there. We are talking about a person's private life, what they do in private. Many would say this hasn't got anything to do with ethics at all.''

[Home] [News] [Cyprus]