Violations of Human Rights in Cyprus

The European Court of Human Rights has given the clear message that the Cyprus issue is primarily an international case based on the violation of human rights and international law by Turkey. Furthermore, the Court has ruled on important issues of international law, judicially verifying the legal status of the Republic of Cyprus and the illegal actions of Turkey in Cyprus.

The massive and systematic violation of human rights by Turkey in Cyprus has been judicially verified by the European Court of Human Rights. In its judgment on the fourth interstate application of Cyprus v. Turkey, delivered on 10 May 2001, the Court has established serious violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Cypriots by Turkey.

Legal Background - On 20 July 1974 Turkey, availing herself of the coup of 15 July 1974, took military action against the independent and sovereign Republic of Cyprus, an equal member of the United Nations. The Turkish Government had then proclaimed that this action was 'a peace operation', aiming at the restoration of the constitutional order in the island, which was allegedly disturbed by the coup against the legal Government of Cyprus.

The then Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Bulent Ecevit, referring to the above-mentioned military action, stated that the Turkish armed forces came to Cyprus to bring peace, and that this action had been taken by Turkey in her capacity as co-guarantor power, under the 1959 Treaty of Guarantee, signed by the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey, as part of the agreements establishing the Republic of Cyprus. Even if Turkey's allegations for having the right to take unilateral action under article IV of the Treaty of Guarantee could be accepted, the sole aim of such action should have been the re-establishment of the state of affairs established by the Treaty. Instead of this, Turkey has through military force occupied about 35% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

In fact Turkey's military action against the Republic of Cyprus violates the independence and territorial integrity of the State and constitutes a flagrant aggression, which is considered as an international crime according to international law.Furthermore, Turkey had unilaterally proclaimed the establishment of a puppet 'autonomous administration' in the occupied part of Cyprus, propped up by the military power of the Turkish occupying forces. Turkey's efforts to establish an autonomous administration in the occupied north of Cyprus was, of course, part of a plan to turn the de facto occupation into de jure and partition the unified, sovereign, independent State of the Republic of Cyprus into two different states. These actions are in contravention of article 195.1 of the Cyprus Constitution, which provides that 'the territory of the Republic is one and indivisible', and which Turkey had guaranteed to respect. It must be stressed that such actions are also contrary to the United Nations Charter and, generally, international law.

Turkey's intention to destroy the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus is proved, inter alia, by the continuation of military operations by Turkish troops in Cyprus after the time set by the United Nations Security Council for the cessation of hostilities. This behaviour was in flagrant violation of the Security Council's resolutions of 20 and 23 July 1974, under which the Council demanded an immediate end of foreign military intervention in the Republic of Cyprus and requested the withdrawal without delay of all foreign military personnel.

The following facts show the escalation of the Turkish military operations and at the same time constitute indisputable evidence of Turkey's real intentions:

  • By 16:00 hours of 22 July 1974, (the time fixed for the ceasefire) the Turkish armed forces had occupied 1,70% of the Republic's territory.
  • By 30 July 1974 (date of the Geneva Declaration signed by the Foreign Ministers of Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom) Turkey, by extending its occupation, had put under its control 3,74% of Cyprus territory.
  • Following Turkey's ultimatum at the Geneva conference, during the meeting of 13 August 1974, the Turkish troops further extended their occupation to over 34,10% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus.
  • Even after the agreed cease-fire time, at 18:00 hours of 16 August 1974, and in spite of the resolutions of the Security Council, the invading Turkish armed forces continued their advance, thus putting under their occupation about 35% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

It must be added that Turkey's intention for the creation of two autonomous and homogeneous zones in Cyprus had clearly become apparent at the Geneva conference. The Turkish Foreign Minister demanded at the meeting of 13 August 1974 an immediate answer to Turkey's proposals for a geographical partition of the island, an allocation of 34% of the territory of the Republic to a Turkish Cypriot autonomous administration, and the formation of a federation between the two autonomous zones. The Greek Cypriot and Greek sides asked for a 36-hour recess in order to consider the Turkish proposals and have an exchange of views with their advisers. The request was accepted by the British Foreign Minister. However, the Turkish Foreign Minister turned it down and asked that the conference be considered as having come to an end. A few hours later the Turkish armed forces advanced towards the town of Famagusta, ignoring the cease-fire agreement and the United Nations resolutions.

