STRASBOURG (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights delivered a stinging rebuke to Turkey on Thursday–finding it guilty of widespread human rights abuses arising from its 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus.
The case was brought by the Cyprus government–which argued that the 27-year-old Turkish occupation of the north of the Mediterranean island had trampled on almost every article in the European Human Rights Convention.
The court said in a judgment passed by 16 votes to one that Ankara had violated 14 articles of the convention–including the right to life–the right to liberty and security–the right to freedom of thought and the right to freedom of expression.
Turkey–which is hoping to become a member of the European Union–refused to attend the hearing when it opened last year in this eastern French city–arguing that the Turkish Cypriot state was an independent entity.
However–only Ankara has recognized it as such and the European court said Turkey should be held accountable for the actions of the northern Cypriot administration–adding that it “survived by virtue of Turkish military and other support.”
The Turks invaded Cyprus after a brief–failed Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. Ankara has always denied accusations of rights violations.
But the Strasbourg court upheld charges that some 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees living in the south of the island and banned from returning to their homes in the north were deprived of rights to property–compensation and a family life.
It also ruled that by failing to investigate the fate of some 1,500 people who went missing during the Turkish invasion–Ankara had violated their “right to life.”
Cyprus lodged its complaint against Turkey at Strasbourg in 1994–but the Court only agreed to take it up last year after its screening body–the Human Rights Commission–said a friendly settlement between the two countries was not possible.
Cypriot Attorney-General Alecos Markides said he was pleased by the verdict.
“The general philosophy of this judgment is that Turkey exercises an effective control on this part of Cyprus and that it is legally responsible for human rights violations committed there,” he said.
The court has not yet decided whether to fine Turkey and will issue a full verdict in a few months. As a signatory of the convention–Ankara must comply with the final ruling.
Thursday’s verdict represents the latest in a long line of criticism out of Strasbourg about Turkey’s human rights record and the issue has overshadowed its bid to become an EU state.
The EU granted Turkey candidate status in 1999 and last year it laid down a series of political and economic changes it wanted to see before starting membership talks. Improving regard for human rights was one of the key criteria.
U.N.-sponsored talks for a settlement over the Cyprus issue stalled late last year when Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash pulled out–saying he would not join negotiations unless his deman’s for a two-state settlement were addressed.
Markides told Reuters that Thursday’s ruling should strengthen Cyprus’s bargaining position.
“We are negotiating to find proper ways within an acceptable political compromise to restore the human rights of all the people of Cyprus–Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike,” he said.