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Media Watch 2008

27 June 2008
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Philippos Stylianou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 27 June 2008.
Rights Court blames Turkey for Isaac and Solomou killings
'The Court was unable to accept the Turkish government's versions of facts' The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strassbourg this week again blasted Turkey over it continuing violations in Cyprus. In two unanimous Chamber judgments it held this country fully responsible for the death of two Greek Cypriot demonstrators occurring 22 years after Turkey invaded an occupied the northern part of the island.

"'The Court was unable to accept the Turkish government's versions of facts'

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strassbourg this week again blasted Turkey over it continuing violations in Cyprus.

In two unanimous Chamber judgments it held this country fully responsible for the death of two Greek Cypriot demonstrators occurring 22 years after Turkey invaded an occupied the northern part of the island.

In yet another rulling, the Court unanimously condemned Turkey for violating the freedom of expression of a Greek Cypriot woman teacher living and working among the enclaved Greek Cypriots children of the Turkish occupied Karpass area.

President Christofias welcomed the fact that the ECHR is condemning the continuing violation of human rights by Turkey, although he said he did not like to use inflated words about it.

"Its good news but I would like to stress once more that although we welcome thse decisions, the wider isso f the rights of the entire Cypriot people being aggravated through the occupation still remains and therefore we must intensify our struggle and efforts to put an end to occupation," the President said.

House Speaker Marios Garoyian said the ECHR decision were of crucial significance for similar applications pending before the Court. "At the same time they foreshadow the climate in which the next steps in the ECHR will be made," he added.

Political parties and organisation also expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the particular cases in the Strasbourg-based court.

The ECHR's recent judgments show consistency in holding Turkey solely responsible for the violation of the full array of basic human rights in the occupied part of Cyprus.

In successive decisions, the Court has upheld the rights of Greek Cypriot refugees to their property, as well as their right to return to it and to their ancestral homes.

In an earlier decision in January this year, the ECHR rejected Turkey's position that all Greek Cypriot missing persons should be presumed dead and condemned Ankara over their disappearance and its failure to investigate their whereabouts.

In this week's cases, relatives of Tassos Isaac and Solomos Solomou, who were respectively bludgeoned and shot to death inside the Famagusta buffer zone in 1996, claimed that their loved ones were killed by agents of the Turkish government.

The Turks alleged that Isaac died in a skirmish when he was caught in the barbed wire and that Solomou had been shot accidentally.

In the face of crushing evidence and independent testimony presented by the Cypriot applicants, the Court accepted their versio of events and exposed Turkey's arguments as lies.

Turkey was found guilty of violating the right to life under the article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and of failing under the same article to conduct an effective investigation into the causes of both deaths.

The Court awarded €80,000 to Isaac's widow for pecuniary damage and €35,0000 for non-pecuniary damages. The sum of €35,000 was also awarded to Iaaac's parents, and to Solomou's father, while the siblings of both victims received €15,000 each. The applicants in both cases were also awarded €12,000 for costs and expenses.

This was the second time that Turkey faced sanctions by the ECHR for the innocent killing of a Greek Cypriot years after the invasion. A few years back the Court found Turkey guilty when Turkish soldiers deliberately shot and killed Petros Kakoullis, an unarmed 54-year old Cypriot out gathering snails near the British Dhekelia Base. The incident occurred in 1996, only a couple of months after the slaughter of Isaac and Solomou.

In its decision, the ECHR gives a succinct description of the events that took place on August 11 and 14 1996, while at the same time comparing the evidence presented by the victims' relatives and that of Turkey.

The ensuing demolition of the Turkish arguments is so thorough and definite that it calls for verbatim quote from the Court's decision: "On 11 August 1996 Anastassios Isaac participated in a motorcycle rally to protest against the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, which took place at several points along the United Nations buffer zone east of Nicosia. His family alleged that during that rally, he was kicked and beaten to death by Turkish Cypriot policemen and counter demonstrators.

"On 14 August 1996 Solomos Solomou, having attended Anastassios Isaac's funeral, entered the buffer zone near the spot of the killing and, in protest, climbed up a flagpole flying the Turkish flag. His family allege that the Turkish armed forces then opened fire at him and he was shot and killed.

"The Court noted that it had not been contested that Anastasios Isaac and Solomos Solonou had vluntarily entered the UN buffer zone.However, the parties had disagreed s to what had actually caused their deaths.

The Court was unable to accept the Turkish government's versions of the fats. It observed that those versions had been contradicted by witness statements and had no reason to doubt those those witnesses' independence and trutstworthiness.

