Turkey in the Dock at ECHR

Turkey in the dock for killing Tassos Isaac

Cyprus Weekly 28/10/2006

By Philippos Stylianou

Once again Turkey stands accused before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg for violating human rights in Cyprus, this time for the brutal murder of a young Greek Cypriot demonstrator by a Turkish mob inside the Famagusta buffer zone in August 1996.

Only last year, the ECHR found Turkey guilty for the murder of Petros Kakoullis, shot dead by Turkish soldiers when he strayed over the demarcation line while looking for snails.

In making admissible an application by the widow of Tassos Isaac and members of his family, the ECHR decided to join to the merits of the case an objection by the respondent Turkish government that the applicants had not exhausted the legal domestic remedies allegedly offered by the occupation regime before resorting to Strasbourg.

While accepting that legal procedures in the so-called “TRNC” may be regarded as “domestic remedies,” the ECHR stressed that this did not mean any change in the status of the occupied areas.

“This conclusion is not to be seen as in any way putting in doubt the view of the international community regarding the establishment of the “TRNC” or the fact that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus remains the sole legitimate government of Cyprus, ” the seven-judge panel said unanimously.

Asked if the introduction of “domestic remedies” to the case posed any risk about the outcome, one of the applicants’ lawyers, Constantis Candounas, said he was not particularly concerned.

He explained that the same had happened in the previous Kakoulli Vs Turkey case, with the ECHR summarily dismissing Ankara’s objection in its final judgment.

In that case, the Strasbourg Court found that, since the investigation conducted by the “TRNC authorities” into Kakoullis’ killing – only two months after that of Isaac -- was neither effective nor impartial, the question of non-exhausting domestic remedies did not even arise.

No investigation

In Isaac’s case, the applicants pointed out before the Court that there was no investigation at all and no one was ever tried, notwithstanding the fact that uniformed “police” and occupation soldiers participated in the killing or encouraged it.

Besides, Candounas noted, there was no access to the occupied areas when the events took place, as movement restrictions were only eased in 2003.

The complaint against Turkey was launched in January 1997 under article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights protecting the right to life and article 8 in respect for the private life and family life. Apart from the victim’s widow Maria, Isaac’s parents and 2 sisters also signed the application.

The applicants also claimed under article 14 of the Convention against discrimination that Isaac was murdered because of his ethnic origin as a Greek Cypriot.

As in all previous cases against it regarding Cyprus, Turkey tried to get away by arguing that it could not be held responsible for the death of Isaac because it did not happen under its jurisdiction.

“The acts complained of were imputable to the “TRNC”, an independent and sovereign State established by the Turkish Cypriot community in the exercise of its right to self-determination,” the Turkish government said in its submission to the Court.

This was vehemently rejected by the ECHR, which reaffirmed its landmark decision on the Loizidou case that the “TRNC” was but a subordinate administration of Turkey in the occupied part of Cyprus.

Citing other legal precedents and authorities as well the Court stated the following in its assessment:

“According to the relevant principles of international law, a State’s responsibility may be engaged where, as a consequence of military action – whether lawful or unlawful – that state in practice exercises effective control of an area situated outside its territory.

“The obligation to secure, in such area, the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention derives from the fact of such control, whether it be exercised directly trough its armed forces, or through a subordinate local administration.”


In reply to another assertion by Turkey that its soldiers in Cyprus were not directly involved in the death of Isaac and therefore she could not be held responsible, the Court referred further to the Loizidou case:

“… In the particular situation concerning Cyprus, the Court found that having effective control over northern Cyprus, Turkey’s responsibility could not be confined to the acts of its own soldiers or officials in northern Cyprus, but had also to be engaged by virtue of the acts of the local administration which survives by virtue of Turkish military and other support.”

Countering yet another attempt by Turkey to shift the blame on UNFICYP for not preventing the demonstrators from entering the Buffer Zone, the Court pointed to evidence that uniformed Turkish Cypriots and at least one Turkish army officer were among those who beat Isaac to death.

Using an avalanche of case law, including Kakoullis Vs Turkey, the Court also rejected the respondent government’s argument that no other relatives besides the deceased’s wife could exercise the right of individual petition.

The counsels of both sides have to submit further observations by 27 November in order for the Court to proceed to the examination of the merits of the case.

Lawyers Constantis Candounas, Andreas Papacharalambous and Pavlos Angelides are appearing for Isaac’s family before the European Court of Human Rights.