The outcome of a case brought before the European Court of Human Rights by Greek Cypriot expat Andriani Joannou against Turkey over the effectiveness of the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) it has set up in the occupied north may be in jeopardy due to the Cyprus government’s refusal to participate in the proceedings, her lawyer Achilleas Demetriades said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference, Demetriades said Joannou had inherited land – some 18 donums – in Turkish-occupied Koma tou Gialou, a village in the Karpas peninsula, in 1997 from her aunt.
She applied to the IPC in 2008, demanding restitution reflecting the value of the land at current prices, as well as damages for loss of use, to the tune of €2.6 million, on the basis of a valuation by a Greek-Cypriot chartered surveyor. The commission offered a little over €80,000, which Joannou rejected.
The applicant has since been faced with long delays and difficulties, including incessant requests for documentation, which she claims are in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In 2014, Joannou resorted to the ECHR, claiming the eight-year – and counting – delay indicated that the IPC is an “ineffective remedy” to people who claim restitution for land they own in the occupied north of Cyprus.
Since recognising the IPC as an effective remedy to all such claims in 2010, the ECHR has demanded that “all internal means” are exhausted before cases are brought before it.
“Instead of rejecting [Joannou’s complaint] immediately, on grounds of not having exhausted internal means available, the ECHR accepted the case,” Demetriades said.
“This is a very important development, because this marks the first time the effectiveness of the IPC is examined.”
In the course of the case, Turkey and the applicant filed their observations but the Republic of Cyprus, which was given a deadline of October 21 – this Friday – to submit its own, has apparently decided not to get involved.
“The Republic of Cyprus’ representative in the ECHR has apparently decided that the state will not participate in the proceedings,” Demetriades said, noting that, by political appointment, Cyprus has appointed attorney-general Costas Clerides as representative to the ECHR.
The decision signals a significant change of course, according to Demetriades, since the government of Cyprus has always participated and supported its citizens in all previous cases – some 35 – over the last 25 years.
In practical terms, non-participation by the state of Cyprus would present the applicant with not only issues of access to crucial information – such as Land Registry data on official and government-sanctioned land values in the occupied areas – but the added undermining argument that since the applicant’s own country refuses to support the case it should be rejected by the court.
“What is at stake in this case is not only the level of compensation to be awarded in this particular case, but in all similar ones to follow,” Demetriades said.
Joannou, now 62, said she has no political motives but is simply after just compensation.
She said she was not trying to solve the Cyprus problem just demanding fair compensation from an unjust and biased political system in the occupied areas.
In a statement of response, attorney-general Costas Clerides confirmed the decision, but shed no light on the reasons behind it, saying only that the case is “not at all suitable for the Republic to step in”.
“Unfortunately, due to the fact that the applicant’s complaint before the ECHR is pending, we are obliged to refrain from commenting on any issues touching the essence of the case,” Clerides said.
“At this stage, suffice it to say that any private citizen choosing to take on the responsibility of handling serious matters of principle, which affect a group of the population and create precedent, cannot demand after the fact that the Republic necessarily step in and support the views and predicaments they have created themselves.”
According to Clerides, all Legal Service staff that looked into the matter, as well as the attorney-general himself and an expert brought in specifically to opine on the issue “deemed that the case is not at all suitable for the Republic to step in”.
“We’ll leave it at that for now,” the statement read.