Sunday, March 7, 2010

ECHR Rules on Greek Cypriot Property Claims

In a victory for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Friday recognized the jurisdiction of the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) set up by the TRNC in 2005 as a means to address property claims by Greek Cypriots. According to the ECHR's decision, claimants must first apply for redress to the IPC before applying to the ECHR. During the Turkish invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus, several thousands of Greek Cypriots left their properties in the north, the issue remaining a significant part of conflict resolutions efforts between the north and south. The IPC was largely formed as a response to the growing number of property cases put before the ECHR, and according to Today's Zaman, since November 2009 has had 433 cases brought to it. Thousands more are awaiting a decision at the ECHR, though the decision means those cases must now be brought to the IPC. The ECHR was clear that recognizing the IPC did not equate to recognition of the TRNC. The decision also does not mean that the ECHR will not in the future make judgements ordering Turkey to pay compensation to Greek Cypriots once redress is sought at the IPC. From the ECHR press release:
The Court maintained its view that pending resolution of the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, it was crucial that individuals nonetheless continued to receive protection of their rights on a daily basis. Even if the applicants did not live as such under the control of the “TRNC”, if there was an effective remedy available for their complaints there, the rule of exhaustion applied. This did not put in doubt the fact that the government of the Republic of Cyprus remained the sole legitimate government of Cyprus. The Court reiterated that an appropriate domestic body, with access to the relevant information, was clearly the more appropriate forum for deciding on complex matters of property ownership and valuation and assessing financial compensation, notwithstanding the time and efforts required from the applicants to exhaust domestic remedies.

. . . .

Even though the international community regarded Turkey as being in illegal occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, this did not mean that, when dealing with individual complaints under the Convention concerning interference with property, its discretion as to the manner in which it executed a judgment should not be respected. In the light of the many changes some 35 years after the properties were left, it would risk being arbitrary and injudicious for the Court to impose an obligation to effect restitution in all cases – which would result in the forcible eviction and rehousing of many men, women and children – even with the aim of vindicating the rights of victims of violations of the Convention.

. . . .

The Court also stressed that this decision was not to be interpreted as an obligation to make use of the IPC; the claimants could choose to await a political solution. However, if applicants wished to lodge an application before the European Court of Human Rights, its admissibility would be decided in line with the present principles.

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