I refer to the report by Nick Theodoulou which was published on your newspaper’s website on December 18.
I wonder whether the decision to nominate the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the Nobel Peace Prize was taken with complete awareness of:
- the problems which certain decisions of the ECHR have created for those Cypriot refugees (and their descendants) still seeking to return to their ancestral homes in the occupied north;
- the legitimacy which the ECHR has extended to the occupation authorities; and
- the ECHR’s failure to uphold the claims of Cypriots seeking access to religious sites in the occupied north.
Accordingly, it is my view that further explanation and justification are required to support this nomination beyond the reasons given in the report.
Three ECHR decisions in particular support this view: Demopoulos & Others v Turkey (ECHR Grand Chamber March 1 2010); Chrysostomos v Turkey (ECHR Fourth Section No. 66611/09, 4 January 2011); and Pavlides and Georgakis v Turkey (ECHR Fourth Section Nos. 9130/09 and 9143/09, 2 July 2013).
In Demopoulos, the ECHR decided that the passing of time since 1974, together with the facts on the ground created by Turkey during its occupation of the north, could potentially deprive refugees of the right to restitution of possession of their properties as the refugees’ holding of legal title ‘may be emptied of any practical consequences’. In this case, on the basis of the ‘exhaustion of domestic remedies’ principle, the ECHR effectively left the question of restitution of possession to be determined by Turkey through the Immovable Property commission.
As regards the right of Cypriots to freely access religious sites in the north through the Church of Cyprus, in Chrysostomos v Turkey, the ECHR used the Demopoulos decision to hold the church’s freedom of religion claim to be inadmissible.
The right to freely access a historic religious site in the north was also not upheld in Pavlides and Georgakis v Turkey – a case which concerned the enforced interruption and termination of a religious service at the site of St Barnabas which was imposed by the occupation authorities. In this case, the court effectively held that the applicants’ right to religious freedom was not violated as the applicants were free to worship elsewhere in Cyprus. By limiting the applicants’ right to religious freedom and upholding the interruption and termination of the service, the court also extended legitimacy and recognition to the laws of the occupation authorities.
It is my view that these decisions are problematic and require further legal examination. They raise concerns as to whether just outcomes have in all instances been delivered by the ECHR which contribute to effective peace in Cyprus.
It therefore came as somewhat of a surprise to me to read of the Council of Minsters’ decision to nominate the ECHR for the Nobel Peace Prize. With respect, further explanation and justification are called for.
Nicholas Augustinos, senior lecturer, Sydney School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Australia