By Elias Hazou
A JUDGMENT by Europe’s top human rights court on Monday ordering Turkey to pay €90m in compensation to the relatives of missing persons and the enclaved bears “enormous significance,” a leading human rights lawyer has said.
“This is the first time the European Court of Human Rights has awarded compensation in an interstate case… it’s unprecedented,” said Achilleas Demetriades.
“A reading of the wording of the judgment conveys the idea that rogue states – like Turkey in this case – cannot get away with violations,” he added.
In its final ruling, delivered on Monday the ECHR itself notes: “The present judgment heralds a new era in the enforcement of human rights upheld by the Court and marks an important step in ensuring respect for the rule of law in Europe.”
It goes on to describe the Cyprus v. Turkey (just satisfaction) case as “the most important contribution to peace in Europe in the history of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Court has not only acknowledged the applicability of Article 41 of the European Convention on Human Rights to inter-State applications… but has awarded punitive damages to the claimant State.
“The message to member States of the Council of Europe is clear: those member states that wage war, invade or support foreign armed intervention in other member states must pay for their unlawful actions and the consequences of their actions, and the victims, their families and the states of their nationality have a vested and enforceable right to be duly and fully compensated by the responsible warring state.”
Under the ECHR ruling, €30m are to be distributed to the relatives of the missing and €60m to the families of the enclaved. Turkey is required to comply within three months. Non-compliance by the expiry date carries an interest penalty. The payments are to be made to the Cyprus government, to which it is left to set up the mechanism for distributing the moneys to the victims within 18 months from the date of payment.
For each of the families of the 1,456 missing persons, the compensation works out roughly to €20,000. For the Karpasia enclaved, the government itself has to decide how many they number: the enclaved during the 1974 invasion, the enclaved today, or the enclaved at the time the original ECHR judgement was delivered (May 2001).
Nicosia welcomed the ruling but government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the judgment “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”.
“Despite the fact that the persecution and hardship that they have endured cannot be measured in money, the Cyprus government welcomes the fact that the court again condemns in this way Turkey’s policy of violating the human rights of the enclaved,” the spokesman said.
Demetriades said remarks by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said the judgment is not legally binding, remind him of similar statements issued by Turkey disputing the legality of the Titina Loizidou judgment back in 1998.
“And sure enough they paid, and I expect they’ll do the same now… their initial reaction to the latest ruling was predictable.”
In 1998 Demetriades’ client Loizidou, a refugee from Kyrenia, was awarded compensation for loss of use and enjoyment of her property to the tune of some €1m. Five years later Turkey reimbursed Loizidou the full amount, plus the accrued interest.
In addition to the record €90m now payable to the Cyprus government, an additional €50m has been awarded down the years as compensation to private individuals in several cases filed against Turkey.
The Turkish government has already reimbursed plaintiffs in at least two other human rights cases brought against it by Greek Cypriots: Kakoulli v Turkey and Panayi v Turkey. Petros Kakoulli and Stelios Kalli Panayi were both shot dead by Turkish armed forces in 1996.
“Actually, Turkey is rather good at paying compensation,” Demetriades commented.
Should Turkey refuse to play ball, Cyprus can bring political pressure to bear by objecting to the opening of Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) in Turkey’s EU accession.
“If all else fails,” said Demetriades, “there is a simple process of enforcing judgments on sovereigns through seizing their assets in third countries that are not protected by diplomatic immunity.”
Such assets might be Turkish bonds or Turkish government deposits with international organisations.
“Take for instance Turkey’s account with the IMF. Perhaps the €90m owed to Cyprus could come out of that account. Why not ask the troika for some assistance with this?”