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Cyprus

Court case seeking state compensation for refugees’ financial losses after invasion starts

The fenced off area of Varosha

The administrative court on Tuesday held its first hearing into a petition filed by an ex-supreme court judge who is seeking a ruling that the state is responsible for compensating refugees for financial losses sustained since the 1974 invasion and subsequent division of the island.

Filed by former supreme court president Demetrios Hadjihambis, the petition is predicated on the position that in the event of a national disaster – like the 1974 invasion – the burden must be shared by the entire population, not only by those specifically suffering loss.

In a statement read out in court, Hadjihambis said his motive “is not compensation per se, but a recognition of the state’s obligation and its response to its longstanding omission to ensure an equal distribution of the burdens created by the occupation.”

The petitioner estimates that damages for loss of use of the property he owns in Ayios Memnonas, Famagusta, run in the several hundreds of thousands.

The legal action is being brought against the Republic.

At the start of proceedings, presiding judge Giorgos Serafim informed the litigants that he is also a refugee and owns property in the north, but that fact in itself is not sufficient grounds for recusal.

The judge added, however, that he may need to recuse himself at a later stage, depending on how the case proceeds and what arguments are presented in court.

Serafim said he vaguely recalled a legal opinion he had furnished years ago, when he was an attorney. This legal opinion, he said, may or may not be related to the issue in question – compensation for refugees. He told the litigants he would be checking his archives and, if that legal opinion turned out to be related to the present case, he would recuse himself.

In his opening statement, Andreas Yiorkadjis, an attorney for Hadjihambis, said the current petition could serve as a test case for several other refugees who are considering taking legal action against the state.

But he went on to urge other refugees to hold back from filing similar petitions, as that might adversely impact the one now being heard.

The judge set April 2 as the date by which the Republic must submit in writing its objection to Hadjihambis’ petition.

The attorney-general has assigned a private law firm – Antis Triantafyllides & Sons LLC – to represent the Republic in court.

Hadjihambis argues that refugees have waited for decades for the state to make amends for loss of use of their properties in the north.

“Unfortunately for 45 years, the Republic did not take any measures to distribute the loss of use as a public charge to all citizens,” he had said in a statement in late December.

Hadjihambis, 73, cites two articles of the constitution: Article 24 (‘Every person is bound to contribute according to his means towards the public burdens’) and Article 28 (‘All persons are equal before the law, the administration and justice and are entitled to equal protection thereof and treatment thereby’).

He argues that the state’s obligation to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights – the right of property in this case – likewise stems from the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Hadjihambis also cites the restitution laws passed in the 1950s in West Germany regulating the restitution of lost property and the payment of damages to victims of Nazi persecutions.

Since 1974, Greek Cypriot refugees have received some assistance from the state: virtually free housing on purpose-built estates in the south, a lump-sum grant covering part of the cost of building a house, or low-interest loans to purchase a home or set up a business.

In addition, in 1974 a law was passed levying a small contribution from all taxpayers, with proceeds deposited into a special fund for refugees. It was intended as a temporary statutory instrument, and the law itself was repealed in 1992.

 

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