Human Rights

Introduction

Human rights in Cyprus are protected through the Constitution and through various International Conventions that have been ratified by the State.

As a result of Cyprus’ accession to the European Union on 1 May 2004, Cyprus has undertaken to apply an even stricter human rights protection regime. This is not surprising considering that two of the European Union’s founding principles are “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”. In this context, Cyprus’ constant assimilation of the acquis communautaire must undoubtedly be welcomed as “good news” for human rights.

We should further welcome the Lisbon Treaty, that entered into force on 1 December 2009, following which the Charter of Fundamental Rights has become legally binding for the European institutions and the EU has acquired single legal personality. It is now established that the EU shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). It is, therefore, expected that this will strengthen the protection of human rights in Europe.

Applicable Law

As stated, human rights in Cyprus are basically protected through the Constitution (which was amended in 2006 to give precedence to EU Law) and various International Conventions. Pursuant to the 5th Amendment of the Cyprus Constitution, EU Law and International Conventions (when duly ratified) have superior force to national law. Therefore, individuals can invoke the self-executory provisions deriving from international law.

The Constitution

The relevant section of the Constitution is Part II thereof, entitled “Fundamental Rights and Liberties”. This spans thirty or so Articles (namely, Articles 6 to 35, inclusive), and was partly modelled on the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) and guarantees a number of civil, political and social rights. It is worth pointing out at the outset that, according to Article 35, “[t]he legislative, executive and judicial authorities of the Republic shall be bound to secure, within the limits of their respective competence, the efficient application of the provisions of this Part.” In fact, basing itself on, inter alia, Article 35, the Supreme Court of Cyprus in Yiallouros v. Nicolaou (2001) resolved that violations of human rights, even if committed by non-State actors, can give rise to a cause of action against the wrongdoer.

Of the various rights enshrined in Part II of the Constitution, the following are of particular interest:

-Article 7: guarantees the right to life and corporal integrity.

-Article 8: prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.

-Article 9: guarantees the right to decent existence and social security.

-Article 10: prohibits slavery, servitude and compulsory labour.

-Article 11: protects the right to liberty and security of person.

-Article 12: provides for the rights of persons accused of having committed an offence. These include the right not to be held guilty of any offence on account of any act/omission which did not constitute an offence at the time that it was committed; the right not to bear a heavier punishment for an offence other than that expressly provided for by law at the time that the offence was committed; and the “double jeopardy” rule.

-Article 13: provides for the right to move freely throughout the Republic and to reside in any part thereof.

-Article 14: provides that no citizen shall be banished or excluded from the Republic under any circumstances.

-Article 15: protects the right to respect for one’s private and family life.

-Article 16: protects the inviolability of a person’s dwelling house.

-Article 17: protects the right to respect for and the secrecy of one’s correspondence and other communication.

-Articles 18, 19: protect the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as to freedom of speech and expression.

-Article 23: guarantees the right to property.

-Articles 25, 26: guarantee the rights to free practise of any profession, occupation, trade or business, as well as the right to freely enter into contracts.

-Article 28: guarantees equality before the law, and, generally, the enjoyment of the rights and liberties provided for in the Constitution without discrimination, direct or indirect, on any ground, unless there is express provision to the contrary in the Constitution.

Other Articles enshrine rights such as the right to education, peaceful assembly, marriage, the right to strike, etc.

International Conventions

Cyprus is currently a party to a number of International Human Rights Conventions, including the following:

  • The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (1950) and its Protocols currently in force.

    Protocol 14 which entered into force on 1.6.2010 has brought about the following changes:

    1. Repetitive cases are to be decided at the admissibility stage by a committee of three judges.
    2. Introduction of a new admissibility criterion under Article 35.
    3. With the aim to facilitate execution of judgments, the new paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 were introduced under Article 46. The new paragraph 3 enables the Court to give an interpretation of a judgment and paragraphs 4 and 5 accordingly empower the Committee of Ministers to bring infringement proceedings in the Court.

    As soon as the State Parties sign and ratify Protocols 15 and 16, the said Protocols will strengthen the principle of subsidiarity, reduce from six to four months the time limit for the submission of the application and introduce the Court’s jurisdiction to give advisory opinions on questions of principle in relation to the interpretation or application of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention.

  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
  • Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women.
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.)
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Protocols that are currently in force.
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  • The European Social Charter (revised).

Other Human Rights Conventions to which Cyprus is a party regulate such areas as Immigration, Refugees, Statelessness, Employment etc.

Services Offered by our Practice

Human Rights occupy a commanding position in the daily business of our Practice.

As a believer in the protection of the rights of all people, our Practice has been a pioneer in the conduct of relevant litigation, both at home and abroad. It has also been assigned the task of assisting in the drawing up of Human Rights Reports on Cyprus by various international organizations. The more recent one being our contribution to the issuing of the FRANET Annual Report 2011 on Cyprus, focusing on the “Access and Efficient and Independent Justice” and “Protection of Victims”.

Noteworthy cases successfully argued by our Practice before the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) include

  • Modinos v Cyprus (1993):

    This was the first individual case ever to reach the Court, with Cyprus as Respondent. It was successfully argued that the prohibition by criminal law of homosexual activities between consenting male adults violated Article 8 of the ECHR. The relevant sections of the Cypriot Criminal Code have since been amended to bring Cyprus in line with the Court’s Judgment.

