Cypriot citizens are the real winners from the European Convention on Human Rights and its application by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, say jurists who spoke to CNA.
The European Convention on Human Rights entered into force on September 3, 1953 and Cyprus ratified it in 1961, shortly after gaining independence. CNA asked Myron Nicolatos, President of the Supreme Court, Achilleas Demetriades, a Human Rights lawyer and Christos Pourgourides, a lawyer and former Member of the House of Representatives with PACE experience, to evaluate the wins and losses for Cyprus.
The judge and the two lawyers agree that the Convention enhanced the protection of human rights for Cypriot citizens, they appear, however, divided over the outcome of various cases, brought before the European Court to rule on Turkish violations in Cyprus.
Nicolatos and Demetriades underline in particular the right to file an individual application, as the biggest gain. This right enables Cypriot citizens to lodge a complaint in relation to the violation of their rights against any member state of the Council of Europe, Nicolatos says. The President of Supreme Court notes however that the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus offers similar, and in some cases even higher protection.
Nicosia ratified in 1989 the right for its citizens to apply to the Court. “For me, this is the most important element of the Convention” says Demetriades, adding that the provision entitles a person to become the defender of his or her own rights.
When asked about a landmark case, Pourgourides and Demetriades point to the 1993 decision in “Modinos v. Turkey” that led to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in Cyprus.
This was the first European Court ruling condemning the Republic of Cyprus and affirmed the sense that people can apply to the Court versus their own country, when they feel that their rights are being violated, Demetriades says.
Pourgourides notes at the same time that the case of Modinos had far reaching implications beyond this particular case. The Court decision led the members of the society to reflect on respecting diversity and had a great impact on many issues, he underlines.
Moreover, all three highlight the importance for a Council of Europe member state to respect Court rulings. If a judgment is not executed by a member state, it becomes merely a declaration, much like non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions, Pourgourides observes.
Over the years, numerous Cypriot applicants turned to the European Court of Human Rights to find legal remedy for the violations incurred as a result of the 1974 Turkish invasion in Cyprus. The Republic of Cyrus also lodged four interstate applications against Turkey, for a number of violations in relation to the situation in the northern part of Cyprus.
The President of the Supreme Court notes that some decisions awarded some protection of rights adversely affected by the Turkish violations, such as the 1996 judgment in the case of Titina Loizidou. The case concerns the right of a Greek Cypriot to access the property she owns in the Turkish-occupied part of the island.
He adds, however, that other cases, such as “Demopoulos” had a negative impact on the rights of Cypriots and led to the creation of the immovable property commission (IPC). In Demopoulos, the Court decided in 2010 to reject the applications of Cypriot citizens against Turkey as inadmissible, for not exhausting domestic remedies, such as the IPC.
Demetriades paints a different picture, saying that the IPC is an available remedy that Turkey was obliged to offer for property owners in the northern part of Cyprus. Some say it’s a good remedy, some say it’s bad, but in any case, the remedy is there, he says.
He also refers to the Loizidou case, underlining its impact on the recognition of the rights of property owners in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus. “If it wasn’t for these procedures at the ECHR, we would have nothing of this sort today” he says.
Pourgouriders says that some Court rulings in relation to various aspects of the Cyprus problem were “historic”, he notes however that “politicians could have made better use of them.” He also says that legal procedures are not capable of solving political problems, but finds Court judgments useful in the search for solutions “if there is political will.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The European Court of Human Rights sentenced Turkey in numerous cases, brought forward by Greek Cypriots, concerning the violation of their fundamental human rights, following the 1974 invasion.