Cyprus vows to abolish anti-gay laws

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Series Details Vol.7, No.41, 8.11.01, p13
Publication Date 08/11/2001
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Date: 08/11/01

By Martin Banks

MEPS are celebrating a victory after Cyprus agreed to bring in new anti-sexual discrimination rules following pressure from the European Union.

The move follows growing concern over the way the country treats gay men and women compared with heterosexuals.

The island has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks from MEPs who have opposed Cyprus's accession because of the alleged inequalities.

Dutch deputy Lousewies van der Laan told the Cyprus government that unless discrimination against homosexuals was abolished she and other members would continue to vote against the island's accession.

Cyprus is a front-runner in the enlargement process, but its gay laws are seen as a stumbling-block to its hopes of being among the first wave of successful applicant countries. It has now agreed to change its laws, including a reduction in the age of consent for homosexuals from 18 to 16 and address other issues, such as partnership rights and gay marriages.

In a letter to former Republic of Cyprus president George Vassiliou, head of the island's EU negotiating team, Van der Laan said human rights issues were "not negotiable". While Cyprus fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria for accession, it was "obvious" that discrimination towards homosexuals still existed.

Vassiliou has now replied, saying the country intends to bring in laws which will "eliminate all forms of sexual discrimination".

Van der Laan said she was "delighted" at the Cypriot decision but added that maximum pressure must be put on its government to change its laws without delay. "I hope Mr Vassiliou, as the person responsible for the accession of Cyprus, will do all he can to make sure the rights of minorities in Cyprus are safeguarded, and not to exclude lesbian and gay people."

She added: "I hope that we don't get to a point where everything else is done but not that. That would be very embarrassing for Cyprus."

British MEP Michael Cashman, himself gay, welcomed the Cypriot move, saying: "This is something a lot of MEPs have been campaigning over for some time. It is a welcome move but we must not lose sight of the fact that other candidate countries are still lagging behind in this area. I have just returned from Bulgaria where I stressed to the authorities the need for reform to their laws as well."

He added: "We must stress to such countries that they cannot hope to fulfil the accession criteria unless they respect human rights. Unless they do so, this must remain a major obstacle to their hopes of joining the EU."

Cyprus has agreed to bring in new anti-sexual discrimination rules following pressure from the European Union.

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