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Cyprus; European Court of Human Rights; Turkey: Interstate Application of Cyprus Against Turkey: Just Satisfaction Claims

(Mar. 13, 2015) On January 23, 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in its annual report on human rights in Cyprus, described the concerns of a number of international and human rights bodies about the implementation of human rights standards on the island due to the “protracted conflict” there. Among the challenges still faced by Cyprus, the High Commissioner cited the troubling situation of missing persons. In that connection, the High Commissioner noted the judgment rendered in the case Cyprus v. Turkey (2014) by the Grand Chamber (GC) of the European Court of Human Rights in May 2014. The GC had found in favor of Cyprus in the case and had addressed the issue of just satisfaction to be awarded to the relatives to the missing Greek Cypriots and to those enclaved in the Karpas peninsula. (United Nations, Human Rights Council, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Question of Human Rights in Cyprus, A/HRC/28/20 (Jan. 23, 2015).)

Landmark Judgment of May 2014

In May 2014, the GC issued a judgment in the case of Cyprus v. Turkey and awarded monetary damages to Cyprus for human rights violations committed by Turkey. The GC ordered Turkey to pay within three months €90 million (about US$101 million) for non-pecuniary (moral) damages suffered by the relatives of 1,456 missing Greek-Cypriot individuals and the enclaved Greek-Cypriots living in the area of Karpas, which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. (Grand Chamber of the ECHR, Case of Cyprus v. Turkey, Application No. 25781/94 (May 12, 2014), HUDOC.) This a landmark judgment because, for the first time, the GC applied article 41 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) on just satisfaction and thereby established a precedent for awarding damages in cases of applications to the ECHR filed by a state against another state. (European Convention [Nov. 4, 1950], as Amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14), Council of Europe website.)

Main Case: Cyprus v. Turkey (2001)

The main case, Cyprus v. Turkey, was decided by the GC on its merits in 2001. (Grand Chamber of the ECHR, Cyprus v. Turkey (May 10, 2001), HUDOC.) Cyprus had filed an interstate application in 1999, 25 years after the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and the subsequent occupation of 37% of the island by Turkish forces in 1974. (Id. para. 13.) The GC held that Turkey had committed a number of human rights violations, not only during the military operations carried out in the northern part of Cyprus in July and August 1974, but also because of the continuing division of the territory of Cyprus and the activities of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC). (Id. para. 14-15.) This is an entity that remains unrecognized by all states except Turkey. (Id. para. 37.) Turkey was held by the ECHR to be in violation of article 2, on the right to life; article 3, on prohibition of torture; and article 5, on the right to liberty and security, of the European Convention. (Cyprus v. Turkey (May 10, 2001), supra.)

The Court had also found that Turkey violated article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on enjoyment of property, because it deprived Greek-Cypriots who lived in the northern part of Cyprus of access to their property and the right to enjoy it. (Id.; Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [Mar. 20, 1952] as Amended by Protocol No. 11, in force Nov. 1, 1998, Council of Europe website.)

At the time when the GC issued the 2001 judgment, it had held unanimously that application of article 41 was “not ripe” and therefore adjourned the issue sine die (without assigning a day). (Cyprus v. Turkey (May 10, 2001), supra.)

The Grand Chamber’s Judgment of 2014

  • Admissibility

In its May 2014 Judgment on just satisfaction of the case, the GC first considered whether the claims of the Cyprus government for award of damages were admissible, given the fact that they had been submitted in 2010, nine years after the GC issued its judgment on the merits. Cyprus argued that it had delayed applying for the award of damages because it awaited instructions from the ECHR and that it had expected enforcement of the 2001 judgment of what to occur through the Committee of Ministers, which is the supervisory body overseeing execution of judgments of the ECHR. (Cyprus v. Turkey, May 12, 2014, para. 13.) The Turkish government argued that the claim for just satisfaction was submitted late and that the only action taken by Cyprus between the 2001 judgment and 2010 application for just satisfaction was a letter sent to the ECHR in 2001. (Id. para. 18.) The Turkish government added that Cyprus had not submitted any claims for just satisfaction at the time of the examination of the merits of the case in 2001. (Id. ¶ 18.)

The GC recalled that it had instructed Cyprus not to apply for just satisfaction at that time and that it had not set any time limits for submission of just satisfaction claims. It also emphasized that the Cypriot government had never made any express or implied statement waiving its right to just satisfaction. (Id. ¶ 26.) It thus ruled the claims admissible.

  • Applicability of Article 41

Cyprus argued that article 41 of the European Convention was relevant in interstate applications, because the article does not distinguish between applications submitted by individuals or by states. (Id. ¶ 31.) The government also clarified that its claim for just satisfaction concerns the individual injured parties, that is, the relatives of the missing persons and Greek Cypriots enclaved in the Karpas peninsula, and not Cyprus as a state. (Id. ¶ 35.)

The Government of Turkey argued, unsuccessfully, that as a general rule, article 41 does not apply to interstate applications. It also referred to the case law of the European Commission of Human Rights, according to which the applicant state in an interstate case does not enforce its own rights, or the rights of its nationals, but aims to maintain and respect the public order of Europe. (Id. ¶ 37.)

The GC first recalled that the only other case that it had dealt with on the relevance of article 41 to interstate applications was Ireland v. the United Kingdom (1978), but in that case, Ireland did not request that the Court consider the just satisfaction issue or the issue of monetary compensation to individuals who were victims of violations of the European Convention by the United Kingdom. (Id. ¶ 39.)

The GC cited public international law principles as a basis for its decision to consider claims for compensation in interstate applications. First, it held that article 41 of the European Convention is based on the principle that the injured state is entitled to seek compensation from the state that has committed an internationally wrongful act against it. The GC then cited a second principle, that an international court or tribunal which has jurisdiction with respect to a claim of State responsibility has, as an aspect of that jurisdiction, the authority to award compensation for damage incurred. (Id. ¶ 41.)

The Court said that article 41 is lex specialis (specific law governing the subject) relative to the general principles of public international law discussed above, and it should not be interpreted restrictively so as to to exclude interstate applications. The GC also pointed out that the language of the article itself, which makes a reference to the “injured party,” indicates that it applies to interstate cases. (Id. ¶ 42.) Consequently, based on the above rules, the GC held that article 41 applied to interstate applications. (Id. ¶ 43.)

  • Claims for Damages Under Article 41

On the specific question as to whether the applicant state should be awarded satisfaction under article 41, the GC stated that each case must be assessed individually. The GC held that the following criteria should be considered: (a) the type of complaint made by the applicant country; (b) whether individual victims can be identified; and (c) the main reason for instituting an interstate application. (Id.) The GC observed that under the European Convention, “it is the individual, and not the State, who is directly or indirectly harmed and primarily ‘injured’ by a violation of one or several Convention rights.” It said that this must also be valid for interstate applications and just satisfaction can be awarded to individuals who have been identified as injured parties. (Id. ¶ 46.)

Applying these principles in the case of Cyprus v. Turkey, the CG observed that the Cypriot Government submitted just satisfaction claims for “two sufficiently precise and objectively identifiable groups of people, that is, the 1,456 missing persons and the enclaved Greek Cypriot residents of Karpas peninsula.” The Court further stated that Cyprus did not seek just satisfaction for itself but for “the benefit of individual victims.” (Id. ¶ 47.) In these circumstances, the CG determined that Cyprus was entitled to make a claim under article 41 of the Convention, and that granting just satisfaction would be justified. (Id. 47.)

As for the number of missing persons, Cyprus had given 1,485 as the number of missing persons in its initial application. That number was adjusted to account for the fact that relatives of some missing persons had made individual applications in a separate case, Varnava and Others v. Turkey, and had been awarded just satisfaction (Grand Chamber of the ECHR, Varnava and Others v. Turkey (Dec. 18, 2009), HUDOC.); others previously missing had been exhumed and identified and it could not be established that Turkey’s military actions caused their deaths. The final number for whom damages was sought was reduced to 1,456 persons. (Cyprus v. Turkey, May 12, 2014, ¶ 48.) Cyprus had also initially requested €12,000 (about US$12,930) in damages for each missing person, in accordance with the amount awarded by the ECHR in the Varnava case. However, in their final submission to the Court, it asked for just satisfaction “at a standard rate in accordance with equitable principles,” because the €12,000 amount was much less than the amounts awarded in more recent cases. (Id. ¶ 49.)

In regard to the Greek Cypriots in the Karpas peninsula, Cyprus argued that they were subject to continuous violations of their human rights by Turkey and therefore should be awarded much higher compensation than the relatives of the missing persons. (Id. ¶ 52.) As to what would constitute an appropriate amount, the Court repeated a statement that it had made in the Varnava case, holding that it is also applicable in interstate cases:

The Court would observe that there is no express provision for non-pecuniary or moral damage. Evolving case by case, the Court’s approach in awarding just satisfaction has distinguished situations where the applicant has suffered evident trauma, whether physical or psychological, pain and suffering, distress, anxiety, frustration, feelings of injustice or humiliation, prolonged uncertainty, disruption to life, or real loss of opportunity … and those situations where the public vindication of the wrong suffered by the applicant, in a judgment binding on the Contracting State, is a powerful form of redress in itself. In many cases where a law, procedure or practice has been found to fall short of Convention standards this is enough to put matters right. … In some situations, however, the impact of the violation may be regarded as being of a nature and degree as to have impinged so significantly on the moral well-being of the applicant as to require something further. Such elements do not lend themselves to a process of calculation or precise quantification. Nor is it the Court’s role to function akin to a domestic tort mechanism court in apportioning fault and compensatory damages between civil parties. Its guiding principle is equity, which above all involves flexibility and an objective consideration of what is just, fair and reasonable in all the circumstances of the case, including not only the position of the applicant but the overall context in which the breach occurred. Its non-pecuniary awards serve to give recognition to the fact that moral damage occurred as a result of a breach of a fundamental human right and reflect in the broadest of terms the severity of the damage; they are not, nor should they be, intended to give financial comfort or sympathetic enrichment at the expense of the Contracting Party concerned. (Id. ¶ 56.)

Court’s Conclusions

The Court found it reasonable to award the Cypriot Government aggregate sums of €30 million (about US$32.3 million) for non-pecuniary damage suffered by the surviving relatives of the missing persons, and €60 million (about US$64.65 million) for non-pecuniary damage suffered by the enclaved residents of Karpas peninsula, plus any tax chargeable on these amounts. It assigned the Cyprus Government to distribute the amount to the individual victims. (Id. ¶ 58.) It further instructed the Cyprus government to establish a mechanism to oversee the distribution of the award, which must be done within 18 months following the date of payment by Turkey. (Id. ¶ 59.)

Based on the above considerations, the Court reached the following conclusions, by overwhelming majority:

  • that the passage of time since the delivery of the principal judgment of May 10, 2001, has not rendered the Cyprus claims for just satisfaction inadmissible;
  • that article 41 applies to the present case insofar as the missing persons are concerned;
  • that article 41 applies to the present case insofar as the enclaved Greek Cypriot residents of the Karpas peninsula are concerned;
  • that Turkey must pay to Cyprus, within three months, €30 million plus any tax that may have accrued, in respect of non-pecuniary damages suffered by the relatives of the missing persons; and
  • that Turkey must pay to Cyprus, within three months, €60 million, plus any tax, for non-pecuniary damages suffered by the enclaved Greek Cypriot residents of the Karpas peninsula. (Id., under “For these reasons the Court” section after ¶ 63.)


In accordance with article 46 of the European Convention, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is in charge of overseeing implementation of ECHR judgments. (Committee of Ministers, Supervision of Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, Council of Europe website (last visited Mar. 3, 2015).) Thus far, Turkey has not taken any steps to provide the amount of damages awarded to relatives of missing persons and those trapped in the Karpas peninsula, as indicated by the lack of an implementation report on the Committee of Ministers relevant website. (Committee of Ministers, Action Plans Received from Respondent State, Council of Europe website [to find implementation reports (or the lack thereof) by Turkey, in the “Please Select a Country” drop-down list choose “Turkey” and for the “search period” choose, e.g., between 2014 and 2015].)