By Constantinos Psillides
THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Monday that Turkey should pay €90 million in compensation to the relatives of the missing persons and the enclaved Greek Cypriot residents of the Karpasia peninsula due to violations arising from the Turkish invasion in 1974.
This decision marks the largest sum ever awarded by the ECHR in a case regarding Cypriot refugees and the 1974 invasion.
The ECHR requested that the amount be distributed by the Cypriot government to the individual victims under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The foreign minister of each member states sits on the committee and one of its tasks is to ensure that ECHR decisions are properly implemented.
According to the ruling, €30 million euros are to be distributed to the relatives of missing persons and €60 million to the families of the enclaved.
Turkey is required to comply within 18 months. For every day that passes after the 18 month mark, a penalty will be added.
In its ruling, the ECHR said the passage of time did not absolve Turkey from its responsibility. While the sum was only announced today, the original ECHR judgement was delivered 13 years ago, on 10 May 2001.
The government welcomed the ruling, said government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides in a press release.
Regarding the compensation awarded to relatives of missing persons, Christodoulides stressed that the government is pleased “but will not put an end to efforts aimed at exhuming and identifying the remains of every single missing person so their relatives can bury them”.
Regarding the compensation awarded to the enclaved, Christodoulides said that despite the fact that what they have been through cannot be measured in monetary terms, “the Cyprus government is pleased with the fact the court condemned once more the Turkish policy of violations and its attempt at altering demographics in the occupied areas.”
“The government expects the immediate compliance by Turkey through the adoption of the necessary measures to stop the illegal exploitation and sale of Greek Cypriot properties in the occupied areas and to pay the damages that have been adjudicated by the court,” the written statement reads.
Although the court’s decision is final, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu responded by saying that it was not binding, according to the Cyprus News Agency.
“This trial came back in the news after ten years. Definitely, when it comes to international law this decision is not binding. On the justice side, besides the fact that this decision is flawed, it comes at a very bad time since the Cyprus problem negotiations are on going,” he said. “A procedure has begun, initiated by Turkey, so from a psychological point of view it will not do the negotiations any good. This decision is not consistent with the atmosphere and climate that was spurred by the Cyprus negotiations so far.”
However, Riza Turmen, a former judge of the ECHR and now an opposition lawmaker in Turkey’s parliament, disagreed with Davutoglu saying that Ankara would be legally required to comply with the ruling.
“It’s extremely clear from Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says all signatories are committed to comply with final decisions,” Turmen told Reuters news agency.
Hugh Pope, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the latest talks have progressed slowly, due in large part to a lack of trust between Greek Cypriots and Turks.
“This remains an extremely expensive unresolved problem,” Pope said, citing costs for Turkey that include military spending and financial assistance to the enclaved.
“The compensation is a drop in the ocean compared with the shiploads of costs that not solving the Cyprus solution has incurred for Turkey … since the 1960s,” he told Reuters.
In its original 2001 ruling the court had found numerous violations by Turkey, arising out of the military operations it had conducted in northern Cyprus in July and August 1974, the continuing division of Cyprus and the activities of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.
When Titina Loizidou, a refugee from Kyrenia, was also awarded compensation for her loss of property ($1 mil in 1998) Turkey again initially refused to comply with the court’s terms saying it would jeopardise attempts to settle similar claims. Turkey finally came to an understanding with the court, agreeing that it would pay Loizidou the money but under the condition that the case was not considered a precedent.
Monday’s ruling prompted swift reaction from political parties, although not everyone was pleased.
DISY MEP candidate Eleni Theocharous, speaking on behalf of her party, said that the ruling was a “landmark decision”. Theocharous added that it was proof that Cyprus could achieve its goals if it actively participated in all EU bodies. “The decision of course doesn’t put an end to Turkish occupation and partition but provides us with powerful legal and political weapons to keep fighting on a European level,” she said.
AKEL said that the party ws pleased with the decision, “which proves that the battles won are the ones fought”.
DIKO spokeswoman Christiana Erotokritou told the press that the ruling vindicates the relatives of missing persons, the refugees and those whose human rights were violated but “nothing can delete four decades of pain and injustice”.
EDEK said that the party was pleased Turkey had been fined by the court but clarified that “no monetary fine can make up for the consequences of the Turkish crime”.
“The ruling of course is not enough when it comes to compensate those who suffered. It cannot sooth the pain of the relatives or restore the decency of the enclaved, who were tyrannically oppressed by the occupying forces,” said EDEK.
The Citizen’s Alliance described the ECHR ruling as a “pyrrhic victory”, arguing that on the hand Turkey is being punished “for crimes committed against the Cyprus Republic” but on the other hand the party considers damages awarded as “a provocation and a mockery”. The Alliance accused the ECHR of using political criteria and not legal ones.
All parties said that they will study the ruling further.
The attorney general’s office also issued a released on the ruling, saying that it will be evaluated by the legal services and its advisors to decide on further action.
The ECHR ruling against Turkey
Reaching a decision was a long and arduous journey. Following the 2001 decision, on August 31, 2007 the Cypriot government informed the court that they intended to submit a request to the Grand Chamber for it to resume consideration of the question of just satisfaction. On March 11, 2010 the Cypriot government submitted to the court their claims for just satisfaction concerning the missing persons.
On November 25, 2011 the government sent the court a document concerning the procedure before the Committee of Ministers for execution of the 2001 judgement, requesting the court take certain steps in order to facilitate the execution of that judgement. In response to some further questions and an invitation from the court to submit a final version of their claims, the Cypriot government on June 18, 2012 submitted their claims under Article 41 concerning the missing persons, and raised claims in respect to the violations committed against the enclaved Greek Cypriot residents of the Karpasia peninsula.