Cyprus Violations - As a result of the Turkish aggression against Cyprus and the continuing occupation of the northern part of the island by Turkish armed forces, the Government of Cyprus has been prevented from exercising any form of control, power or authority in respect of the area under Turkish occupation. The Turkish occupying forces allowed no movement to and from the occupied area by either Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots for more than 28 years. It is only after succumbing to the pressure of mass demonstrations by Turkish Cypriots demanding the reunification of the island that the illegal regime – Turkey’s subordinate administration in the occupied area – partially lifted restrictions on movement both ways across the ceasefire line on 23 April 2003. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus is prevented from applying the laws of the State over the occupied area. Furthermore, the courts of the Republic are prevented from applying justice in the said area.

War crimes - An interview with Mustafa Organ, a Turkish soldier serving in the 48th Ankara/Tsoumbouk artillery brigade at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, was published on 28 January 1998 in the Frankfurt-based newspaper 'Ozgur Politica'.

Organ referred to the massacre of about 100 Greek Cypriot civilians who had fled to the small village of Mora, near Nicosia. 'Those killed at the exit of the village were women, children and pensioners who were running for their lives', he said. 'The little streets and the exit areas were full of civilian pensioners and small children who were trying to get away. These people were killed in the most vicious way and some of the bodies were cut to pieces. The bodies were lying in the scorching heat for a week. Later officers told us we had to hide the bodies. I drove a bulldozer. Others dug a large and wide ditch and buried them. Soldier Efket Avcioglu from Mara? was also a witness to the event'.

Organ referred also to prisoners being killed and robbed and Greek and Turkish Cypriot women and girls being raped by Turkish officers and soldiers. 'I cannot forget a tall dark officer from Adana who raped a 13 year old Greek Cypriot girl, and the rape of two Turkish Cypriot girls near the Nicosia industrial zone', he said.

It can be said that all the human rights safeguarded by international conventions were violated by Turkey in Cyprus. The European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe have established that many crimes were committed in Cyprus by Turkish troops, such as cold-blooded murders, rapes, enforced prostitution, torture, inhuman treatment etc. By committing those crimes intentionally and on a mass scale, Turkey is answerable for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Having in mind the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, together with relevant judgments of international courts, Turkey's conduct towards the Greek Cypriot population in the occupied area of Cyprus should be considered as an act of genocide. Large-scale killings of both conscripts and civilians, cold-blooded murders, deliberate infliction of serious bodily and mental harm, all directed against Greek Cypriots simply because of their ethnic origin, race and religion, constitute a genocide according to international law.

Forcible displacement of Cypriots - The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the destruction, the killings and the attack against the Cypriot inhabitants, forced about 142.000 persons (approximately one quarter of the Cypriot population) to be displaced from their homes and properties situated in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus. All these persons are still refugees. For so many years Turkey has refused to comply with United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions calling for 'urgent measures to facilitate the voluntary return of all refugees to their homes in safety and to settle all other aspects of the refugee problem'.

The displacement of so many people, in such a short period of time, in a small country like Cyprus, has created a dramatic situation, affecting personal and family life and creating major social and economic problems. Displaced persons, especially children, were forced to live under inhuman conditions. Families were separated. As a result the fabric of society was drastically altered.

The Cyprus Missing Persons - Over the years those who lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods went through the painful process of rebuilding their shattered lives. But for the fathers, the mothers, the brothers, the sisters and the children of the missing, the passage of time has deepened rather than healed the wounds inflicted by the Turkish invasion.

The relatives seek convincing information allowing the full determination of the fate of the hundreds of Cypriots still missing since the 1974 invasion. The lists of the missing persons include not only conscripts and reservists but also a large number of civilians among them women and children, who disappeared. Most of those missing Greek Cypriots were arrested by the Turkish army and/or by Turkish Cypriots who were acting under the control and command of Turkey's armed forces. The rest were cut off in the Turkish-occupied area. After their arrest a number of them were transported to Turkey and were kept as prisoners in Turkish prisons. Since 1974, despite the appeals to the Turkish government and to other international organizations, and contrary to international law and human rights conventions, Turkey refuses to provide the relatives with any information regarding the fate of their loved ones. Instead, the Turkish government insists that it knows nothing about the fate of the missing Cypriots, and furthermore, that no Greek Cypriot missing persons are held.

