Mr Christophi gave a presentation on a controversial matter regarding the Cypriot Society. Cyprus has usually followed a patriarchal approach when it comes down to the protection of human rights. Traditionally, the man, being the most powerful figure in the house, had a lot more rights than the woman. He was the one that had to be respected since he brought the food and the money to the house. The females were treated as second-class citizens.
After the Turkish invasion of 1974, the government of Cyprus started providing housing and financial help to displaced people. In particular, the Department of Labour was responsible for defining who would be eligible for this help. In other words, who would be considered a “displaced person?” The Department concluded that a “displaced person” is someone who lost his permanent residence as a result of the conflict.
The definition that the Department provided also included the children whose father was displaced, but not the children whose mother was displaced. This decision was not taken in any legal or formal way. A government official made this decision in secrecy, based on old-fashioned societal perceptions that women do not work, so they do not contribute to the family income. The presumption was that they should stay at home and take care of the house and the children.
In Vrountou v. Republic of Cyprus, a case that was discussed in detail during the seminar, Ms Vrountou was denied help from the government since the displaced relative of hers was her mother and not her father. Mr Christophi, Ms Vrountou’s lawyer, had already informed her that her application to receive financial assistance from the state would be rejected. Moreover, she and her husband were aware that the application and the legal procedure would take a long time. However, they decided that the money and the years that would be spent were worthwhile to challenge gender inequality. So they proceeded with exhausting domestic remedies, a process that took 6 years.
The ECHR proceedings took 9 years to complete. Mr Christophi based his arguments on Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom from discrimination, and Article 13, which is concerned with the provision of effective remedies. He argued before the Court that the Republic’s assumption that only the man is the breadwinner in a family was based on old perceptions and was not supported by any actual research. As a result, this did not provide a reasonable justification for treating women differently to men. Agreeing with this argument, the ECHR found a violation of Article 14 and, in response, the Cypriot government has issued a new certificate to people whose mother is a displaced person. While these people are now entitled to receive financial assistance by the government, they still do not have the same rights as the children of male refugees.
Mr Christophi further submitted in Court that Cyprus systematically avoids doing research on gender discrimination. In 1996, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in its concluding observations, noted several infringements of human rights against women in Cyprus. Women were not represented in the political life to a satisfactory extent and were also absent from higher positions in the civil service. Moreover, the Committee was concerned about the trafficking of women, sexual exploitation, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace. Finally, the Committee expressed its concern that women were not remunerated equally to men for work of equal value.
Finally, the European Court found that a violation of Article 13 arose from the Cypriot Courts’ refusal to decide the substance of the case in the first place. This is a frequent phenomenon in Cypriot Courts, which do not look into cases in depth, by arguing that they do not have jurisdiction over the matter. This, it was held, violated the right to effective remedy.
In conclusion, when decisions of the government or political personalities are clouded in secrecy, democracy is undermined, which might lead to institutional discrimination. A line has to be drawn in order to avoid the normalization of deviance. This becomes even more necessary when we are dealing with issues that concern human rights and equality before the law.
Written by Antonia Michaelidi, 2nd Year LLB Student