November 25, 2017

Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus Ambassador Sotos Zackheos to the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly on Human Rights Questions

As we are preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reflecting on fifty years of a continuous multifaceted effort to forge a common approach, as provided for in the international human rights instruments, we should pause and examine our performance. One of the most important challenges posed by the Declaration is to render human rights a central component of conduct by nations in their relations and in their approach to their own people.

Over the last fifty years, considerable ground has been covered as evidenced by the increasingly widespread human rights perspective that has been established in the behavior of international actors but also on a national and grass roots level. The array of international human right instruments, acceded to by a large majority of states testifies to that. Moreover, the various treaty bodies are increasingly playing an important role in promoting the ideals enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, through their close examination of human rights situations throughout the world. The role of civil and non-governmental organizations in this process must also be noted and welcomed.

Despite the substantial progress achieved so far, more effort is required to fully meet the challenges that we are facing. That is why it is imperative that states display the political will to fully accede to, and implement the international conventions in the field of human rights and to try to limit their expressed reservations to particular provisions.

My government fully supports the work of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, whose report and presentation to this Committee we welcome. We share her concern that deeply troubling situations continue to exist. This is aptly demonstrated by the evidence of gross human rights violations registered throughout the world. Although Cyprus shares the view expressed by other delegations that positive engagement in situations of human rights violations can be fruitful, we also believe that perpetrators of gross human rights violations must not be allowed to escape punishment.

In this respect, my Government welcomes the efforts toward the establishment of the International Criminal Court and extends its full support to the European Court of Human Rights. The success of these institutions can only be ensured if political expediency is not allowed to interfere with the discharge of justice as has so often been the case in international relations.

Mr. Chairman,

Earlier today, in Brussels, the actual negotiations for the accession of Cyprus to the European Union were initiated. Cyprus stands ready to proceed with all the necessary measures in adopting the acquis communautaire so as to ensure that these negotiations are successfully concluded. One of the crucial preconditions for accession to the European Union is the applicant’s human rights record. Cyprus has been ready to meet that challenge for a very long time.

We are certain that EU membership will contribute significantly to the development and welfare, as well as, the enjoyment of the highest standards of human rights of all Cypriots. It is in this spirit that President Clerides extended an invitation to the Turkish Cypriot community to participate in the negotiations. The invitation was welcomed by the EU as fair and generous but was unfortunately rejected by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

Our dedication to creating a society where the respect of human rights is paramount is testified, by our unrelenting efforts in undertaking all the obligations associated with participation in international human rights instruments. As has been previously stated by our delegation during the debate in this Committee, Cyprus places utmost importance and continually strives to safeguard and promote the respect for human rights in our country. The conclusions of the mechanisms established by the international conventions which have examined Cyprus’ reports, clearly demonstrate the great efforts and positive achievements of my country.

Despite our efforts though, basic human rights of Cypriots continue to be violated. The crime perpetrated against my country by Turkey in 1974 with its invasion and military occupation of 37% of Cyprus’ territory and the subsequent deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by the 36,000 strong Turkish army, a crime against humanity which is often condemned in the strongest possible terms nowadays, must not be forgotten. The inaction of the international community to reverse the Turkish crime in Cyprus has encouraged future perpetrators of this heinous crime. Since 1974 we have unfortunately witnessed the effects of that inaction in the repetition of this crime in other parts of the world.

As a result of the forcible expulsion of the indigenous population from their ancestral homes, more than 200,000 Cypriots are still denied their properties in the occupied part of the Republic. Furthermore, settlers from Turkey are still being brought in and settled there in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, thus changing the demographic structure of the island. This situation has also led to the mass emigration of one-third of Turkish Cypriots from the occupied territory.

The Turkish side has recently intensified its campaign for expropriation of the property rights of Greek-Cypriot refugees in violation of international law and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights. It is pertinent to note that in its Judgment in the case of Loizidou, a Greek-Cypriot refugee, vs. Turkey of 18 December 1996, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of violating the property rights of the applicant, confirming that all refugees remain the legal owners of their homes and properties in the occupied part of Cyprus from where they were forcibly expelled by the Turkish army. More recently, on 28 July 1998, the same court decided that Turkey should pay Mrs. Loizidou a substantial monetary compensation since her rights have been violated, regarding access and enjoyment of her property in the occupied territory. We expect that the decision will be implemented in accordance with the established practice of the Council of Europe.

Of particular interest and grave concern to the Government of Cyprus are the serious violations of the most basic and fundamental human rights of the Greek and Maronite Cypriots living in the Turkish occupied area known as the “enclaved” perpetrated daily by the Turkish occupation forces. Basic rights such as the right to freedom of movement, personal security, religion, education, health, etc., are denied to the few hundred persons remaining in the occupied area.

The operation of secondary schools is prohibited and boys over the age of sixteen are not allowed to return to their homes in the occupied area even to visit their families, once they go to the Government controlled areas to attend school. Continuous obstacles are placed as regards the dispatch of teaching and educational materials. A teacher who criticized the regime has not been allowed to join her pupils.