Turkey's claims, however, are not supported by the facts. On the few occasions when Turkey was forced to accept unannounced visits by representatives of the UN and the International Commission of the Red Cross to places where, according to information, Greek Cypriots were to be found, several Greek Cypriot missing persons were found imprisoned in Turkey and the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus.

There is hard and indisputable evidence establishing beyond any reasonable doubt that the persons who disappeared were alive and well at the time of their arrest by the Turkish army. This evidence is founded on:

  • Eye witness accounts and sworn testimonies stating that a large number of the missing persons were arrested by Turkish military personnel after the cessation of the hostilities.
  • Testimonies by ex-prisoners that such persons were seen in captivity in mainland Turkish prisons and other detention centers in the occupied part of Cyprus.
  • Photographic evidence from the Turkish and international press showing clearly identifiable missing persons in the custody of Turkish troops both in Cyprus and in mainland Turkish prisons. These persons were recognized by relatives.
  • Messages from missing persons broadcast by Turkish radio after their arrest.
  • Red Cross lists compiled during visits in Turkish detention centers. These lists include names of prisoners who have not yet been released.
  • In conformity with an agreement for the exchange of students, the Turkish side produced lists with the names of the students they were to release on 6, 7 and 8 November 1974. They included 138 persons, six of whom were never released.
  • On 18 January 1975 the humanitarian service of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) supplied the Turkish military authorities with a list of 114 stranded students (document No. OPS/4405, HQ UNFICYP). The Turks replied that they had already released twelve of them. In fact, only nine out of the twelve were actually released. The remaining three are still missing. With regard to the same list, the Turks gave no information as to the fate of another forty-six persons. Thus 49 out of 114 stranded students listed by UNFICYP are still missing.

In 1975 the human rights organization Amnesty International presented the Turkish Government with a list of 40 missing persons about whom it had compiled evidence pointing to their presence in mainland Turkish prisons. No response to Amnesty's demands for an account was ever received from the Turkish Government. Turkey is constantly rejecting the efforts of humanitarian bodies and blocks any attempts by the international community to investigate the fate of the Cypriots who have 'disappeared'. Although a Committee on Missing persons was set up under the auspices of the United Nations in 1981, the Turkish Government is not represented and does not participate in its proceedings despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights holds Turkey responsible for establishing the fate of the Greek Cypriot missing persons. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Committee, after so many years of investigations, has failed to determine the fate of a single missing person and to inform the family concerned accordingly.

It is worth mentioning United Nations resolution 3450 (XXX) of 9 December 1975, by which the General Assembly, 'reaffirming the basic human need of families in Cyprus to be informed about missing relatives … requests the Secretary-General to exert every effort in close co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in assisting the tracing and accounting for missing persons as a result of armed conflict in Cyprus'. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his report to the Security Council at the end of 1995, underlined: ''On several occasions I have conveyed to the Council my concern about the absence of progress on the work of the Committee on Missing Persons. . .'' (Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Operation in Cyprus S/1995/1020, dated 10/12/1995).

Amnesty International has also studied the situation. In a 1996 report on Cyprus it called on 'the UN to establish a new body - an international commission of inquiry - which satisfies the strict international standards for such investigations, with adequate resources and powers, to conduct a thorough and impartial inquiry. . .'

It would indeed be a challenge to international legal order if Turkey does not abandon its strategy of avoiding the presentation of the necessary evidence concerning the fate of the missing persons. The Turkish Government, in its refusal to recognize its obligation to account for the fate of Greek Cypriots held in its custody, is guilty of one of the most serious crimes against humanity - the crime of enforced disappearance; a crime which has been deplored internationally, and is not subject to any time limitation. The Verde Report , which was submitted in September 1984 to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, states:

'Enforced disappearance is one of the most serious violations of the human rights safeguarded by international instruments. It infringes virtually on all the victims' personal rights and many of the rights of their families. The violations... cannot be justified by special circumstances, whether armed conflict, state of emergency or internal unrest or tension.'

The issue of the Cypriots missing since 1974 is a purely humanitarian one and no political consideration should be allowed to interfere. International and, especially, European legal order should not permit Turkey to exercise such a criminal policy, which offends the civilization of mankind.

The Cyprus Enclaved - Despite the brutal attitude of the Turkish troops, approximately 20.000 Greek Cypriots and Maronites (about 1.000)* decided to remain in the Turkish-occupied areas, protecting their homes and properties and continuing their centuries old presence and culture in the area.

