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Turkey Convicted by ECHR in Missing Persons Case

The European Court of Human Rights has convicted Turkey of human rights abuses in the cases of nine missing Greek-Cypriots, eight of whom were members of the forces that attempted to oppose the advance of the Turkish army in 1974.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded the applicants 12,000 euros per application in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 8,000 for costs and expenses.

According to a number of witness statements, the nine men had been among prisoners of war captured by the Turkish military. The ninth person, Mr Hadjipanteli, a bank employee, was taken for questioning by Turkish soldiers on 18 August 1974. His body, which bore several bullet marks, was found in 2007 in the course of a mission carried out by the United Nations Committee of Missing Persons (CMP).

The Turkish Government disputed that these men had been taken into captivity by the Turkish Army. They submitted that the first eight were military personnel who had died in action and that the name of the ninth one did not appear on the list of Greek-Cypriot prisoners held at the stated place of detention, inspected by the International Red Cross. The Cypriot Government stated, however, that the nine men had gone missing in areas under the control of the Turkish forces.

The applicants alleged that their relatives had disappeared after being detained by Turkish military forces in 1974 and that the Turkish authorities had not accounted for them since. They relied on Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), 4 (prohibition of forced labour), 5 (right to liberty and security), 6 (right to a fair trial), 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 10 (freedom of expression), 12 (right to marry), 13 (right to an effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The applications were lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on 25 January 1990. They were joined by the Commission on 2 July 1991, and declared admissible on 14 April 1998. 

The Court noted that the Turkish Government had not put forward any concrete information to show that any of the missing men had been found dead or had been killed in the conflict zone under their control. Nor had there been any other convincing explanation as to what might have happened to them that could counter the applicants’ claims that the men had disappeared in areas under the Turkish Government’s exclusive control.

In light of the findings in the fourth inter-State case, which had not been refuted, these disappearances had occurred in life-threatening circumstances where the conduct of military operations had been accompanied by widespread arrests and killings.

The Court recalled its finding in the fourth inter-State case that in the context of the disappearances in 1974, where the military operation had resulted in considerable loss of life and large-scale detentions, the relatives of the missing men had suffered the agony of not knowing whether their family members had been killed or taken into detention.

Furthermore, due to the continuing division of Cyprus, the relatives had been faced with very serious obstacles in their search for information. The Turkish authorities’ silence in the face of those real concerns could only be categorised as inhuman treatment, said the Court.

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