Cyprus v. Turkey: Just Satisfaction and Acts of Aggression

Anthony Lott
August 27, 2014

On 12 May 2014, The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or Grand Chamber) published its judgment in the just satisfaction phase of Cyprus v. Turkey.[1] Just satisfaction (Article 41) refers to monetary damages awarded as a result of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the first instance in which the ECHR has awarded just satisfaction in an inter-state case.[2] The Grand Chamber ruled that Turkey was to pay Cyprus 90,000,000 euros (123,000,000 USD) in non-pecuniary (moral) damages suffered by relatives of 1,456 Greek-Cypriot missing persons as well as enclaved Greek-Cypriots in the Karpas peninsula in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.[3] This ruling comes thirteen years after the Grand Chamber’s principal judgment that found Turkey responsible for human rights violations relating to Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture), and Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention.[4] In 2001, the Grand Chamber ruled unanimously that it was not ready to examine just satisfaction and adjourned consideration thereof.[5] Ongoing negotiations to resolve the political division of Cyprus, and the role of the Council of Ministers in executing decisions of the Court, were factors in the decision to delay a ruling on just satisfaction.

In 2010, on behalf of its affected citizens, Cyprus applied for just satisfaction relief. In the recent ruling, two legal questions needed to be addressed. First, as a result of the passage of time, was the application inadmissible? Second, could Article 41 be applied in an inter-state dispute? The Court found, by a wide majority, that the passage of time had no legal effect on the Cypriot government’s application and that Cyprus, as a state, could apply for just satisfaction on behalf of injured citizens.[6] The judgment appears to be both a legal ruling on just satisfaction and a moral condemnation of aggression.

The Facts of the Case

In 1974, fourteen years after Cypriot independence from Great Britain, amidst increasing inter-ethnic fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and in the immediate aftermath of a coup by right-wing Greek-Cypriot national guard officers seeking enosis (political union) with Greece, Turkey invaded Cyprus and took control of 37% of the island. Turkey justified intervention by claiming that it had a humanitarian responsibility to uphold the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot minority. The international community condemned the invasion in a series of UN Resolutions.[7]

In 1983, the de facto government of the Turkish-occupied region made a unilateral declaration of independence creating the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Only Turkey granted recognition to the TRNC.[8] In the aftermath of the independent declaration of the TRNC, Greek-Cypriot citizens began to use international and national courts to redress property claims and human rights abuses. The case of Cyprus v. Turkey appeared before the ECHR in 1994 concurrently with cases brought by Cypriot citizens acting alone or in concert.[9]

The Legal Reasoning of the Justices of the Grand Chamber

It is with this historical backdrop that the Grand Chamber ruled on 14 May, 2014. The justices ruled by a vote of fifteen to one (the dissenting vote coming from the Turkish national judge, Işil Karakaş) that the Cypriot delay in requesting just satisfaction was the result of a combination of factors stemming from the ECHR’s principal judgment of 10 May 2001. Since the ECHR had decided to adjourn consideration of Article 41 and because the process of judgment execution at the ECHR involves review and recommendation by the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Cyprus could not be expected to have initiated just satisfaction immediately after the 2001 principal judgment. Further, cases decided by the ECHR after the principal judgment established “newly formulated time-limits” for individuals or states to submit an application for just satisfaction.[10] In its argument before the ECHR, Cyprus noted that the just satisfaction request stemmed from a humanitarian concern that further delay would undermine individual rights for remedy among (aging) Cypriot citizens harmed by Turkey in 1974 and the subsequent establishment of new standards for bringing a case before the ECHR.[11] Against objections from Turkey, the ECHR found that Cyprus had not undermined good faith or res judicata. The Cypriot Government informed the ECHR of its intent to file for satisfaction on 31 August 2007 and subsequently filed its claim on 11 March 2010.[12] These actions were consistent with Court procedures and took into account the growing body of judicial decisions applicable to property and human rights on Cyprus.

