Last edited: February 14, 2005

Repressive "Reform" In Cyprus: Will They Get Away With It?

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
For Immediate Release
Contact: Sydney Levy  or Scott Long

After four years of international pressure, the parliament of the Republic of Cyprus voted May 21 to change its law criminalizing consensual homosexual relations between adults. However, the new law appears to be even more repressive than the old one.

The law would punish "encouraging" homosexuality, as well as public manifestations of it--including placing personals ads for gay partners. According to Scott Long, European researcher for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), "The new law is no "reform" at all, but a new, improved instrument of repression. It threatens not only privacy but basic freedoms of expression and association."

Article 171 of the Cypriot penal code punished "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" with five years' imprisonment. In 1993, the European Court of Human Rights found that the law violated privacy protections in Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Cyprus was required to repeal the law.

The Cypriot House of Representatives stalled decriminalization proposals, however, during the ensuing four-year debate. The dominant Orthodox Church militantly opposed changes, and threatened to excommunicate parliamentarians who supported them. Finally, the Council of Europe--an umbrella organization of European states, Eastern as well as Western, which is larger and less integrated than the European Union (EU)--threatened Cyprus with expulsion if the law was not repealed by May 29 of this year.

The deadlock was broken only days before the deadline, when Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostom declared he would accept limited changes which ensured that homosexuality was not "promoted."

The outcome
The compromise bill passed with 36 votes in favor and 8 against. Details of its contents have been slow to emerge. However, according to reports in the Cypriot press, the new law replaces the gender-neutral reference to "carnal knowledge," contained in the old Article 171, with references to "unnatural licentiousness between men." It criminalizes placing advertisements to ask for gay partners, as well as making "indecent proposals," and contains other ambiguous phrases designed to ensure that homosexuality is not "encouraged." It is also reported that stipulated penalties for homosexual rape are significantly higher than those for the heterosexual crime.

The Cyprus Mail, a local newspaper, calls the bill "ridiculous, petulant, and spiteful." Local activist Alecos Modinos, who brought the 1993 case before the European Court, told the press that "They have abolished one law to make another one much worse."

Amnesty International also condemned the law, saying that "We believe that discrimination against homosexuals continues because the sentences provided for under the new law are not analogous with those stipulated for the same crimes committed by heterosexuals."

Basic freedoms under threat
The new law threatens to relegate gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to permanent second-class citizenship, by ensuring that a range of rights including free speech and freedom of association will be denied them.

A 1994 decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, known as Toonen v. Australia, held that such discriminatory enjoyment of rights based on sexual orientation violates international law.

Scott Long of IGLHRC noted that the Cypriot situation resembles strategies used in recent years by the government of Romania to evade its international responsibilities. "When the Council of Europe demanded that Romania repeal a similar sodomy law, they responded with legislation that apparently permitted 'private' acts, but actually punished with imprisonment any public expression, endorsement, or approval of homosexuality."

Long said the key test now will be whether the Council of Europe continues to exert pressure, or accepts the new Cypriot law as a genuine reform.

"Other European institutions must also take a stand," he said. "Cyprus wants to join the European Union. The EU has an opportunity to make clear that candidates for membership cannot legislate away basic human rights."

"This fraudulent 'reform' puts new pressure on international organizations and European institutions," Long says. "They must now prove they believe in full and equal rights for everyone--and will not be satisfied by cosmetic and misleading legal change."


The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
advocates for a world in which the fundamental human rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people and people with HIV/AIDS are respected and accorded the protection of international human rights law.

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