Case of the Month: Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey

by Roger Alford

My vote for the most important international law case in December is the ECHR’s decision in Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey. The decision is available here and the official press release is here.

Arestis involved the deprivation of property rights as a result of the continuing division of Cyprus and the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. Arestis is a Greek-Cypriot who lives in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. She owns land, houses and a shop in northern Cyprus but has been prevented from living in her home or using her property since August 1974 as a result of the continuing division of Cyprus.

The applicant brought a property claim pursuant to Article 8 of the ECHR against Turkey. The Court concluded that the deprivation of her rights to enjoy her property constituted a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention.

But by far the most significant aspect of the decision is the Court’s opinion requiring Turkey to address this issue in a systematic way in relation to all similarly-situated applicants:

It is inherent in the Court’s findings that the violation of the applicant’s rights … originates in a widespread problem affecting large numbers of people…. Moreover, the Court cannot ignore the fact that there are already approximately 1,400 property cases pending before the Court brought primarily by Greek-Cypriots against Turkey….. The Court considers that the respondent State must introduce a remedy, which secures genuinely effective redress for the Convention violations identified in the instant judgment in relation to the present applicant as well as in respect of all similar applications pending before the Court, in accordance with the principles for the protection of the rights laid down in Articles 8…. Such a remedy should be available within three months from the date on which the present judgment will be delivered and the redress should occur three months thereafter. (paras. 38-40).

In short, the ECHR is ordering Turkey to compensate every Greek-Cypriot who has a claim against Turkey for the deprivation of three decades of use and enjoyment of their property in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus (“TRNC”).

As reported here, one of the principal reasons that the Annan Plan for Cyprus was rejected by the Greek Cypriot community in 2004 was concern for Turkish settlers living on Greek Cypriot owned land. The ECHR decision is an alternative approach to resolving that aspect of the conflict.

Both sides are now trying to interpret the decision, with Greek Cypriots arguing that the decision requires an effective remedy of restoration of properties and compensation for the loss of use, while the Turkish press is arguing that the case affirms the use of an internal compensation commission within the TRNC to resolve the claims.

The Arestis case represents another example of the ECHR using its authority to resolve hundreds of disputes in a mass-claims process. The approach mirrors the earlier decision of the ECHR in Broniowski v. Poland discussed here and here. As I predicted there, “class action” litigation is garnering support in Strasbourg and will grow in popularity.

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