Regrettably, in the political arena the prevailing view is that beautifying a given situation is not only permissible but also desirable for securing the necessary support for government decisions, which is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of the state apparatus.
This is a position which I strongly oppose. The state-citizen relationship must be honest and transparent, founded on real facts and not on fantasies or aimed at concealing mistakes or even criminally punishable acts. Those who argue that falsifying or concealing the truth is permissible because it serves the national interests are opening up Pandora’s Box. Where does one draw the dividing line between the permissible and the forbidden manipulation of the truth, and who is the person judging the appropriateness of the distinction made between what is permissible and what is unacceptable?
And then, there is the other side of the coin: If a degree of distortion is permissible on the part of those in government, why should citizens hesitate to adjust their incomes in their income tax returns?
A good example of the tragic consequences of distorting the truth by those in government is the case of the Cyprus problem, where successive governments had no hesitation to distort reality for the purposes of justifying the choices made. The huge gap between reality and the picture that was given to the public-at-large by those in government, either by their statements or by the concealment of important facts, readily leads to the above conclusion. Somebody may rush to point out that the distortion of the truth may not be the result of a deliberate intent to mislead, but more the outcome of the inability of those in government to properly assess the circumstances and the consequences of their actions or omissions. Obviously, there is the possibility that providing a false impression may be the result of incompetence. In such a case, the issue is not criminal or civil responsibility but one of political responsibility for what has gone wrong, which should result in a resignation or the removal from the position held.
Recent examples are provided by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis where significant divergences have been evident between their positions and assessments and actual developments. Judging them on the basis of the outcome of their actions, the only conclusion is that they overestimated their skills and competence.
In the case of the foreign minister, one gets the impression that he has run out of both weapons and ammunition and is striving “with his hands and teeth” to salvage the situation while the minister for energy appears unable to understand that for most Cypriots the goal of striking it rich by commercially exploiting the undersea wealth of Cyprus is an elusive and ephemeral dream not worth pursuing at the expense of risking the extinction of the Greek Cypriots. Under these circumstances, I must admit that I would be very happy if the president, in cooperation with his ministers, would reassess the strategy towards Turkey, in the context of their proposals that we rejected 2½ years ago.
Reverting to the issue of distorting or concealing the truth, I would like to remind you that in a past article of mine I had stated that the delineation last summer of the EEZ between Cyprus and Turkey was unilaterally carried out by Cyprus, in a manner that was not in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). However, for the sake of completeness, I have a duty to mention that Turkey also follows practices that are not in accordance with the law of the sea. More specifically, the Turkey-Libya agreement regulating the EEZs of the two countries directly clashes with the Unclos provisions concerning islands. These provisions, which are set out below, leave no room for doubt that the arrangements Turkey and Libya made are contrary to international maritime law.
- An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide
- Except as provided for in paragraph 3, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to other land territory
- Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf
Of course, the non-compliance of Turkey with the provisions of the convention does not justify the non-compliance with the rules on the part of anybody else. Equally invalid is the argument advanced by Turkey, namely that she has not signed the convention and therefore is not bound by its provisions. Because, if the rules contained in international maritime law, as reflected in Unclos, are voidable, what we are left with is the Law of the Jungle! A path must be found for Cyprus and Turkey to refer their dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). There is no other option.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia