The English School

Over the last weeks a smear campaign against individuals in the English School (ES) has been underway. An array of malicious comments targeting human rights defenders in the school have appeared on a website called ‘English School news’ (run by a group named ‘Parents and Alumni initiative’) as well as in various publications in the Greek-Cypriot media. This renders the ES an unsafe place to work and learn; in this way it destabilises the school environment and undermines the efforts of members of the staff and management to integrate respect for human rights and democratic values in the school culture.

At the heart of this campaign lies the desire to deny the right of Turkish-Cypriot students to equality in education in an environment free from racism and discrimination at the ES. The School has been able to re-admit Turkish-Cypriot students in 2003, marking an important step in the direction of multicultural education. Today, that Turkish-Cypriots make up about 10% of the student body, the School’s tradition of academic excellence and all-rounded education for all can only be strengthened by an ethic of coexistence, democracy, and respect for individuals regardless of their origin.

At the same time, it has to be recognised that the last five years have not been without problems in the ES: the claim advanced in the publications names above that ‘the school has never suffered from any problems of racial discrimination, racism or religious intolerance’ flies in the face of many students’ daily experience. Segregation during breaks, vandalisation of school property, the appearance of swastika graffiti, and the repeated vandalisation of the Turkish Studies room are only some examples. The most notorious of these problems was the violent racist attacks against Turkish-Cypriot students in November 2006. It is these incidents that prompted the school authorities to promote measures to ensure a safe school environment, aiming at inclusive education in the ES. To achieve this, and end the cycle of violence that is beginning to be re-enacted in this small community of the school, it is essential to develop ways to combat discrimination, foster inclusive education for all, and enhance the School’s multicultural ethos and character. These human rights values are enshrined fully in the EU acquis, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Cypriot Constitution. Moreover, the Cypriot Antidiscrimination Authority (Ombudsman) has recently recommended that anti-racist education be introduced in all schools as an essential precondition to interculturalism.

The alleged ‘dehellenisation’ of the School is being used in this context to oppose these aims. The depiction of human rights defenders as ‘over-zealous’ and the accusation that they ‘put pressure on Greek-Cypriot students’ ends up tacitly justifying the incidents of racist violence, since these are depicted as a response to such ‘pressure’. Such violence has no place in the ES and cannot be justified under any circumstances. The perpetrators of such violence need to be shown to represent nobody but themselves and cannot be allowed to tarnish the School’s ethos and traditions. The allegations against individual members of staff, who have different ideological backgrounds but share a commitment to equality, antiracism and human rights, and the attempts to single them out for investigation undermine this commitment to equality and anti-racism and are therefore an affront on the defense of human rights.

1. We condemn the incitement to racial hatred and the attempt to create an atmosphere of intimidation against human rights defenders in the school: racial discrimination, abuse and violence constitute gross violations of human rights. Racist practices are an affront to all that the ES stands for and have no place in the school.

2. We oppose attempts to misinform all concerned about the issues at stake as well as the use of any practice that aims to stifle the debate on the present and future of the school.

3. We express our commitment to the eradication of racism in the school and consider this essential to any attempt aiming at the prevention of violence.

4. We urge all in the ES to do their utmost to promote inclusive education for all, academic excellence, democratic citizenship within a multicultural spirit and an ethic of reconciliation.

5. We pledge to defend the intercultural ethos of the ES.

6. We call on all former students, anyone who holds dear the traditions of the ES and all democratically-minded persons to defend the spirit of democratic education, reconciliation and cooperation in the ES by signing this declaration.

The Initiative in support of human rights defenders and inclusive education for all in the English School petition to The English School was written by Provisional Committee (see forum below) and is in the category Education at GoPetition.