Once the ECHR established that the passage of time did not negate Cypriot claims to just satisfaction, the Court considered whether Article 41 applied to both states and individuals, or if just satisfaction claims were limited to individual citizens of Council states. Turkey claimed that Article 41 would only apply for a state applicant if the respondent directly injured the applicant in question. Further, Turkey argued that the language of Article 41 suggested it applied to individual subjects rather than corporate entities. Accordingly, Article 41 could only pertain to individual applicants requesting redress for “physical or psychological trauma, pain and suffering, distress, anxiety, frustration, feelings of injustice or humiliation, prolonged uncertainty, disruption of life, etc.”[13]

All justices of the Grand Chamber, save the Turkish national judge, agreed that member states could seek Article 41 relief for identifiable citizens. Citing the Diallo decision at the International Court of Justice, the Grand Chamber ruled that responsible states could seek compensation for injuries to persons.[14] Just satisfaction could be requested so long as a clear, documented list of “sufficiently precise and objectively identifiable” citizens had been established.[15] Indeed, the issue of a clear, documented list of harmed individuals seems to have been the only point of contention concerning the application of Article 41. In his partly concurring and partly dissenting opinion, Josep Casadevall differentiated between the established list of objectively identifiable individuals among families of missing persons (the 1,456 names provided to the Court on 8 June 2012)[16] and the list of potential (but not fully documented) victims among enclaved Greek-Cypriots living in the Karpas peninsula. Casadevall’s position was that, without a list of Karpas victims, Article 41 could not be employed, as Cyprus would be unable to allocate awards to specific individuals.

Acts of Past Aggression

This significant ruling represents both a moral as well as a legal condemnation of an act of aggression. Writing a concurring opinion, Judge Pinto de Albuquerque wrote:

The Cyprus v. Turkey (just satisfaction) case is the most important contribution to peace in Europe in the history of the European Court of Human Rights . . . . The message to member States of the Council of Europe is clear: those member States that wage war, invade or support foreign armed intervention in other member States must pay for their unlawful actions and the consequences of their actions . . . .[17]

This case, the first inter-state case before the ECHR to utilize Article 41, may have important consequences for future litigation before the Court. Aggression has been at the heart of the Cyprus problem since Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom negotiated Cypriot independence in 1960.[18] Concerned by the potential of either union or partition, the parties negotiated Article II of the Treaty of Alliance in order to “resist any attack or aggression, direct or indirect, directed against the independence or the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.”[19] Similar treaty articles in the Treaty of Establishment and the Treaty of Guarantee set out limitations on the use of force by external actors in Cyprus. The expansionist foreign policy of Greece’s ruling military junta (1967–1974) represented the first instance of treaty violation with respect to Cypriot sovereignty. The junta’s participation in and support of the July 1974 coup d’état against President Makarios, with the aim of absorbing Cyprus into the Greek state, triggered the initial Turkish invasion on 20 July 1974. These actions occurred at a time when many states in the international community, confronted by the politics of the Cold War, were seized by a desire to establish a clear, legal definition of aggression.[20] Coincidentally, only four months after the invasion, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution defining aggression.[21]

The most recent judgment of the Grand Chamber is similarly situated in the growing discourse on the crime of aggression. It comes only four years after the ICC Kampala review conference sought to reaffirm the 1974 definitions of “crime” and “act” of aggression and “activated” its use by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.[22] Moreover, it comes only two months after Crimea was “absorbed” into Russia (one Council member) from Ukraine (another Council member). Within this international political milieu, the decision of the Grand Chamber is both salient and cogent. A joint concurring opinion by nine of the seventeen justices demonstrates the breadth of this decision and the extent to which it becomes a model for future decisions: “The present judgment heralds a new era in the enforcement of human rights upheld by the Court . . . . [It] is the first time in the Court’s history that the Court has made a specific judicial statement as to the import and effect of one of its judgments in the context of execution.”[23] In this regard, the ECHR establishes a strict payment schedule with interest payments (if necessary) for the respondent state and a strict payout schedule for the applicant state.[24] Further, it provides clear language to guide the Council of Ministers in their negotiations with Turkey on immoveable property and human rights. As some members of the Court noted, “The Court has spoken: it remains for it to be heard.”

