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Remedying Displacement in Frozen Conflicts: Lessons From the Case of Cyprus

  • Nasia HADJIGEORGIOU (a1)

This article examines the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, in order to assess the effectiveness of the remedies provided and procedures followed by the Immovable Property Commission (IPC), a mechanism that was established by Turkey in order to remedy displaced Greek Cypriots. It recommends changes for the improvement of the IPC and argues that with their adoption, the Commission could act as a blueprint for the establishment of similar remedying bodies in other frozen conflicts as well. Such institutions are not only important in terms of states’ compliance with their human rights obligations, but can also contribute to the resolution of the underlying conflict itself.

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I would like to thank Dr Nikolas Kyriakou, Dr Aris Constantinides, Dr Arman Sarvarian, Dr Stephanie Laulhe Shaelou and the anonymous reviewer for their comments. Any remaining errors are my own.

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1 Allen, T and Douglas, B, ‘Closing the Door on Restitution: The European Court of Human Rights’ in A Buyse and M Hamilton (eds), Transitional Jurisprudence and the ECHR: Justice, Politics and Rights (CUP, 2011). The Registrar of the ECtHR noted in 2014 that while the Court ‘cannot settle war-like conflicts between states’, it has been called to deal with approximately 3,000 such cases; many of these cases concern property disputes. Steering Committee for Human Rights, Committee of Experts on the Reform of the Court, ‘Presentation to the 3rd Meeting by the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights’ (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2014), [last accessed 31 May 2016].

2 See eg Sargsyan v Azerbaijan (Application no. 40167/06) (2015), paras 236–237.

3 Demopoulos and Others v Turkey (Application no. 46113/99) (2010) 50 EHRR SE14.

4 Chiragov and Others v Armenia (Application no. 13216/05) (2015).

5 United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, ‘Joint Statement by the Turkish Cypriot Leader Mr. Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot Leader Mr. Nicos Anastasiades’ıncı-and-greek-cypriot-leader-mr-nicos [last accessed 17 June 2016].

6 International Crisis Group (henceforth, ICG), ‘Russia and the Separatists in Eastern Ukraine’ (ICG, 2016), p 1.

7 Global IDP Database, ‘Profile of Internal Displacement: Cyprus’ (Norwegian Refugee Council/ Global IDP Project, 2003), p 6, citing estimates of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

8 Global IDP Database, ‘Profile of Internal Displacement: Georgia’ (Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project, 2005), p 6, citing estimates of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

9 See note 4 above, para 25.

10 Brunarska, Z and Weinar, A, ‘Asylum Seekers, Refugees and IDPs in the EaP Countries: Recognition, Social Protection and Integration – An Overview’ (CARIM-East Research Report 2013/45), p 5 .

11 ICG, ‘Russia vs Georgia: The Fallout’ (ICG, 2008), p 3.

12 ICG, ‘South Ossetia: The Burden of Recognition’ (ICG, 2010), p i.

13 Smit, A, The Property Rights of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Beyond Restitution (Routledge, 2012), p 170 .

14 Matson, Laura, ‘Competing Land Rights, Legal Redress, and Political Settlement in Cyprus’ (2012) 31 Law and Inequality 199 .

15 Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, ‘Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons’ (UN, 2005), Principle 2.1.

16 See note 13 above.

17 Despite the stable status quo in Cyprus, more than 70% of GCs and TCs believe that security should be the ‘highest priority item’ during the peace negotiations. ( Lordos, A and Kaymak, E, ‘Public Opinion and the Property Issue: Quantitative Findings’ (Interpeace, 2010).)

18 For an illustration of this in Nagorno-Karabakh, see ICG, ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Getting to a Breakthrough’ (ICG, 2009), p 1 and 8. Conversely for the case of Cyprus, Matson (note 14 above, p 230) argues that GCs and TCs enjoy greater levels of trust and do not seem to be divided by the ‘ancient hatreds’ that characterise other such societies. With respect, the never-ending, unfruitful negotiations, the nationalist rhetoric of both GC and TC politicians and the overwhelming rejection of the UN-sponsored Annan Plan (see note 132 below) by the GC community, suggest otherwise.

19 UN Secretary-General, ‘The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-conflict Societies’ (UN, 2004), para 1.

20 Although some confidence-building measures have been adopted in Cyprus, these have received a lot less attention by the media and the peacebuilders themselves, than the formal negotiations. M Hadjipavlou and B Kanol, ‘Cumulative Impact Case Study: The Impact of Peacebuilding Work on the Cyprus Conflict’ (CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, 2008).

21 See note 2 above, Concurring Opinion of Judge Ziemele, para 7. See also, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, ‘Europe’s Forgotten People: Protecting the Human Rights of Long-term Displaced Persons’ (Recommendation 1877 (2009)), which recommends in para 10 that in cases of frozen conflicts, ‘[t]ransitional justice measures have to be established to address wrongs suffered (including arbitrary displacement)’.