Following the cessation of the 1974 hostilities, the Turkish occupation forces and several Turkish Cypriot extremist groups, headed by the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Rauf Denktash, implemented a plan aiming at the persecution of the enclaved Greek Cypriots. The implementation of the said plan has been indirectly verified by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and international non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International and ASME HUMANITAS.

It is evident that during the years following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Turkey has applied a policy of ethnic cleansing in the Turkish-occupied area, consisting of two parallel actions:

    a. The persecution of the Greek Cypriots who remained in their homes in the occupied area of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion of the island, by forcing them into inhuman conditions of living and by refusing them fundamental rights and freedoms (as verified by reports prepared by UNFICYP, the Council of Europe and international organizations). b. The illegal transfer of large numbers of Turkish settlers to the areas of Cyprus occupied by its armed forces and by giving them the homes and properties of the Greek Cypriots who were forced to flee to the government-controlled area.

During the third round of the intercommunal talks held in Vienna from 31 July to 2 August 1975, the Turkish side agreed with the Cyprus government on a number of humanitarian measures regarding the Greek Cypriot enclaved in the occupied area of Cyprus. The agreement, known as 'the Vienna III agreement', reads as follows:

  1. The Turkish Cypriots at present in the south of the island will be allowed, if they want to do so, to proceed north with their belongings under an organized programme and with the assistance of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
  2. Mr. Denktash reaffirmed, and it was agreed, that the Greek Cypriots at present in the north of the island are free to stay and that they will be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and for the practice of their religion, as well as medical care by their own doctors and freedom of movement in the north.
  3. The Greek Cypriots at present in the north who, at their own request and without having been subjected to any kind of pressure, wish to move to the south will be permitted to do so.
  4. The United Nations will have free and normal access to Greek Cypriot villages and habitations in the north.
  5. In connection with the implementation of the above agreement, priority will be given to the reunification of families, which may also involve the transfer of a number of Cypriots at present in the south, to the north.

Instead of applying the Vienna III agreement to the benefit of the Cypriot population, Turkey used the agreement as a way to implement its plan for creating its long desired separate 'homogeneous' zones in the Republic of Cyprus. The 'free will' of the Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area to proceed to the Turkish-occupied area was 'produced' by the Turkish extremist organisation TMT (under the leadership of Rauf Denktash), through extreme oppression and violence. The separation of the Cypriot population, as planned by Turkey, had to be implemented at any cost, even if the cost was to be paid by their fellow Turkish Cypriots themselves.

The part of the agreement referring to the Greek Cypriots has never been implemented. No family reunion was permitted, no priests or teachers were allowed to proceed to the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus. The oppression and persecution have continued and, in fact, have intensified. It is worth mentioning that during 1975, the year of the signing of the agreement, 2.745 enclaved Greek Cypriots were forced to flee to the government-controlled area, and during 1976, the year when the implementation of the agreement was expected, 5.449 enclaved Greek Cypriots abandoned their homes and properties, seeking security in the government-controlled area. Today, only a few hundred Greek Cypriots, mainly old persons, are still living in the Turkish-occupied area.

Enclaved Greek Cypriot elementary school teacher Eleni Foka used to teach a few pupils at Ayia Triada village, in the occupied area of Cyprus, since the Turkish aggression against the island in 1974. She returned a few years ago to the government-controlled area for medical treatment with the help of UNFICYP. Since then, Turkey has been refusing to allow her to return to her home in the Karpass peninsula, in the northeastern part of the island. UNFICYP Spokesman Waldemar Rokoszewski has said the UN supports Foka's right to return home. The European Union Council of Ministers has deplored the denial by Turkey's occupation force in northern Cyprus of permission to enclaved Greek Cypriot teacher Eleni Foka to return home to her village after receiving medical treatment in the government-controlled area. Eleni Foka has also been physically attacked by agents of the Turkish occupation forces and suffered minor injuries as she tried to return to her home and to her school. According to a police statement, Eleni Foka, who was traveling on a bus with a number of enclaved persons wishing to return to their homes in the occupied part of Cyprus, was manhandled by Turkish occupation forces at the Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia and forced to return to the government-controlled area.

According to the report of the UN Secretary-General to the Commission on Human Rights, dated 20 February 2001, the Turkish occupation forces reviewed 120 school books provided by the Cyprus Ministry of Education for the Greek Cypriot school in Rizokarpasso. They ultimately withheld 40 school books, which they considered 'objectionable'.