About the Author: Anthony Lott, an ASIL member, is an associate professor of political science at St. Olaf College.

[1] Cyprus v. Turkey (just satisfaction), Eur. Ct. H.R. 20 (2014).

[2] In Ireland v. United Kingdom, 23 Eur. Ct. H.R. (ser. B) (1976), the Court asked the applicant if it would like the Court to consider just satisfaction but Ireland declined the invitation.

[3] Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 20–21.

[4] Cyprus v. Turkey (principal judgment), 35 Eur. Ct. H.R. 967 (2001).

[5] Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 99.

[6] The Court voted 16 to 1 that passage of time did not render the applicant’s claims inadmissible, 16 to 1 that Article 41 applies as the missing persons are concerned, 15 to 2 that Article 41 applies as enclaved Greek Cypriots of the Karpas peninsula are concerned, 15 to 2 that Turkey should pay Cyprus 30 million euros in non-pecuniary damages suffered by the relatives of missing persons, and 15 to 2 that Turkey should pay Cyprus 60 million euros in non-pecuniary damages suffered by enclaved Greek Cypriots. Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 20-21.

[7] For UN resolutions, see, S.C. Res. 353, U.N. Doc. S/RES/353 (July 20, 1974) and G.A. Res. 3212 (XXIX), U.N. GAOR, 29th Sess., at 3 (Nov. 1, 1974).

[8] S.C. Res. 541, U.N. Doc. S/RES/541 (Nov. 18 1983) and S.C. Res. 550, U.N. Doc. S/RES/550 (May 11, 1984). For Turkey’s recognition, see, Republic of Turkey, Foreign Ministry, To the Chairman of the TBMM No. 026.21/2002/SPGY/24681 per Question submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 8 January 2002 No. A.01.0.GNS.

[9] Loizidou v. Turkey, 1996-VI Eur. Ct. H.R.2216; Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2006); Varnava and Others v. Turkey, 2009-V Eur. Ct. H.R. 13; and Demopoulos and Others v. Turkey, 2010-I Eur. Ct. H.R. 365. Cases involving property issues and human rights abuses have appeared before the ECJ, the ECHR, and national courts in Europe and the United States.

[10] Varnava and Others v. Turkey, supra note 9, ¶ 160–161.

[11] Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 4.

[12] Id. at 8–10.

[13] Id. at 12–13.

[14] Id. at 15. On Diallo, see, Ahmadou Sadio Diallo, Compensation, (Guinea v. Dem. Rep. Congo) 2012 I.C.J. 57 (June 19).

[15] Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 15.

[16] Id. at 45.

[17] Id. at 24.

[18] A series of treaties negotiated by Greece, Turkey, Britain and Cypriot representatives were signed in Nicosia, Cyprus on 16 August 1960. See Treaty of Guarantee of Cyprus, Aug. 16, 1960, 382 U.N.T.S. 5475; Treaty of Establishment of Cyprus, Aug. 16, 1960, 382 U.N.T.S. 5476; Treaty of Alliance, Aug. 16, 1960, 397 U.N.T.S. 5712 [hereinafter Treaty of Alliance].

[19] Treaty of Alliance, supra note 18, at 1.

[20] The United Nations General Assembly created a committee to define aggression in 1967. Rep. of the Special Committee on the Question of Defining Aggression, Rep. on its 29th Sess., Supp. No. 19, U.N. Doc. A/9619 and Corr. 1.

[21] G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), U.N. GAOR, 29th Sess. (Dec. 14, 1974).

[22] See David Scheffer, State Parties Approve New Crimes for the International Criminal Court, ASIL Insights, (June 22, 2010),

[23] Cyprus v. Turkey, supra note 1, at 23.

[24] Id. at 19.