22 Skoutaris, N, ‘Building Transitional Justice Mechanisms without a Peace Settlement: A Critical Appraisal of Recent Case Law of the Strasbourg Court on the Cyprus Issue’ (2010) 35 European Law Review 720 .

23 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The State of the World’s Refugees: A Humanitarian Agenda (OUP, 1997), p 162 .

24 Shelton, D, Remedies in International Human Rights Law, 2nd ed (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp 1617 and 150.

25 Ibid, p 430.

26 See Leach, P, ‘Thawing the Frozen Conflict? The European Court’s Nagorno-Karabakh Judgments’ (EJIL, 6 July 2015) [last accessed 31 May 2016], arguing that the Court’s recent case law is showing its greater willingness to become involved in such frozen conflicts.

27 Loizidou v Turkey (Merits) (Application no. 15318/89) (1997) 23 EHRR 513.

28 The Cypriot conflict has also given rise to TC applications to the ECtHR. For an analysis of these, see Hadjigeorgiou, N, ‘Case Note on Kazali and Others v. Cyprus ’ (2013) 2 Cyprus Human Rights Law Review 103 .

29 Loizidou v Turkey (Preliminary Objections) (Application no. 15318/89) (1995) 20 EHRR 99.

30 Ibid, para 63.

31 See note 27 above, para 41.

32 See note 4 above, para 186. Conversely, Azerbaijan’s responsibility was engaged because the displacement had taken place in its internationally recognised territory, where it has an obligation to take positive actions to protect human rights. While Azerbaijan restricted access to Nagorno-Karabakh for legitimate reasons, it still violated the right to property because it did not compensate the displaced population in any way. (See note 2 above, paras 223–226 and 234.)

33 Cyprus v Turkey (Application no. 25781/94) (2002) 35 EHRR 30, paras 99, 172 and 184.

34 Demades v Turkey (Application no. 16219/90) (2003).

35 Xenides-Arestis v Turkey (Application no. 46347/99) (2007) 44 EHRR SE13.

36 See note 3 above, para 90.

37 Ibid, para 111. For a criticism of the Court’s decision in relation to the right to home, see Paraskeva, C and Meleagrou, E, ‘Homes from the Past: An Expiration Date for the Right to Respect for Home Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights’ (2012–2013) VII Annaire International Des Droits De L’Homme 845 .

38 See note 3 above, para 95.

39 Ibid, para 89.

40 The literature on Demopoulos has mostly dealt with the question of whether the IPC could provide effective remedies as a matter of principle, rather than practice. See, eg Katselli-Proukaki, E, ‘The Right of Displaced Persons to Property and to Return Home after Demopoulos ’ (2014) 14 Human Rights Law Review 701 ; Loucaides, L, ‘Is the European Court of Human Rights Still a Principled Court of Human Rights after the Demopoulos Case?’ (2011) 24 Leiden Journal of International Law 435 .

41 Presidency of IPC, ‘Monthly Bulletin, May 2016’, (IPC, May 2016),ıs16ing.pdf [last accessed 31 May 2015].

42 See, eg comments from the RoC Minister of the Interior that if the applications to the IPC continue with the same pace, ‘then we will solve the Cyprus problem on our own, in the worst possible way because there will be nothing left to negotiate (with regards to properties), nor to exchange. So, on our own, we will partition Cyprus. There can be no homeland without the land.’ (Author’s translation, ‘Statements of the Minister of the Interior’ (16 June 2013), [last accessed 17 June 2016]).

43 Attempts were made to hold an interview with an IPC member of staff as well, but these were unsuccessful.

44 See note 41 above.

45 (‘TRNC’) Law No. 67/2005 (‘Law for the Compensation, Exchange and Restitution of Immovable Properties which are within the scope of sub-paragraph (B) of paragraph 1 of Article 159 of the Constitution’).

46 Law 67/2005, Section 4(1).

47 See note 41 above, p 5.

48 Law 67/2005, Section 8.

49 See note 3 above, para 121.

50 Law 67/2005, Section 8(4).

51 Sunday Times v United Kingdom (Application no. 6538/74) (1979–80) 2 EHRR 245, para 49.

52 Ibid.

53 Hentrich v France (Application no. 13616/88) (1994) 18 EHRR 440, para 42.

54 154 out of 935 cases submitted to the IPC have been revoked to date. (See note 41 above, p 5.)

55 For a theoretical discussion of this debate, see note 24 above, p 333.

56 The uncertainty of ‘TRNC’ titles was confirmed by the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Apostolides v Orams, C-420/07, EU:C:2009:271.

