Turkey has never said it would not pay compensation which the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Ankara to pay in connection with applications filed by Greek Cypriots, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said on Friday, acknowledging at the same time that it is taking a lot of time for Ankara to meet its obligations.
In an interview with CNA during his official visit in Nicosia, Jagland also said that although not directly involved in settlement talks, the Council of Europe (CoE) may indirectly contribute towards improving contacts between the two communities in Cyprus.
He referred in particular to the European Convention on Human Rights, which according to the Secretary General, may act as a “Confidence Building Measure”, when taking stock of its “unifying effect” in Europe.
The CoE Secretary General commended both leaders, the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, on their effort to reach a settlement that would end the decades-long division.
While refraining to take sides on the contested issue of guarantees, Jagland noted that both parties in Cyprus aim at safeguarding human rights. When asked if human rights provide a sufficient guarantee, he said that “this is up to the parties to decide”.
“I would like to commend the two leaders, we all hope that they will be successful” said the Secretary General of the CoE, the organisation currently comprising 47 member states. He added that a solution in Cyprus would settle an old conflict in Europe and pave the way for positive developments.
Jagland met on Friday morning with President Anastasiades and had a series of meetings with Cypriots officials, aiming to asses the state of preparations for the forthcoming Cyprus Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, due in November.
“I spoke with the President of the Republic today and it is very encouraging the way he is committed to the process” Jagland told CNA. Asked about the role of the CoE, the Secretary General clarified that there is no direct involvement in ongoing negotiations, something that does not limit, however, the organisation`s positive influence.
He cited in this connection a number of items that are included in the agenda of the Cypriot Chairmanship, inter alia actions in the filed of history teaching, closer cooperation in education, or the preservation of culture heritage. Such things can help to increase contacts between the two sides, Jagland said.
The Secretary General laid particular emphasis on the Convention and on its unifying effect. “As we have seen in other peace processes in Europe during the past 20-30 years, the fact that all people in this continent have the same rights under the European Convention is a Confidence Building Measure” he noted.
As an example, Jagland cited the Good Friday Agreement, which “was built on the fact that the Convention applies to the people in Northern Ireland” while the same was also true for the Dayton agreement.
Asked about the 1960`s system of guarantees in Cyprus and whether such an arrangement has a place in a modern European state, Jagland replied that this was up to the parties to decide. “We are not involved in military security, we are involved in human [rights] security” he said.
“No concrete reply from Ankara”
So far, Ankara has not paid damages relating to certain cases concerning missing persons and property claims, awarded by the ECHR in Strasbourg to Cypriot applicants, for a number of violations committed in Cyprus during and after the 1974 Turkish invasion, that led to the island`s division. In 2015, the Committee of Ministers invited the Secretary General to raise the issue of payment with the Turkish authorities.
“I have raised the issue also in writing. When I met with them we haven’t had a concrete reply on it” Jagland told CNA.
He underlined however that “judgments from the Court in Strasbourg are still valid”. Asked if this approach undermines the credibility of the Court and of the Convention, the Secretary General said “this is true, but we have to keep in mind that Turkey hasn`t said that it would not comply with the Court”.
He added that it has taken Ankara a lot of time to meet its obligations, however he pointed to the examples of other countries, that also delayed payments. The crucial point, according to Jagland, is that so far, no member state has ever said that it was not going to implement a judgment.
The Secretary General was also asked about the refugee crisis, amid manifestations of intolerance in Europe. One recent example includes the failed referendum in Hungary, in early October, that aimed at rejecting EU quotas for relocations.
Jagland said the referendum was very worrying, as it was indicative of the climate building up in various countries. The only solution to the problem is European solidarity, he went on and noted that the EU –Turkey deal needed to continue. “It is important not to return to the situation we had” back in the summer of 2015, Jagland said.
Asked finally on internal developments in Turkey, after the failed coup attempt last July, the CoE Secreraty General underlined the importance of upholding the basic principle of the rule of law in Europe, that is the presumption of innocence.
He said that, while prosecuting those responsible for the coup, Turkey should act in line with the European Convention, on a domestic level, but as he noted, all people had ultimately the right to go to the Strasbourg Court.