A case beyond barriers

Titina Loizidou v. Turkey

On the 28th July 1998 the legal battle of Titina Loizidou v. Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights came to a satisfying- as far as individual human rights are concerned- end. The legal battle for Titina Loizidou began in 1989, when Turkish military forces, which currently occupy 38% of Cypriot land, disallowed Ms. Loizidou, a Greek Cypriot citizen, from entering land which was legally hers. The battle ended with a final decision of the Court ordering Turkey to submit specified sums to the injured party. With this unique and important legal recognition of individual human rights in Cyprus established, the road is now open for any similar cases, either in the instance of occupied Cyprus or in those of similar illegal witholding of land by its rightful owners. While observers of this case await the implementation of the Court’s decision by the Council of Ministers (and indeed the options available, should Turkey fail to adhere to the ECHR’s ruling) an analysis of the legal and political implications of this European legal precedent seems prudent.

The facts of the case need to be outlined in the light of the important European legal realities that they recognize: the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey (and not the so called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which the court described as a "subordinate local administration") guilty of preventing Titina Loizidou, the legal owner of Greek Cypriot land in the northern part of Cyprus from gaining access to, and peacefully enjoying her property. While recognizing Loizidou as the rightful owner of territory which since 1974 has been under the overall control of the Turkish military, the court ordered Turkey to pay a total amount of 457 000 CYP (900 000 USD) for the 8 year loss of enjoyment that Loizidou has suffered since Turkey finally recognized the jurisdiction of the ECHR in 1990.

Turkey is now responsible for paying the total amount within 3 months of the ECHR judgment.

While perceived as a Homeric local row, the legal implications of the case traverse an array of issues. The Loizidou case addresses Human Rights abuses, the effects and implications of Europeanisation on Cyprus and the Cyprus conflict, the political implications for European Union membership for Cyprus and indeed for Turkey and the effects of such an outcome on the internal dynamics of the Cypriot conflict. From an international perspective the Loizidou case may prove a benchmark for similar cases involving human rights abuses and illegal withholding of land by or in any of the 40 countries that recognize the jurisdiction of the ECHR

The first and most important conclusion that this ECHR decision establishes, is the power that the individual may acquire vis a vis the state, and in this specific case a state that abuses one’s basic human rights: free movement and settlement, enjoyment of property and exercise of property rights. In the context of the Loizidou v. Turkey decision, a legal precedent is created on a European level, by which 200 000 Greek Cypriot refugees could be offered through similar legal proceedings, compensation for the inability to exercise their property rights in the northern part of Cyprus. This could prove a huge political and economic dilemma for Turkey, whose human rights violations in Cyprus can at last be measured in real, monetary terms. While the Turkish occupation of Cyprus continues, Turkey will be brought to the European Court of Human Rights time and again, for its abuse of basic human rights on the island, be them those of Greek or Turkish Cypriots ( case of Ahmet Djavit An v. Turkey).

Apart from the monetary burden that this could create for the occupying state (the annual cost of its illegal withholding of land in Cyprus is estimated at about 1 billion USD), it also creates a political and moral dilemma: if Turkey accepts to pay, and thus honor the Convention that incorporates human rights in European law (a convention that Turkey legally bound itself by in 1990) it automatically accepts that its presence in the north of Cyprus is indeed illegal, and against European perceptions of human rights. The doctrine of Necessity and the political negotiations in search for a solution to the Cyprus problem that Turkey has claimed in the past in an attempt to thwart the decision of the court, have been by now overruled. Should Turkey adhere to the ruling, the payment would be conceived as recognition of the findings of the ECHR: violation of human rights in Cyprus clearly exists, despite the political attempts at a solution, which often muddle the realities of injustice and illegality that have existed in Cyprus since 1974. Should Turkey pay, it accepts its role as an occupying force, both in moral and political terms.

Alternatively Turkey could deny the jurisdiction of the ECHR, and with that reject the institutionalized perception of human rights that Europe has wholeheartedly accepted. Turkey would then forfeit its position in the Council of Europe and would immediately find herself one step further away from the European Union.

The Loizidou v. Turkey decision could also be judged in political terms, although the case has well kept itself away from the complicated politics that have for 24 years surrounded the Cyprus problem. Turkey has been charged through this trial with a form of war reparations, described in her responsibility for the loss of use and revenue that the Greek Cypriot legal owner of the land has suffered. This case serves therefore as a strong legal precedent for similar instances observed in the case of the Bosnian war (and its infamous ethnic cleansing legacies) and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Palestinian Arabs who forcibly fled their homes in 1948 and again in 1967 no longer have access to their land.

Domestically, the Loizidou v. Turkey judgment serves as a firm legal stronghold in attempts to solve the Cyprus problem: whatever the political solution may be, the rightful owners of land in the northern part of Cyprus can only be absolved of their property rights when they themselves decide to surrender that land. Possible endeavors by the negotiating parties to reach a land settlement can not ignore now the reality of land ownership nor can Turkey be relieved of her monetary debts towards the citizens whose land it has illegally withheld for 24 years. The bearing of such a European Court ruling stands in the way of any such attempts at a political solution.

Last but not least is the re-affirmation that this court ruling has offered to the numerous UN Security Council resolutions, calling for Turkey to withdraw its illegal military presence in northern Cyprus and allow for the return of the forcibly expelled population, that is the refugees. The bearing of such a European Court ruling stands as a powerful means of ensuring that the rights of the citizens of Cyprus are neither sidelined nor postponed for the benefits of a prompt and impartial political solution.

By Eleni Apeyitou