By Irene Zoupaniotis
Reform of the UN has been, as of late, at the center of attention of the world community and a high priority of US foreign policy. Human rights particularly and their universal application and protection, have been the focus of a heated debate that in 2006 led to the newly established Human Rights Council which succeeded the old Human Rights Commission. The adoption by the UN General Assembly of the resolution establishing the Human Rights Council signaled a bright new era for human rights and raised expectations for their universal respect, especially in places where these fundamental freedoms and liberties suffered the most.
The Human Rights Council, a body comprised of 47 elected UN member states, is a political body and inevitably when it is time for decisions, different national interests come into play. But UN Secretariat is not a political body and special mandate holders of the UN High Commission for Human Rights are expected to represent the UN Organization and to uphold the universal values and principles enshrined in its Charter. Unfortunately, that was not evident in Cyprusʼ Human Rights Report of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released in early March by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva during the sixty-second session of the Human Rights Council.
In accordance with their mandate in resolution 1987/50, one would expect the human rights experts of the UN Secretariat, who monitor the implementation of that resolution, to tell us what happened with the 200,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their homes and properties by Turkeyʼs invading forces in 1974 and who after 33 years have yet to return. Or what measures the UN is taking to protect the usurped Greek-Cypriot properties in the northern occupied part and to prevent their ongoing unlawful massive sale. They equally fail to report on the demographic changes that occur in the occupied part by the continuous colonization by Turkey, a crime against humanity under international law. And they ignore completely the destruction of the religious and cultural heritage in the occupied areas, that started in 1974 and continues to this day, altering the cultural and religious character of the island. Reports on vandalized Greek-Orthodox Churches frequently see the light of publicity in the Turkish-Cypriot press, but ironically have found no place in the UN report.
The report overall distorts the situation in Cyprus and makes a negative contribution to the efforts of the international community to effectively address human rights violations by Turkey against the people of Cyprus. The vagueness of the report as well as its omission of major human rights violations against the Greek-Cypriot community suggest its biased nature. It is a shame that the UN Human Rights team turns a blind eye to the consequences of the Turkish occupation in Cyprus, while at the same time overrides its mandate by reporting on irrelevant issues that can only be linked with attempts to clear Turkeyʼs record from its crimes in Cyprus.
Many of the human rights violations listed in the report that have been occuring on the island are very vague in stating the guilty party. While it discusses the issue of the missing persons, it does not specifically address who the missing persons are, especially since over 1,400 Greek-Cypriots went missing after the 1974 invasion, and despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has named Turkey as the responsible party for the investigations that determine what happened to the missing persons last seen alive in the custody of Turkish forces.
Another issue is the abundance of violations against the Turkish-Cypriots by Greek-Cypriots without mention of violations against the Greek-Cypriots by Turkey. For example, the report discusses a specific isolated incident where 15-20 Greek-Cypriot youths attacked a group of Turkish-Cypriot students; an incident which was condemned by all political parties and President Papadopoulos. However there is no mention of the arrest by the occupation army of Greek-Cypriot journalists last fall which was condemned by both Greek and Turkish Cypriot press and international press organizations including the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. Furthermore, the drafters of the Report, by superseding their mandate, discuss several violations that occur in the “south”- as they refer to the free areas of the Republic of Cyprus- against Turkish-Cypriots with no mention of violations that occur in the occupied north. They mention systematic discrimination against the Turkish-Cypriot community in Limassol, but fail to mention discriminatory practices against the Greek-Cypriots in the north or explain why the indigenous Greek-Cypriots living in the Karpasia area are diminishing with the passage of time and becoming less in numbers (not even 500) while the number of Turkish-Cypriots (1000) residing in the free areas is increasing. Surely the mathematics do not lead to the reportʼs conclusions of discriminatory policies of the Cyprus government. While the Turkish-Cypriots exercise the right of free movement in the free areas of the island, the Greek-Cypriots are very limited in their movement in the occupied areas, a fact that further demonstrates the unbalanced representation of human rights violations occurring on the island.
Lastly, the report discusses the fundamental human right of education that is being denied to the Turkish-Cypriots because there is non-recognition of Turkish-Cypriot universities, as well as a prevention of the freedom of movement of students and staff. The first issue that is being raised with this is that the lack of freedom in movement of students is not at the fault of Greek-Cypriots, but rather is due to the continuation of Turkish occupation of that part of the island. Turkish-Cypriots are not prevented from pursuing higher education abroad as indicated by the fact that many Turkish-Cypriots do, especially after Cyprusʼs accession in the EU that grants them the opportunity, as equal citizens of the Republic of Cyprus to exercise their academic rights in any place within the EU. The Turkish-Cypriotsʼ mobility is not being stifled, as shown by their ability to use the ports and the airports of both the government controlled south and the occupied north. The issue does not lie in the violations of Greek-Cypriots against Turkish-Cypriots in denying them their fundamental human right of education, but rather in the Turkish-Cypriotsʼ leadership and Turkeyʼs political goal of the occupied areas to be recognized as an independent country. It should not be forgotten that the UN Security Council has condemned the Turkish-Cypriot attempted secession in its resolutions 541 (1983) and 550 (1984) as being in violation of international law while they call upon the world community to not lend a helping hand to the secessionist entity. Academic freedom should not be confused with political expediency or placed higher than International Law.
Although there was a mandate in the first resolution by the Human Rights Commission requesting the Secretary-General to trace and account for missing persons, there has been little implementation of this and barely any reference to the Greek-Cypriot properties other than it is a “sensitive subject.” While the report is able to address whether or not Greek-Cypriots have been successful in changing their history books (the report states they have not), which is a non-human rights issue, it never directly addresses whether or not properties, a basic human rights issue, have begun to be returned.
The report is not only vague on issues that are important in human rights violations against Greek-Cypriots, but it goes so far as to report on matters that are irrelevant to human rights and to omit completely several of the violations by Turkey and its illegal regime on the occupied part. This is clearly an example of a report that has not been guided by the principles of the UN Charter, structuring instead its assessments on a bias representation of the human rights situation in Cyprus for reasons that merit some further analysis. It is an offense toward the people of Cyprus whose human rights have suffered immensely and have yet to be restored because of the continuing illegal Turkish military occupation of the northern third of the island.
* Ms Zoupaniotis is a student of Political Science at The William E. Macaulay Honors College (MHC)