57 Strati v Turkey (Application no. 16082/90) (2010), para 31.

58 Loizidou v Turkey (Just Satisfaction) (Application no. 15318/89) (1998) 26 EHRR CD 5, para 30.

59 See, eg note 57 above.

60 However, even this is not a perfect comparison because the applicant requested and the Court awarded compensation for the loss of use of the property, while the IPC’s amount reflected the compensation for both the loss of use and the property itself.

61 Eg in Strati the applicant requested EUR 438,710 and the IPC offered EUR 34,531 (See note 57 above, para 34). Interviewees suggest that the compensation amounts awarded by the Commission have been reduced considerably since then.

62 Ibid, para 34.

63 Ibid, para 34.

64 This was expressed in the clearest terms in Lithgow and Others v United Kingdom (Application no. 9006/80) (1986) 8 EHRR 329, para 122, where it was held that ‘[t]he Court’s power of review in the present case is limited to ascertaining whether the decision regarding compensation fell outside the United Kingdom’s wide margin of appreciation; it will respect the legislature’s judgement in this connection unless that judgment was manifestly without reasonable foundation.’

65 Holy Monasteries v Greece (Application no. 13092/87) (1995) 20 EHRR 1, para 71.

66 Broniowski v Poland (Application no. 31443/96) (2005) 40 EHRR 21, para 182.

67 Von Maltzan and Others v Germany (Application no. 71916/01) (2006) 42 EHRR SE11, para 77.

68 See Paraskeva and Meleagrou, note 37 above, p 848.

69 See note 2 above, para 238 and note 4 above, para 199.

70 See note 15 above, para 12.1.

71 Information obtained through the interviews. This is despite the fact that Section 7(5) of the Rules of Law 67/2005 provides that ‘[t]he Commission shall, after hearing all the views and claims of the parties, announce its reasoned decision within three months.’

72 This argument has been made in the South African displacement context, but equally applies to frozen conflicts. Bohlin, A, ‘A Price on the Past: Cash as Compensation in South African Land Restitution’ (2004) 38 (3) Canadian Journal of African Studies 672 .

73 Kushoglu v Bulgaria (Application no. 48191/99) (2007), para 52.

74 ‘TRNC’ Law No. 41/1977 (Settlement, Land Distribution, and Equivalent Property (İTEM) Law).

75 Constitution of the ‘TRNC’, adopted on 5 May 1985.

76 Gürel, A, ‘Displacement in Cyprus: Consequences of Civil and Military Strife (Report 4 - Turkish Cypriot Legal Framework)’ (Peace Research Institute Oslo, 2012), pp 2326 .

77 Eugenia Michaelidou Developments Ltd and Michael Tymvios v Turkey (Application no. 16163/90) (2004) 39 EHRR 36.

78 See notes 38–40 above and accompanying discussion in the main text.

79 According to the RoC, a TC individual (and not the ‘TRNC’) owned the land in question; this land was expropriated by the RoC in order to build the two schools.

80 See note 77 above.

81 Evripidou, S, ‘Government approves first ever land swap deal’ (Cyprus Property News, 10 July 2012), [last accessed 17 June 2016].

82 Kazali v Cyprus (Application no. 49247/08) (2012).

83 See note 2 above, Concurring Opinion of Judge Ziemele, para 7.

84 Beyatlı, D et al, ‘Solving the Cyprus Problem: Hopes and Fears’ (Interpeace/Cyprus 2015 Initiative, 2011), p 110 .

85 See note 41 above.

86 Law 67/2005, Section 8(1).

87 See note 3 above, para 115.

88 See note 15 above, Principle 2.1.

89 Özersay, K and Gürel, A, ‘Property and Human Rights in Cyprus: The European Court of Human Rights as a Platform of Political Struggle’ (2008) 44 Middle Eastern Studies 291 .

90 UN Security Council Resolution 550 (11 May 1984), Art 5.

91 Information obtained through the interviews.

92 Ibid.

93 Law 67/2007, Sections 4(1) and (2) respectively simply refer to ‘all natural or legal persons claiming rights to movable and immovable properties … abandoned in the North prior to 13 February 1975’ and include no exceptions.

94 This is another example of how more theoretical arguments relating to the legality and legitimacy of the IPC, which the ECtHR refused to entertain in Demopoulos, can have an impact on the practical effectiveness of the remedies provided by the Commission. See notes 38–40 above.

95 Golder v United Kingdom (Application no. 4451/70) (1979–80) 1 EHRR 524, para 35. See, also, Ashingdane v United Kingdom (Application no. 8225/78) (1985) 7 EHRR 528, para 57.

96 This was, after all, the very basis of the Court’s reasoning in Loizidou.

97 Law 67/2005, Section 6(2).

98 Law 67/2005, Section 16 and the Rules of Law 67/2005, Sections 7 and 9.

99 Law 67/2005, Section 7.

100 Law 67/2005, Section 8.

101 See note 41 above, p 5.

102 Ibid. Section 6 of the Rules of Law 67/2005 provides that ‘the Ministry responsible for Housing Affairs shall prepare a draft friendly settlement agreement … and serve it to the applicant.’ However, it gives no explanation on how this agreement is negotiated between the two parties.

