By Angelos Anastasiou
A CRIMINAL complaint for war crimes against Turkey was filed on Monday in the International Criminal Court (ICC) by MEP Costas Mavrides and the Cypriots Against Turkish War Crimes (CATWR) foundation, requesting the court’s prosecutor to open an investigation against individuals responsible for the war crime of “directly and indirectly transferring civilian population of an occupying power into occupied territory.”
The ICC is an independent international tribunal set up in 2002, to which 122 countries are currently party. Though Turkey has neither signed nor ratified the Rome Statute that governs the ICC’s operation, the war crime in question has taken place on sovereign territory of a state party – Cyprus – thus granting the court automatic jurisdiction.
If the court decides to open the case, the prosecutor will start investigating in order to identify individuals with an active role in perpetrating the war crime. If sufficient evidence is found against any individuals, they will be indicted and an arrest warrant issued against them.
“It is at this point that Turkey can refuse to cooperate in extraditing individuals,” said one source close to the proceedings. “However, these warrants will be valid in all member state countries and if any of the wanted individuals are located in any of these countries they would be arrested and extradited to The Hague.”
But the court is mandated to investigate and prosecute individuals for acts committed after its creation in 2002, meaning crimes committed before this date are beyond the court’s reach. No matter, say the complainants. Statistics, included in the complaint, indicate that after 2002 the transfer of population has in fact accelerated.
“The present case focuses on the transfer of Turkish nationals to the area of Cyprus it occupies,” said Dr Theodora Christou of Tsimpedes law firm in New York. “This does not only concern the transfer of people, but also touches on a number of issues, including the redistribution of property, the creation of ‘universities’, the financial incentives offered to move to Cyprus, the development of the infrastructure, involvement in the energy industry and tourism development – all of these activities are unlawful and an occupying power is prohibited under international law from conducting them to the extent that Turkey has in Cyprus.”
In truth, the chances of a successful indictment of individuals, meaning an indirect indictment of Turkey, are rather slim.
“Very few cases have got to the indictment stage,” said one international law expert. “In principle, individuals responsible for the relevant policies could be indicted, but that assumes the prosecutor chooses to open an investigation in the first place. The prosecutor is not required to do so: there are lots of crimes in the world and they can prioritize which they pursue.”
But this does not dampen the complainants’ spirit. Even if unsuccessful, they feel their efforts will not have been in vain.
“The publicity and awareness-raising of Turkey’s crimes in Cyprus cannot be underestimated,” said one source. “Even bringing public attention to the issue and pressuring the Turkish government is an accomplishment, and the reason most such complaints are brought.”
Yet not everyone is pessimistic. In a textbook display of cautious optimism, one source directly involved in the case counters a powerful thought.
“Because Turkey and its agents have enjoyed impunity for so long they have had no need to hide,” the logic goes. “Those who bear criminal responsibility are easily identifiable – these would include army generals, ministers, civilian officials, and so on.”