"The Court also observed that the applicants' versions had been confirmed by photographic evidence and video footage of the killings. Nothing in those images, whose authenticity had not been contested by the Turkish government, had suggested that Mr Isaac had been carrying weapons or that he had been entagled in barbed wire, or that in the case of Solomou, there had been crossfire.

Head trauma
"The Court further noted that a medical report had concluded that the cause of Mr Isaac's death had been "multiple had trauma". As for Mr Solomou, he had been hit by five bullets, a fact which was hard to reconcile with the theory that his shooting had not been intentional.

"The Court also considered that the killings of Mr Isaac and Mr Solomou had not been necessary to defend "any person from unlawful violence".

It seemed that both of them had been unarmed and had not been attacking anyone, and it had been obvious that they could hardly have escaped from the control of the security forces.

"Moreover, in both cases, the killings could not be considered as measures aimed at quelling violence generated by protest. In the case of Isaac, the Court considered that the savage beating of Mr Isaac infront of the other demonstrators, without any attempt to apprehend him, could have led to even more violent reactions by the Greek Cypriots side. Furthermore, the Turkhish of Turkis-Cypriot forces had apparently not co-ordinated their actions with the UNFICYP. Indeed, the latter had tried to stop the soldiers' participation in the mob. In the case of Solomou, the Court stressed that it had not been contested that only one demonstrator – Mr Solomou – had crossed the ceasefire line and that he had been unarmed.

The first shots had been directed at him and could therefore hardly be described as measures aimed at calming the violent behaviour of the other demonstrators, who had still been in the UN buffer zone.

Accordingly, the Court recommended that Anastassios Isaac and Solomos Solomou had been killed by agents of the Turkish State and that the use of force had not been justified, in violation of Article 2."

Present at the scene of Solomou's killing was the then Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who indulged enthusiastically in his hobby of taking photographs. Footage of the incident also showed members of the illegal regime's "ministers" watching from an overlooking Turkish army post, brandishing weapons and firing at Solomou as he was climbing on the flagpole.

Using the evidence from this footage, as well as other visual mateial, the Cyprus government issued international arrest warrants against specific persons for participating in the cold-blooded murder. So far Turkey has not acted on these warrants.

The ECHR in its decision had this to say about Turkey's failure to investigate both murders:

"Concerning the alleged inadequacy of the investigations:

"In both cases the Court noted that the Turkish government had failed to produce any evidence showing that thr investigation had been carried out into the circumstance of Anastasios Isaac and Solomos Solomou's deaths. Nor had they submitted that, more than 11 years after in incidents, those responsible for the killings had been identified and called to account before a domestic court. The Court accordingly held that there had been violation of Article 2."

Spyros Solomou, the elderly father of one of the victims, said he felt morally justified by the ECHR decision. "We have been anticipating it for a long time, knowing that the sole responsible and guilty party for my son's death was Turkey," he said.

Although the families of the two victims filed their applications to the ECHR within days of each other in February 1997, that of Solomos Solomou became admissible in two years while it took 9 years for Isaac's to be admitted.

Nevertheless, this did not seem to be an obstacle for the Court to try them together and pass judgment simultaneously.

In both cases, the President of the Court, Nicolas Bratza, granted leave to the government of Cyprus to intervene in the proceedings as a third party.

Appearing for the family of Tassos Isaac were Nicosia lawyers Andreas Papacharalambous, Pavlos Angelides and Constantinos Cadounas.

George & Philidou lawyers represented the Solomou family since 2005.

Moral vindication

The rather small amounts awarded in compensation to the successful applicant by the ECHR have been viewed with some astonishment by public oipinon, which anticipated a more generous handout to the families of the victims.

But Justice and Public Order Minister Kypros Chysostomides, a prominent human rights lawyer himself, said that, as in the previous successful case of the missing persons, money was not the issue in the recent cases but the moral vindication of the applicants.

"No price can be set on human life and I think the ECHR in all its wisdom did not want to appear as trying to do that," the minister said, adding that holding Turkey responsible for the taking of human life was the important thing. The lawyers who represented the applicants at Strasbourg in statements to the press shared the same opinion with the minister about the moral rather thatn the pecuniary significance of the judgments.

Chrysostomides noted that inthe Isaac and Solomou judgments, there were recurring elements, which could also be considered important for the political development of the Cyprus problem.

Overall, he said, Turkey continues to be held responsible for all human rights violations in the occupied area, therefore its effort to upgrade the illegal regime seem to fall through."