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Accusations of official mistreatment of minorities in Cyprus continued in 2007, with three immigrants claiming to have been beaten by police. Meanwhile, there was little progress during the year on resolving the island’s north-south division.
Annexed by Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a five-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding 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 such unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Today, the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone, called the “Green Line,” has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is similarly divided. Tensions between the two populations have plagued the island since independence. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence, a move recognized only by Turkey.
The Turkish government elected in November 2002 was much more supportive of the reunification of Cyprus than its predecessors, since Turkey’s own chances of membership in the European Union (EU) had been linked to a resolution of the island’s division. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, also helped to move the two sides closer to a settlement. A new pro-unification government was elected in Northern Cyprus in December 2003.
However, the latest and most promising round of reunification negotiations, led by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As previously agreed, Annan himself then proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island in April 2004. Greek Cypriots, who had previously been more enthusiastic with respect to reunification, had reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned in May 2004. The EU had used the prospect of membership as a bargaining tool with Cyprus, and since membership was granted, a new reunification plan has been more difficult to achieve.
At first, the overwhelming approval of the Turkish Cypriots for reunification sparked international efforts to reward them by ending their isolation. However, the Greek Cypriots oppose the most far-reaching proposals, such as direct trade between the north and the rest of the world. Their veto in EU decisions has made EU openings to the north less likely. Meanwhile, trade has increased between the two sides, and travel across the island is much freer.
In parliamentary elections held in the south in 2006, a record 487 candidates from nine parties contested the 56 seats. The Democratic Party (DIKO) won 11 seats, while the Democratic Rally (DISY) and Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) each took 18 seats; three other parties captured the remaining 9 seats. The 2004 referendum and the prospects for reunification became major campaign issues, and the results were considered a signal of support for President Tassos Papadopoulos of DIKO and his rejection of the UN plan; the United Democrats, who had supported the UN plan, did not win a single seat. In 2007, the resolution of Cyprus’ north-south division was stalemated.
Cyprus is an electoral democracy. Suffrage is universal, and elections are free and fair. The 1960 constitution established an ethnically representative system designed to protect the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; the Greek Cypriots maintain that the constitution still applies to the entire island. There is a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislature through a presidential system.
The president is elected by popular vote to serve a five-year term. The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation for five-year terms. Of these, 24 are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community, but the Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew in 1964 and have not been replaced to date. Instead, the Turkish Cypriots maintain their own parliament in the northern part of the island. Voting is compulsory, although there is no penalty for those who do not vote.
Following a ruling against Cyprus by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2004, a law was passed allowing Turkish Cypriots living in the south to vote and run for office in Greek Cypriot elections. About 270 Turkish Cypriots registered in 2006, and 1 ran for office. After the Supreme Court in April 2007 rejected an appeal to allow Turkish Cypriots from the north to vote in Greek Cypriot elections as well, the case went to the ECHR. Turkish Cypriots cannot run for president, as the constitution states that a Greek Cypriot should hold that post and a Turkish Cypriot should be vice president. The Maronites (Catholics of Lebanese descent), Armenians, and Latins (Catholics of European descent) elect special nonvoting representatives. Women are very poorly represented politically, with men holding all cabinet posts.
Corruption is not a significant problem in Cyprus. A 2004 anticorruption law instituted compulsory asset declarations by state officials, although evidence has shown that many do not comply with the law. The auditor-general has reported serious financial mismanagement in government departments, and the government in 2007 investigated alleged deals between officials and developers who have made suspicious gains from zoning changes. Cyprus was ranked 39 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. A vibrant independent press frequently criticizes authorities. Several private television and radio stations in the Greek Cypriot community compete effectively with government-controlled stations.In the run-up to the legislative elections in 2006, the political opposition accused the state broadcaster of favoring the government. AlthoughTurkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north often report difficulties crossing the border. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Freedom of religion is provided for by the constitution and protected in practice. Nearly all the inhabitants of southern Cyprus are Greek Orthodox Christians. Cypriots registered with the Church were eligible to vote in 2006 for special representatives in the first phase of an election for the island’s top Orthodox cleric. The vote was marred by claims of irregularities. State schools use textbooks containing negative language about Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without government interference, although they have been accused of inactivity. Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without employer authorization.
The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding the presumption of innocence and the right to due process. Standard procedure calls for trial before a judge, and requests for trial by jury are regularly granted. Excessive delays in cases going to trial in Cyprus has been an issue brought before the European Court of Human Rights. Accusations of prison overcrowding decreased in 2007, although it remains a problem. Police and prison brutality have also been alleged, including targeted beatings of minorities; a bureau to investigate complaints against the police, established in 2006, received an average of two complaints a week in its first eight months of operation; it has reported a lack of witnesses, preventing prosecution, and also a lack of staff. In January 2007, three Syrian immigrants accused police of beating them in the street and, subsequently, at the police station. In a separate case of 11 plainclothes police who were caught on video beating two 27-year-old men in December 2005, the trial of the 10 facing the most serious charges was ongoing at the end of 2007.
A 1975 agreement between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island governs treatment of minorities. Turkish Cypriots are now entitled to Republic of Cyprus passports, and thousands have obtained them. In practice, Turkish Cypriots in the south have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, as well as harassment and discrimination. The Romany (Gypsy) population has encountered widespread prejudice and disadvantages, including in their treatment by the government. The ombudswoman’s report in 2007 stated that homosexuals do not report crimes for fear of making their sexual orientation public. The EU has reported concern over racism and religious discrimination in Cyprus, but the chair of the Cypriot legislature’s Human Rights Committee in August 2007 denied that they were problems.
Since Cypriot accession to the EU in 2004, all citizens can move freely throughout the island.
The status of property abandoned by those moving across the Green Line beginning in 1974 is one of the major points of contention in reunification negotiations. Under changes in the law in the north, Greek Cypriots can appeal to a new property commission to resolve disputes, but the government in the south doubts the legitimacy of this commission. A 1991 law states that property left by “Turkish Cypriots” belongs to the state. In May 2007, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Turkish Cypriot living in the north who sought to regain his land in the south.
Sexual harassment in the workplace and violence against women are problems. In March 2007, DISY’s women’s movement spoke of an increase in domestic violence. The police have set up a Human Trafficking Prevention Bureau, and a law passed in October 2007 created a governmental body to combat trafficking, but Cyprus remains a transit and destination country for the trade. The number of cases prosecuted has been increasing since 2004, and police have received special training on the issue. In 2006, one women’s group reported a 30 percent gap between men’s and women’s salaries in both the public and private sectors.