Can the International Criminal Court Bring Justice to Cyprus? | Opinion

After being forcibly displaced in 1974 from my hometown of Famagusta, when Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus, I adopted the Netherlands as my new home. Turkey has been trying to block justice for Cyprus through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for years. Can the International Criminal Court (ICC) finally bring justice to Cyprus?

On the basis that no one is above the law, the answer must surely be "yes." However, there are three formidable though not necessarily insurmountable obstacles on the road to justice through the ICC.

The first obstacle is the suspicious refusal of Turkey to become a state party to the Rome Statute on the ICC. Turkey has not signed the Rome Statute. Despite being a candidate country to join the European Union (EU), Turkey has not followed the example set by Cyprus, the Netherlands and all other EU members who have become state parties to the ICC.

A second obstacle is the ongoing failure of the U.N. Security Council to activate Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and refer any of the alleged international crimes committed in the Republic of Cyprus to the prosecutor of the ICC. The U.N. Security Council has failed to invite the ICC to "exercise its jurisdiction" under Article 13 (b) of the Rome Statute "with respect to" any of the crimes listed in Article 5—the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

A third obstacle is the limited chronological jurisdiction of the ICC. This is confined to international crimes allegedly committed after the Rome Statute came into force on July 1, 2002. This restriction does not prevent the ICC from handling any cases arising from any international crimes allegedly committed in any part of the Republic of Cyprus after this date. According to the complaint filed with the ICC in 2014 by a member of the European Parliament, Costas Mavrides, and the Cypriots Against Turkish War Crimes Foundation, such crimes would appear to include: "The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory," contrary to Article 8.2 (b) (viii) of the Rome Statute.

Nor does the limited chronological jurisdiction of the ICC prevent the law enforcement authorities in Turkey or the Republic of Cyprus from instigating criminal proceedings in their domestic courts under domestic legislation such as a Cypriot law of 1966. That law enshrines the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 into domestic Cypriot law. Those conventions appear to have been flouted, with impunity, in 1974 and in so many other years. Will the law enforcement authorities in the Republic of Cyprus or Turkey ever bring any domestic criminal proceedings?

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon. One appeared on June 15, 2021. In her farewell statement, the outgoing prosecutor at the ICC, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, disclosed that "during the past six months my staff has undertaken significant work, within available means, to advance our assessment on several so-called 'Phase 1' assessments – i.e. the initial filtering assessment as part of the preliminary examination process." The outgoing prosecutor then mentioned Cyprus: "Last December, I announced our hope that during 2021 decisions could be reached either to dismiss or proceed, including with respect to Mexico, Cyprus (settlements), Yemen (arm exporters), Cambodia (land grabbing) and Syria/Jordan (deportation). Despite progress made on a number of these assessments ... I will again be handing these over to the incoming Prosecutor to consider and decide upon, as he deems appropriate."

A decision is now awaited from the new prosecutor at the ICC, Karim Ahmad Khan.

Whatever the new prosecutor decides, nothing can alter the basic facts.

A child waves the Cypriot national flag
A child waves the Cypriot national flag as a Cypriot police Bell helicopter flies past during a military parade marking the anniversary of Cyprus' independence from British colonial rule, in the capital Nicosia on Oct. 1, 2019. IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP via Getty Images

In 1974, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus through two bloody military campaigns—first on July 20 and then again on Aug. 14. During each campaign, the Turkish occupation forces terrorized the indigenous Greek citizens of the republic in its northern part into fleeing to the southern part. Turkey and its local agents also coerced Turkish citizens of Cyprus to head in the opposite direction.

In order to achieve the de facto partition of the Republic of Cyprus and the forcible physical segregation of its people, Turkey carried out human rights violations and what appear to be unpunished crimes against humanity and other international crimes. Such crimes would appear to include willful killings, forcible transfers of population, unlawful imprisonments, acts of torture, rapes, enforced disappearances of persons and the persecution of people on ethnic and religious grounds. Evidence of such crimes has been documented—in the context of European Human Rights Law—in the Report of the European Commission of Human Rights adopted in 1976.

Since 1974, Turkey has illegally occupied over 36 percent of the territory and 57 percent of the coastline of the Republic of Cyprus.

This past July, on the 47th anniversary of the first Turkish invasion campaign, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Turkish-occupied north of the Republic. At the time, I went to my Turkish-occupied birthplace of Famagusta with Der Spiegel, where I tried to meet and confront Erdogan. He never turned up, but I made a promise: I would do everything I can to call for justice in response to the countless unpunished human rights violations and international crimes inflicted on me and on so many other forcibly displaced persons of various ethnic or religious backgrounds. Sooner or later, justice must be delivered on account of the ongoing injustices done to Cyprus.

As we wait for justice, everyone should reflect upon the meaningful words of Georghios Pikis, former ICC member: "Without justice there can be no peace and without peace, human existence is left at the mercy of the ill passions of the strong for power, domination, riches and sequential inhuman acts."

Tasoula Hadjitofi a human rights and cultural campaigner whose expertise is cultural heritage preservation. She is the founding president of the Walk of Truth and the author of the 2017 book The Icon Hunter.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.