THE LARNACA criminal court may have found four of the six defendants in the Mari case guilty but the overriding impression among the relatives of the men who perished in the blast was that justice had not been done. Demetris Christofias, the man who was president at the time and had decided to store the 98 containers with the munitions in Cyprus in order to keep the governments of Syria and Iran happy had not even been charged.
“The main guilty party was missing from the courtroom,” said a relative of one of the victims yesterday. A public inquiry held in the aftermath of the blast of July 11, 2011 concluded that Christofias was politically responsible but both the then president and his party AKEL declared that they did not accept the one-man committee’s findings. Christofias never bothered to apologise to the relatives of the victims for fear of this being construed as an admission of culpability, making matters worse.
For the relatives and for a large section of the public it was incomprehensible that the man who had taken the decision to keep the containers in Cyprus, refusing to give them to the UN – he even turned down the UN offer to send inspectors to check the containers and destroy the munitions – would suffer no consequences. According to the law a president cannot be charged for offences committed during his term once he has left office. As a consequence the sense of injustice felt by the relatives will remain even if the four men found guilty are handed prison sentences.
But why is a president granted immunity from prosecution for offences he may have committed during his term in office? What is the legal rationale behind this constitutional provision? All it does is encourage the head of state to behave arbitrarily, irresponsibly and recklessly. Can we talk of rule of law in Cyprus when the head of state is not subject to the same laws as the rest of the population and can get away with murder?
Nobody could be certain that Christofias would have been found guilty of manslaughter if he had appeared in court for the Mari blast but people would have been reassured that nobody was above the law or exempt from prosecution. As things are now the head of state is free to bankrupt the state, obliterate the economy and cause death and suffering with impunity. In totalitarian states this is the norm but in a democracy everyone should answerable to the law.
In Cyprus, this is not the case, which is why the relatives of the Mari victims will always believe that justice was not done.