  • Loizidou v Turkey (1995, 1996, 1998):

    This was the first case ever to be brought before the Court by a Greek-Cypriot individual against Turkey over the human rights violations arising out of Turkey’s on-going occupation of northern Cyprus. It was successfully argued that Turkey’s denial of access to the Applicant’s property in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus fell within the “jurisdiction” of Turkey and amounted to a violation of the Applicant’s rights under Article 1 of Protocol No.1 of the ECHR. The Court subsequently awarded the Applicant 300,000 Cyprus Pounds for pecuniary damages, and 20,000 Cyprus Pounds for non-pecuniary damages over the anguish, helplessness, and frustration caused by this denial. In addition, the Court awarded her 137,000 Cyprus Pounds for costs plus expenses. Turkey eventually paid the Applicant the sums adjudged in her favour. However, to this day, Turkey refuses to allow the Applicant and other Greek-Cypriots like her to resume peaceful enjoyment of their property in the Turkish-occupied area.

This notwithstanding, the Loizidou Judgment has facilitated the lodging of hundreds of applications against Turkey by the victims of the latter’s invasion of Cyprus. Tens of these Applications have actually been filed by our Practice. In two of these cases – namely, Demades v. Turkey (1999, 2003) and Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey (2004, 2005, 2006) – the Court has already passed Judgment and has confirmed the essential tenets of Loizidou, finding that the Applicants’ rights under Article 8 of the ECHR and Article 1 of Protocol No.1 have been violated. In Xenides-Arestis, the Court has already adjudged damages in the Applicant’s favour. These are of the magnitude of 800,000 euro for pecuniary damages, 50,000 euro for non-pecuniary damages and 100,000 euro for costs and expenses.

It is worth noting that in the Xenides-Arestis case, the Court found that the violations were originated in a systemic problem and called the Respondent State (Turkey) to introduce an effective remedy. Subsequently, the Immovable Property Commission (hereinafter “IPC”) was established by Turkey.

The IPC’s adequacy as an effective remedy that should be exhausted before someone would apply to the Court was examined in the recent case of Demopoulos and Others v. Turkey. The Court, dealing with complaints based on the property rights of 17 Cypriot nationals of Greek-Cypriot origin, declared the eight cases concerned inadmissible for not having exhausted the domestic remedy available in the occupied northern part of Cyprus, namely the IPC.

Following this decision, Greek-Cypriots have the following options: either to file their complaints before the IPC, or show the Court reasons for the inapplicability of the exhaustion requirement, or even await the political solution to the problem of the continuing occupation.

The last of the property-related cases of Greek-Cypriots before the Court to be adjudicated, after the Demopoulos decision, was Lordos and Others v. Turkey. This case was handled by our Practice and has resulted in a judgment by which Turkey has to pay the Applicants for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages of 20.830.000 and 15.000 euro for costs and expenses.

-Other important cases successfully argued were Larkos v. Cyprus (1999) (right to home), Alithia Publishing Company v. Cyprus (2000, 2001, 2002) (length of proceedings) and Kolona v. Cyprus (2007) (home and property rights).

Other important cases successfully argued by our Office before the Court were:

  • Larkos v. Cyprus (1999) (right to home), Alithia Publishing Company v. Cyprus (2000, 2001, 2002) (length of proceedings) and Kolona v. Cyprus (2007) (home and property rights).
  • Kafkaris v. Cyprus (2008) (no punishment without law, particularly the issue of ‘quality of law’), Varnava and Others v. Turkey (2009) (missing persons - failure of the authorities of the Respondent State to conduct an effective investigation into the fate of the nine men who disappeared in life-threatening circumstances and inhuman treatment of their relatives).
  • Fokas v. Turkey (2009, 2013) – violation of the Applicants’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their possession under Article 1 of Protocol 1 with regard to immovable property in Istanbul. The Court awarded Euro 5.000.000 in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

Cases before the Cyprus Courts

Our Practice has currently pending cases before the Cyprus Courts, on the appeal stage, lodged by relatives of missing persons who have been recently found buried in the non-occupied part of Cyprus. Reference can be made to Vasos Vasileiou a.o. v. The Republic of Cyprus, case no.13863/02, (Βάσος Βασιλείου κ.α. εναντίον Κυπριακής Δημοκρατίας), in which Cyprus has been found responsible for the violation of Article 3 and 8 of the Convention (ECHR) and the Court awarded 50.000 euro to the missing person’s wife and 25.000 euro to each of his children as non-pecuniary damages.

Specific mention should also be made of Andriani Palma a.o. v. the Attorney General of the Republic of Cyprus, case no.6661/2001, (1. Ανδριανή Πάλμα κ.α. v. Γενικού Εισαγγελία της Δημοκρατίας) that we handled more recently. In this case, the Court found that the Republic of Cyprus failed to comply with its obligations derived by the international conventions, the international humanitarian customary law (related to the protection of family life, the treatment of the dead, the obligation to return the remains and to record all available information and notify the families) and violated the constitutionally enshrined human rights of the Plaintiffs, namely the wife and the two daughters of the, until recently, Greek-Cypriot missing husband and father, Charalambos Palma. The Court awarded to plaintiff no.1 the amount of Euro 132.000 and plaintiffs 2 and 3 Euro 66.000 as general damages and, additionally, Euro 20.000 to each as punitive damages.

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