The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has awarded €45,000 in damages to the family of a Greek Cypriot killed during the Turkish invasion, who had alleged that the state had failed to effectively investigate his fate or keep them informed on the course of investigations.
The four applicants are the wife and children of Christophis Vasilliou Pashias, a reservist who had gone missing in action during the 1974 Turkish invasion.
It was discovered 26 years later that he had been executed by Turkish troops and buried as ‘unknown’ in Cypriot-controlled territory.
Pashias had been buried by Republic of Cyprus authorities at a military cemetery in Lakatamia.
The authorities identified and returned the body to his family in 2000.
The case concerns the state’s responsibility for the applicants’ distress between the disappearance of their relative and his identification.
Relying on Article 2 (failure to investigate) and Article 8 (distress) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the applicants alleged that the state had failed to effectively investigate and provide them with information on what had happened to their missing relative, and that such prolonged uncertainty had caused them distress.
The ECHR found there was no violation of Article 2 but there was a violation of Article 8.
It awarded non-pecuniary damages of €45,000 – €18,000 to Pashias’ wife and €9,000 each to his three children – while the two parties will share the €14,356 in litigation expenses.
It is the first case of a Greek Cypriot killed during the invasion and buried as ‘unknown’ whose relatives accused the state of failing to meet its obligations.
The case was filed with the ECHR in November 2015. The applicants took recourse there after earlier that same year, the supreme court in Cyprus had found in favour of the state, setting aside a 2010 decision by a district court that had partly sided with the man’s relatives. The relatives had first sued the Republic back in December 2002.
According to the facts of the case, in July 1974 the Turkish army invaded northern Cyprus. Pashias, then a 29-year-old married father of three and a National Guard reservist, was mobilised.
His unit was deployed to defend the Ayios Pavlos suburb of Nicosia. On August 13, 1974 Pashias found himself at an army outpost opposite the camp of the Turkish contingent in Cyprus. In the morning of August 14, 1974 the Turkish troops launched an attack on the National Guard defences and overran Pashias’ outpost.
As would be established in 2010, at some point between August 14 and 17, the Turkish troops executed Pashias.
The ECHR notes: “The United Nations brokered a ceasefire and on 17 August 1974 the National Guard search and recovery teams were allowed to clear the battlefield. They worked from 2 pm to 3 pm in temperatures reaching 42C and recovered eighteen bodies from the positions of Mr Pashias’ unit, including that of Mr Pashias. By then, most of the bodies were decayed, deformed, and unrecognisable.”
The bodies were taken to Lakatamia military cemetery in a government-controlled area. The man in charge of conducting the burials did not attempt to identify Pashias’ body in the mistaken belief that the recovery teams had already done so. The bodies were buried in an unmarked common grave. Pashias was noted in the records as ‘unknown’.
In its judgement, the ECHR said it could not attribute negligence to the Cypriot state in terms of the adequacy of the latter’s investigations to determine the fate of Pashias.
But it did find the state at fault for not adequately keeping the aggrieved relatives informed of the course of investigations – something that would helped them achieve closure on their “ambiguous loss.”
In particular, the ECHR cited the fact that on March 11, 1992 the Greek Cypriot representative of the UN-sponsored Committee on Missing Persons requested the Service for Missing Persons to investigate the recovery of the bodies from the battlefield in Ayios Pavlos in August 1974.
“The Service carried out that request and on 26 November 1993 issued a classified report which concluded that those who had gone missing in that area at that time ‘must’ be searched for at Lakatamia, where they had ‘obviously’ been buried as unknown…”
The ECHR adds: “The applicants were not informed about the report.”
Speaking after the ruling, government spokesman, Marios Pelekanos told the Cyprus News Agency that government’s law office would abide by the ruling.
“We have been informed about the ECHR decision. The Republic of Cyprus, as a state governed by law, will respect the court`s ruling. The Law Office, as the state`s legal adviser, will evaluate the decision and the issues resulting from it,” he said