Police should know better

CYPRUS MAIL - 21 FEB 2013By Poly PentalidesTHE OMBUDSWOMAN has issued a guideline to police to remedy the lack of understanding about appropriate action when holding trans people in detention, following a complaint by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that reported a trans woman had been kept in men’s holding cells. The woman was arrested on suspicion of running a brothel in January but “lacking any instructions” police placed her alone, in an empty holding block reserved for minor boys. She has since been released, but the office of the Ombudswoman, Eliza Savvidou, issued a report on how LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex) people should be treated. “This particular case… has demonstrated awkwardness in handling similar cases since lacking any instructions, the sole criterion for treating the arrested woman as a man was her ID,” Savvidou said in her report. Savvidou has recommended that police detain trans people in relation to their perceived gender identity, with sensitivity to the vulnerability of such individuals, who are often subject to discrimination and abuse.There is also legal precedence in the European Court of Human Rights that has made it clear that people have an inalienable right of self-determination to define their gender, Savvidou said. Although the Ombudswoman said the supervising police officer “chose the best possible arrangement” under the circumstances, she said it was clear the force needed to instruct its members about how to treat trans people under their care. “It must be clear that every police member ought to know, respect and protect individual and social rights of all members of the public, as well as (know) the specific rights of all vulnerable social groups and provide every possible help and care to those who need it,” Savvidou said.  The Ombudswoman’s office is also investigating separate complaints by two trans women – an EU citizen and a recognised refugee – who have been unable to change their gender on ID and residence documents. The NGO that filed the complaint, ACCEPT-LGBT Cyprus, has previously criticised the interior ministry’s refusal to let trans people change their names or gender in official documents unless they have had reconstruction surgery. ACCEPT has said this violates people’s rights by intervening in their lives on various levels. However, one of the complaints under investigation at the Ombudswoman’s office concerns a woman who has had surgery but is still facing difficulties in changing official documentation in Cyprus. Savvidou’s report indirectly touched on this issue by clarifying that gender identity was a personal matter relating to how individuals perceive their gender “which may or may not coincide with the given gender at birth”. It is not necessary to have undergone genital reconstructive surgery to be a trans person although trans people may choose to do this, and may alter their appearance or behaviour, or refer to themselves in whatever gender is appropriate, the Ombudswoman’s said.Protecting LGBT people did not amount to introducing new rights, Savvidou said citing the council of Europe’s former human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg.“This is a misunderstanding. The universal declaration of human rights and the agreed treaties establish that human rights apply to everyone and that no one should be excluded,” Hammarberg said in 2008. In 2006, the Yogyakarta principles were issued to clarify how human rights apply in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Savvidou said those principles indirectly bind Cyprus “since our country is anyway committed to abide by the international law codified in the principles”. This includes treating people in detention with dignity and ensuring prisoners “participate in decisions regarding the place of detention appropriate to their sexual orientation and gender identity” (principle 9c). It also includes taking steps to train and raise awareness for police, prison personnel and relevant officials “who are in a position to perpetrate or prevent (abusive) acts” (principle 10c). Police spokesman Andreas Angelides could not be reached for comment.http://www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/police-need-better-training-trans-issu...

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