Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Where can Cyprus go for justice?

For those calling for Turkey to be tried for war crimes in Cyprus, the example of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is often cited, so it's worth making a couple of points regarding the ICTY to see why this is not the path to justice that Cyprus can expect.

The ICTY, established in 1993 following a United Nations Security Council resolution, is an ad hoc court with the remit to try individuals – not organisations or governments – accused of war crimes during the conflicts that characterised the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. To establish a similar court for Cyprus would, therefore, not only require UN security council approval – impossible to imagine given the permanent presence of Turkey's allies, Britain and America, on the UNSC – but would also require significant resources and time to conduct plausible trials with the appropriate quality of evidence given that the crimes were committed 35 years ago.

More importantly, the ad hoc type of court that is the ICTY has effectively been superseded by the International Criminal Court, which is a permanent tribunal established to try cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The ICC was established in July 2002 and cannot investigate crimes before this date. Moreover, Turkey has so far refused to sign the ICC's founding treaty, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and, therefore, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Turkish citizens.

This leaves Cyprus with two options, both unsatisfactory. One is recourse to the Council of Europe, which can issue reports and urge its members – including Turkey – to abide by its recommendations and, in extreme cases, expel countries from its ranks – as happened to Greece during the period of the junta. And, secondly, there is the European Court of Human Rights, which monitors the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and has already, in rulings in 2001 and 2008 (see my post
here), found Turkey guilty of violating the human rights of missing Greek Cypriots and their families, and ordered Turkey to pay compensation and provide information on the whereabouts and fate of the missing. So far, eight years on from the original ECHR ruling, Turkey has done neither.