It is unfortunately evident that the systematic destruction of everything that is Greek and everything that is Christian in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus is based on a well organized plan to create a 'homogeneous geographic area' which will form the future 'Turkish state'. Cultural treasures, religious sites, ancient and contemporary symbols and anything reminiscent of the Greek Cypriot presence in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus is destroyed. If such a destruction is completed in accordance with the Turkish plans, the historic and cultural continuity of the Cypriot population will be interrupted and such interruption may constitute the most flagrant act of genocide.

No people can live and be creative if its roots with its history and culture are cut.

The Illegal Turkish Settlers in Cyprus - One of the major aspects of the Cyprus issue is the presence of tens of thousands of Turkish settlers, illegally brought by Turkey to the occupied area of Cyprus. These Turkish civilians were given the 'status' of 'citizen' of the non-existent (according, inter alia, to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Loizidou v. Turkey) 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus', and are considered as being part of the 'population' of the illegal puppet administration established by Turkey in the occupied territories of the island.

According to international law, the wilful deportation or transfer by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory under its occupation is considered as being an international crime or crime against humanity. Relevant provisions are found in:

  • article 49 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (12 August 1949), ratified by both Cyprus and Turkey,
  • paragraph 4(a) of article 85 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, which is particularly severe and regards as a 'grave breach' of the Protocol 'the transfer by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies…'
  • article 20(c)(i) of the Code of Crimes against peace and security of mankind, adopted in July 1998 in Rome.

In view of the above, the wilful (in fact the well-planned and executed) transfer of Turkish civilian population from Turkey to the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus is regarded by international law as an international crime or crime against humanity. According to well established principles of international law, which are accepted as being jus cogens, criminal actions cannot produce lawful rights.

Having in mind the above legal framework and considering that no solution to an inter-state problem can be reached if it is not based on international legal order, we have to examine the situation created in Cyprus regarding the presence and the fate of the Turkish settlers in the occupied area of Cyprus, before and after the implementation of a solution to the Cyprus issue. Due to the very small number of the population of Cyprus (less than a million) any consideration of the Turkish settlers as being part of the Turkish Cypriot community will dramatically alter the demographic structure of the state. Such an artificial demographic structure will give Turkey a justification for demanding a greater percentage of land for the Turkish Cypriot community, in the event of a federal solution to the Cyprus issue. In fact, this was the original political plan when Turkey decided to transfer the Turkish settlers to Cyprus.

It is, therefore, unacceptable both legally and politically for the Republic of Cyprus to provide the platform leading to the completion of an international crime against its land and its population. It is a fact that the Turkish settlers come from another culture, completely alien to the culture of the Cypriots. Such a situation creates serious social problems, especially to the Turkish Cypriot community, and influences negatively the cultural continuity of the Cypriot population. The argument is sometimes put forward that the whole issue is a humanitarian one, since the Turkish settlers are married and have children born in Cyprus. Therefore, their compulsory withdrawal will produce major social and economic problems to them. If that is the case, what can we say about the humanitarian issue arising from the violent persecution of the Greek Cypriots who were forced to leave their homes and properties in the Turkish-occupied area and live as displaced persons in their own country? At least there has to be a balance in expressing our humanitarian feelings, especially when the humanitarian issues regarding the Greek Cypriots are based on the rule of law, while the same issues regarding the Turkish settlers are based on an international crime.

The Republic of Cyprus has a duty to protect its sovereignty and the rights of its people, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, against Turkey's expansionist policy. No person can suggest that Cyprus' small size may justify any deviation from the minimum standards of human rights protection and respect. The Republic of Cyprus, in the form which will emerge from a final solution to the Cyprus issue, exercising its sovereign rights, may decide to resolve certain cases of Turkish settlers that have an obvious humanitarian nature. Such decisions must be based on concrete criteria and must be implemented by the state in exercising its authority. There is no justification for a massive naturalization by a non-existent state entity of so many foreigners brought to Cyprus in breach of international legal order.

The Framework Set By The International Community - International legal and political instruments have repeatedly set the framework for the restoration of the human rights and fundamental freedoms Turkey has so flagrantly violated in Cyprus. The United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union have adopted resolutions and judgments pointing out Turkey's responsibilities according to international law, in the field of the protection and respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Source: Press And Information Office, Republic Of Cyprus, 2005