The Secretary-General in his report, S/1996/411 of June 7, 1996, states, inter-alia, that “the Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the northern part of the island are subjected to severe restrictions and limitations in many basic freedoms, which had the effect of ensuring that inexorably, with the passage of time, these communities would cease to exist”. Actually, the Catholic Maronite presence in one of their four villages has been terminated in the last two years. We call on the Turkish side to respond more fully and implement all the recommendations made by UNFICYP, as contained in the report S/1995/1020 of December 10, 1995.

Mr. Chairman

In my last year’s statement, I indicated that, in terms of human pain and suffering, the uncertainty created of not knowing the whereabouts of the fate of a loved one, disappeared or missing, is a continuous one and most difficult to bear. In the case of the families of missing persons world-wide, time is not a healer, but a perpetuator of the agony and a creator of more uncertainties and pain.

In reference to the situation in Cyprus, I stated that thousands of families, whose loved ones are still missing, are going through this ordeal year after year. Parents are growing old waiting for news about the fate of their sons, wives are hoping for the return of their husbands and children are raised without their father or mother. For how much longer? This is a question the families of the missing have been asking all these years and continue to ask day by day. Tragically for the families of the missing persons in Cyprus, 1998, the year of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the previous 23 years, has not brought any answers to these strictly humanitarian questions.

The Government of Cyprus pursued every possible course of action to solve this tragic humanitarian problem. It appealed to practically all relevant international organizations and other human rights bodies, sought the cooperation and help of the Republic of Turkey, and of others who are in a position to help. Despite all these, and despite the independent efforts of the families of the missing persons, the desired progress towards the solution of this humanitarian problem has not yet been achieved.

Paragraph 23 of the Secretary-General’s report of June 1988 (S/1998/408) to the Security Council bears testimony to this. The Secretary-General in referring to the July 1997 Agreement on the missing between President Clerides and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community stated the following: “In accordance with the agreement reached by the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on 31 July 1997 (see S/1997/962, paragraph 21), on 23 January 1998, in the presence of my Deputy Special Representative… the two sides met to exchange information concerning the location of graves of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot missing persons. They also agreed to meet again to discuss the preparation of arrangements leading to the return of the remains of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot missing persons. In a further meeting on 30 April, however, the Turkish Cypriot representative stated that he was not prepared to discuss the necessary arrangements leading to the exhumation and return of the remains of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot missing persons… This position deviates from the 31 July 1997 agreement, which calls on the two sides to work out arrangements for the exhumation and identification of the remains located in the graves on which information was exchanged on 23 January 1998. As a result of the position taken by the Turkish Cypriot side, no progress has been made towards the implementation of the 31 July 1997 agreement. The Greek Cypriot side has since decided to begin exhumation and identification of the remains located in graves in the area under their control.”

It is apparent from the Secretary-General’s report that the necessary political and humanitarian will, a pre-requisite for progress towards the solution of this humanitarian problem, is not yet forthcoming from the part of the Turkish side. I take this opportunity, Mr. Chairman, to renew the appeal of the Government of Cyprus, to all concerned, especially to the Republic of Turkey, to respond in true humanitarian spirit, and take the necessary steps towards the solution of this tragic humanitarian problem. To this end, we make a special appeal to the Turkish Cypriots to abide by and implement the letter and the spirit of the provisions of the July 1997 Agreement on the missing, which provides for the respect of the rights of the families of the missing to be informed about the fate of their loved ones in a convincing and conclusive manner. Moreover, we appeal to the Turkish Cypriots to exhibit the same spirit and commitment in the work of the Committee on Missing Persons. In this way, a contribution can be made towards the amelioration of the pain and the ending of the uncertainties and agony, besieging the families of the missing for so long, and towards the restoration and respect of the human rights of the missing and those of their families.

Another area of grave concern to my Government and, I believe, to the international community is the violation of the human rights of Cypriots as regards the deliberate and extensive destruction of our cultural and religious heritage perpetrated by Turkey in the occupied areas. I will simply briefly quote the following from an article in the New York Times entitled “Greek Orthodox Church Icons Ravaged in the Turkish Part of Cyprus” which appeared on 1 April of this year. I quote: “These scenes of theft and looting reflect what European police investigators now say is one of the most systematic art looting operations since the Second World War. The looting of Greek Orthodox churches in northern Cyprus, where Turkish troops landed in 1974, has brought hundreds of magnificent art works onto the international art market…”

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I want to reaffirm my Government’s commitment to the cause of human rights. The Vienna Declaration of Human Rights and the Platform for Action adopted five years ago constitute the blueprint for our actions. Our efforts in the direction of mainstreaming human rights in our society are unrelenting. Our bitter experience dictates that the promotion of human rights is an obligation that we must fulfill for the sake of future generations. After all, we owe it to them.