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Our View: Curious lack of interest by the state and AG in ECHR property cases

Attorney-general Costas Clerides

IS THE Cyprus Republic’s absence from cases brought against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by Greek Cypriots a government policy or a decision left to the discretion of the Attorney-general? The government has been saying that the decision as regards participating in these cases belonged to the state legal services, which seemed to be an incidence of passing the buck considering the AG is the legal counsel of the executive and should confer with it, especially with regard to matters that have broader implications for the Cyprus Republic.

The AG missed the deadlines to file observations on behalf of the Republic in two cases brought by individuals against Turkey, the latest missed deadline being last week. Next Tuesday is the deadline for filing observations in the third case, which has broader implications because the Turkish government has argued that all properties within Varosha, the fenced area of Famagusta, were under the ownership of the Evkaf, the Turkish Cypriot religious foundation.

If the lawyer representing the company, KV Mediterranean Tours Ltd, had not created a stir in the media about the absence of the Cyprus state from the case, next Tuesday’s deadline could have been missed as well.

This case is vital because the Turkish side’s position is that Famagusta belonged to Lala Mustafa since 1571 and that the Turkish Cypriot side had not accepted the title deeds issued by the British colonial administration.

By the same reasoning, it did not recognise the property titles issued by the Cyprus Republic after 1960, a position that should have aroused the interest of the government and the AG, even if there had been a change in policy about taking part in recourses to the ECHR brought by individuals. This was not an ordinary case, but one which challenged the entire property ownership regime of Famagusta, not to mention the Cyprus Republic’s right to issue property titles.

In an announcement issued on Thursday the AG’s office also passed the buck, saying that while it was studying the cases with a view to advising the government about the state’s participation in the case, the final decision belonged to the executive.

This was fence-sitting, because further down in the announcement, the AG acknowledges that in one of the cases “very serious issues touching the more general interests of the Republic are raised,” given that “the ownership regime of properties within the fenced areas of Famagusta has become a disputed matter before the ‘Immovable Property Commission’ and courts of the pseudo-state.”

Despite the “very serious issues,” the AG could not commit to filing observations by the Republic at the ECHR and was still awaiting the executive’s instructions. He seemed more concerned about expressing disapproval of the cases filed instead of telling the government the obvious – that the Cyprus Republic cannot afford to be absent from this specific case. As for the government, it seems to have shown the same indifference to the case as its legal counsel. It is only because of the negative publicity that they might now do something.

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