103 Rules of Law 67/2005, Section 6(1).

104 This whole process of the ‘mention meetings’ is not documented at all in the Law or the Rules. Information on this was obtained solely through the interviews.

105 Section 6(5) of the Rules of Law 67/2005. Note also that it is possible, but rare, for an applicant who refuses to go through the friendly settlement procedure to have the hearing instead. See, eg Andreas Lordos Estates Ltd v Ministry Responsible for Housing Affairs (Supreme Court of the ‘TRNC’, C. 1/2014) and Eleni Meleagrou v TRNC Attorney-General via Immovable Property Commission (High Administrative Court of the ‘TRNC’, C. 15/2011).

106 Law 67/2005, Section 9.

107 Information obtained through the interviews.

108 Iatrides v Greece (Application no. 31107/96) (2000) 30 EHRR 97, para 58.

109 Carbonara and Ventura v Italy (Application no. 24638/94) (2000), para 64; Beyeler v Italy (Application no. 33202/96) (2001) 33 EHRR 52, para 109.

110 Baklanov v Russia (Application no. 68443/01) (2005), para 46.

111 See note 15 above, Principle 12.1.

112 Brems, E and Lavrysen, L, ‘Procedural Justice in Human Rights Adjudication: The European Court of Human Rights’ (2013) 35 Human Rights Quarterly 176 , p 185.

113 A similar point was made when assessing the practices of the South African Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. Roux, T, ‘Land Restitution and Reconciliation in South Africa’, in F Du Bois and A Du Bois-Pedain (eds), Justice and Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

114 Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, ‘Solving Property Issues of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons’ (Resolution 1708 (2010)), para 10.7.

115 See note 35 above.

116 Law 67/2005, Section 11(1).

117 See note 3 above, paras 76–77.

118 Law 67/2005, Section 11(2).

119 Information obtained through the interviews.

120 Ibid. If a hearing takes place, the process can take significantly longer (see, eg Andreas Lordos in note 105 above).

121 Meleagrou v Turkey (Application no. 14434/09) (2013), para 17.

122 Frydlender v France (Application no. 30979/96) (2001) 31 EHRR 52, para 43. Exessive delays in the process can also result in violations of the right to an effective remedy, under Article 13 of the European Convention (Kudła v Poland (Application no. 30210/96) (2002) 35 EHRR 11.)

123 Information obtained through the interviews.

124 Martins Moreira v Portugal (Application no. 11371/85) (1991) 13 EHRR 517, para 60.

125 Vocaturo v Italy (Application no. 11891/85) (1991), para 17.

126 See note 114 above, paras 10.1 and 10.6 respectively.

127 Information obtained through the interviews.

128 Law 67/2005, Section 6(2).

129 See note 114 above, para 10.6.

130 See note 2 above, para 238 and note 4 above, para 199.

131 Cyprus v Turkey (Just Satisfaction) (Application no. 25781/94) (2014) 59 EHRR 16, para 63.

132 This is the arrangement that was proposed in the Annan Plan. (The Comprehensive Settlement for the Cyprus Problem (31/03/2004), Annex IIV, Attachment 2). Matson (note 14 above) makes a variation of this argument by contending that the IPC could provide guidance for the establishment of a bi-communal remedying body before the reaching of the comprehensive peace settlement. While this is an interesting suggestion, it leaves unanswered questions that go to the heart of the conflict, such as who is going to finance the compensation awards ordered by this body.

133 I would like to thank Dr Nikolas Kyriakou for pointing this out to me.

134 The possibility of such cases reaching the ECtHR in the near future has already been reported in the Cypriot media. See, for example, ‘Property issue at the ECHR again’ (Politis, 11 December 2015), [last accessed 17 June 2016; author’s translation].

135 As of 2009, there were approximately 2.5–2.8 million displaced people, scattered over 11 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. (See note 21 above, paras 1 and 3.)

136 See, Ilaşcu and Others v Moldova and Russia (Application no. 48787/99) (2005) 40 EHRR 46, para 314, where it was held that Russia’s military and economic control of Transnistria rendered it responsible for violations of Arts 3 and 5 that had been committed there.

137 ECtHR, ‘Press Country Profile: Ukraine’ (Council of Europe, 2016), p 8.

138 See note 2 above, para 238 and note 4 above, para 199.

* I would like to thank Dr Nikolas Kyriakou, Dr Aris Constantinides, Dr Arman Sarvarian, Dr Stephanie Laulhe Shaelou and the anonymous reviewer for their comments. Any remaining errors are my own.

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