Northern Cyprus * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Northern Cyprus *

Northern Cyprus *

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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In August 2002 the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce presented a declaration demanding a solution to the Cyprus question: "The Common Vision of the Turkish Cypriot Civil Society." The declaration was supported by 86 civil society organizations that call on the leaders of both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots to find a settlement.

Annexed to Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a 10-year guerrilla campaign seeking Cyprus's union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot national guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at unification. Turkey invaded 5 days later, seized 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared its independence in 1982, but so far has been recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the territory and provides an estimated $200 million in annual assistance. The Green Line, a buffer zone controlled by a 1,200-strong UN peacekeeping force, has partitioned Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Lefkosa (Nicosia), remains the world's only divided capital city, and tensions and intermittent violence between the two populations have plagued the island since independence.

Negotiations on the future of the island have stalled over issues of security, territory, property and compensation, and the distribution of power on the island. The Greek Cypriots favor a federation with local autonomy, free movement, and a strong central government. Turkish Cypriots favor a confederation of two independent states, with shared bodies holding very limited powers. Instead of a central assembly, Turkish Cypriots propose a consultative council and joint overseas representation.

The north is far less prosperous than the south. An embargo by the Greek Cypriots significantly hampers the northern economy. Turkish Cypriots' standard of living is roughly a third that of Greek Cypriots, and the north is almost totally reliant on the Cypriot Republic for a free but insufficient power supply that suffers frequent outages, from 12 to 14 hours per day. However, a vibrant black market economy provides for a great deal of unaccounted-for wealth. The Turkish Cypriot area operates on a free-market basis, but a lack of private and governmental investment, shortages of skilled labor, and inflation and the weakness of the Turkish lira (which the Turkish Cypriots use as their currency) continue to plague the economy.

Despite the fact that the economy of Turkish Cyprus would sink if not for trade and support from Turkey, the Turkish Cypriot population is demanding more autonomy from Ankara. In July 2001, some 6,000 people took to the streets, chanting anti-Ankara and anti-Denktash slogans. Turkish Cypriots' increasing disapproval of Rauf Denktash weakens his position in negotiations for a settlement in the divided island.

"The Common Vision of the Turkish Cypriot Civil Society," drawn up in August 2002, builds on the new dialogue started in December 2001 and does not differ greatly from the UN-sponsored talks. However, it does outline a solution that would be acceptable to Turkish Cyprus in particular, including the establishment of a partnership state with a Greek Cypriot state. The partnership state and the constituent states would have shared sovereignty and would have separate functions and responsibilities. Addressing a major fear on the part of the Greek Cypriots that once a solution is achieved Turkish Cypriots would use some pretext to declare their full independence, the declaration also calls for assurances that neither side would leave the partnership state.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Turkish Cypriots can change the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) democratically. The presidential-legislative system of government calls for the election of a leader and a national assembly at least every five years. Though Rauf Denktash retains a high degree of control over Cypriot politics, a number of competing parties openly participate, and presidential elections have been considered generally free and fair by outside observers. The local elections held in June 2002 were conducted without incident. Some 1,000 Greek and Maronite residents in the north are disenfranchised in Turkish Cypriot elections, but many vote in Cypriot Republic elections.

The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Civilians suspected of violating military zones are tried in military courts, which respect due process but have been accused of pro-military bias. Turkish Cypriot police (who are under the control of the Turkish military) sometimes flout due process rights and abuse or intimidate detainees. Detainees are ordinarily held no longer than 24 hours without charge.

Private newspapers and periodicals offer a wide range of views, while at least 11 new private radio and 4 private television stations broadcast alongside government stations. International broadcasts are available without interference. The small left-wing newspaper Avrupa has faced judicial harassment unprecedented in the TRNC for its criticism of Denktash, his policy on the division of the island, and the Turkish military presence in the territory. In May 2000, hearings began before a criminal court on 75 lawsuits against the paper for "instigating hatred against the TRNC and the Turkish army." In August 2002 the Turkish Cypriot Nicosia District Court sentenced two journalists (also from Avrupa) to six months' imprisonment and a fine of $30,000 for undermining the authority of Denktash.

Advocates for Greek Cypriots living in the northern city of Karpassia claim that these individuals are denied freedom of movement, free speech, property ownership, and access to Greek media. Outstanding property claims arising from the 1974 division and population exchange remain an obstacle to a final peace and demilitarization settlement on the island. Approximately 85 percent of the land in the north is claimed by its original Greek Cypriot owners. In May 2001, the European Court for Human Rights found Turkey guilty of widespread human rights abuses arising from its 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriot authorities generally respect freedom of assembly and association, and there are numerous political parties, trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations. About 99 percent of Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslim. There is a small Baha'i community, and there are some 650 Greek Orthodox and Maronite residents in the north. All reportedly worship freely. Turkish Cypriots have difficulty traveling to other countries because travel documents issued by the TRNC are recognized only by Turkey. Some restrictions exist on travel to and from the south, but in May 2000 the Turkish Cypriot authorities eliminated the system of fees for crossing the buffer zone. Cypriots from both sides may freely visit religious sites in each other's territory.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics. A 1998 law grants Turkish Cypriot women who marry non-Muslim men a fair distribution of assets in case of divorce. Legal provisions that require equal pay for equal work are not respected in all sectors. Workers may form independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike.