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Media Watch 2003

16 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Philippos Stylianou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 16 May 2003
Fears over ‘special courts’ to settle property claims


As the flow of people from both communities across the Green Line checkpoints continues unabated, there are fears that the Turkish side is using the partial freedom of movement to take another suspicious initiative on the property aspect of the Cyprus problem.

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said the pseudostate was planning to set up a “special court” on property claims, while state officials and lawyers from Ankara were reportedly flocking to Strasbourg, seat of the Council of Europe and of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has repeatedly found Turkey guilty of violating the property rights of Greek Cypriot refugees under Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Foreign Minister George Iacovou, who flew to Strasbourg on Wednesday to attend the spring session of CoE Committee of Ministers, said he “would dedicate considerable part of his time there to find out what the situation was.”

‘Absurd’

The Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides yesterday said the occupation regime’s suggestion to set up “courts” to handle property claims by Greek Cypriots was “absurd and illegal.”

Cypriot legal and political sources described as transparent the intention of the illegal regime to exploit to the fullest a paragraph of a ECHR decision, which recognised that local remedies could be tested in the so-called courts of the illegal areas.

Recourse to national courts prior to applying to the ECHR is a prerequisite for the latter admitting cases from individuals against states.

In Paragraph 102 of its ruling on the 4th interstate case of Cyprus vs Turkey 2001 the ECHR had said: “The Court concludes accordingly that, (......) remedies available in the ‘TRNC’ may be regarded as ‘ ‘domestic remedies‘ of the respondent State and that the question of their effectiveness is to be considered in the specific cirumstances where it arises.”

This was in turn based on a 1971 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Namibia case, which said that even if a state was not recognised, certain of its arrangements and transactions could be accepted in order to make the everyday life of the people easier. 

Titina case

The domestic remedies ruling compromised an earlier ECHR decision on the Titina Loizidou case, expressly stating that the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” had no entity of its own but was a subordinate authority of Turkey, which controlled the northern part of Cyprus through its military presence.

Cypriot legal experts share the view that the creation of “property courts in the occupied area could created problems for any new refugee applications against Turkey, but their opinions seem to differ as to how easy it would be for ECHR to follow this course of action.

Stelios Theodoulou of the Legal Department and President of the Cyprus Human Rights Committee told The Cyprus Weekly that the property issue of the Greek Cypriot refugees was not a matter of everyday life, but the essence of the Cyprus problem. 

Besides, he noted, any “property court” set up by the pseudostate should convince outsiders and specially the ECHR that it could try cases fairly and objectively. This cannot be so, since the so-called constitution of the pseudostate expressly states that the properties of the Greek Cypriots do not belong to them.

Lawyer Achilleas Demetriades who won the landmark case of Titina Loizidou against Turkey in 1998, said, however, that the phrasing of Paragraph 102 in the 2001 case was unequivocal and that it could give grounds to the pseudostate to set up the so-called property courts. 

Undermine

He, too, was of the opinion, however, that the Turkish side would have a difficult time convincing about the effectiveness of such “courts”, since the occupation regime had purportedly taken away the ownership of the Greek Cypriots’ properties.

Both lawyers stressed that the occupation regime and Turkey could use the relaxation of movement restrictions across the dividing line to show that the Greek Cypriots, through the use of their passports and “entry visas”, had recognised the authorities of the regime and so they could not reject the validity of their “courts”.

Theodoulou said this could undermine all the other parameters that testified to the illegality and non-recognition of the pseudostate so far, such as the UN resolutions.

Demetriades noted that crossing the checkpoints could take away the most convincing argument of the Greek Cypriots that they had no access to the occupied areas in order to claim their properties.

Cypriot born UK lawyer Costas Frangeskides, who has been handling cases for Cypriot refugees at the ECHR told The Cyprus Weekly the Turks probably had international jurors behind them in this initiative. He said his concern was that the ECHR might find ways of helping the Turks in their effort. 

The effectiveness of such courts, he said, would depend on what powers they are given and what compensations they can award.

Lordos slams UN property provisions
“The proposed property arrangements will prove a second disaster for Cyprus, not only for the refugees, but also for the entire economy of a reunited Cyprus as far ahead as we can see,” said Famagusta refugee businessman and former MP Constantinos Lordos.

He caustically criticised Alvaro de Soto’s UN team for working out such thoughtless property provisions in the Annan plan, but also the Cyprus government’s negotiating team for allowing them to be tabled. Lordos said the value of Greek Cypriot properties in the occupied areas had recently been estimated at about 17 billion and those of the Turkish Cypriots in the free areas at È4 b. 

With the return of territory to the Greek Cypriots and the establishment of some of them under Turkish Cypriot administration, Greek unreedemed property would be worth È11-12 b, while the return of some Turkish Cypriots to the south would also reduce the value of their property to È2.5 - 3.0 b.

As a consequence, these would be submitted for exchange to the Property Board foreseen by the Annan plan. Even if the exchange were carried out smoothly and promptly on the basis of equal value, the procedure would leave È8.5b worth of Greek properties unwanted. 

Lordos said that there would be neither enough real estate demand or buying power in the north to absorb the surplus value of property. He noted that the annual “gross national product” of the northern economy hardly reached È300-350 m, making the value of Greek properties equal to 25 years of the north’s GNP in current prices!

In this way excessive supply will render Greek properties in the north worthless, sweeping away also the values of the remaining real estate on both sides.

Bonds

The Bonds issued by the Property Board would be worth no more than pieces of paper in the hands of the Greek Cypriot refugees, since they would not be based on substantive values and could not be negotiable within a reasonable time, Lordos said quoting Keynes.

He added that in order to be negotiable the Bonds would also have to yield an income covered by a credit worthy guarantor, who could not be Cyprus because of the huge sum involved. The servicing of the guarantee for an income of 5%-6% for the value of the surplus properties (È8,5b) would run at È450 m a year.

“Where could Cyprus find this money? Or would the foreigners chip in? We’ve seen their promises in Afganistan,” Lordos said.

He suggested that a more reasonable solution to the property issue would be to lay emphasis on the return of the proeperties to their legal owners, keeping compensations to the minimum, in the framework of a loose bizonality which would not violate human rights.

The peaceful mixing of hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots since 23 April proves all the arguments for keeping them apart were unfounded, Lordos concluded.

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Call for fair land exchange

Iacovos Aristidou, Planning Bureau Director from 1973 to 1989, said that the Turkish Cypriot side should not claim more land in the north than it rightfully owned in the free areas before 1974.

Asked to comment on current developments on the property issue, Aristidou said that according to Land Registry records dating 1973, the Turkish onwership of land in the south was 852.455 donums. 

If a proportional percentage of state land were added to this, then only 67% of the land should belong to the Turkish Cypriots in the area proposed for them, while the remaining 33% should belong to the Greek Cypriots, as opposed to only 20% provided for in the Annan plan.

“In order for any settlement to be just and viable, the same amount of Turkish Cypriot land as existed in the free areas should be “transferred” to their area, if this is the kind of solution they want,” Aristidou said. He noted that this would allow for more Greek Cypriots to return under Turkish Cypriot administration, thus avoiding large compensations which the financially stronger Greek community would have to shoulder in the greater part. 

He added that the money from Turkish Cypriot property expropriated in the free areas could be used for the resettlement of Turkish Cypriots in the area to come under their jurisdiction."