Freedom in the World
Northern Cyprus *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In April 2012, the United Nations cancelled a proposed international conference on the reunification of Cyprus, and Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders continued to blame each other for lack of progress in negotiations. Meanwhile, conflicts over oil and gas drilling in disputed waters remained a source of tension between Cyprus and Turkey throughout the year.
Cyprus, populated by ethnic Greeks and Turks, gained independence from Britain in 1960. Inter-ethnic relations were tense, and UN peacekeepers were sent to Cyprus in 1964. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members staged an unsuccessful coup whose goal was to unite Cyprus with Greece. In response, Turkey, claiming it was protecting the ethnic Turkish minority, sent in troops, gaining control of 37 percent of the island and expelling 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the northern part. Cyprus has since been de facto divided by a UN-patrolled buffer zone known as the Green Line. In 1983, the Turkish-controlled area declared independence, calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country and that the Turkish occupation is illegal. Only Turkey recognizes the TRNC as an independent state.
For many years, Turkey and nationalist-oriented TRNC leaders resisted reunification of the island. The first opening of the Green Line occurred in April 2003, and December elections brought to power a pro-unification government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat of the Republican Turkish Party (CTP). UN-sponsored talks on reunification progressed, culminating in a plan proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. At the same time, the Republic of Cyprus (RC, or Greek Cyprus) was poised to join the European Union (EU), and it was thought that the United Nations and EU could bring the two sides together. In April 2004, Turkish Cypriot voters approved the Annan Plan, but Greek Cypriots rejected it. With the island still divided, only the RC joined the EU in May 2004.
Rauf Denktaş, who had been president of the TRNC since the declaration of independence, did not seek reelection in the April 2005 presidential election, which Talat won. Some progress was subsequently made in talks with the RC, including formation of a property commission and opening additional border crossings. However, Talat failed to achieve his stated goal of reunification, and the TRNC experienced a sharp economic downturn in 2008. In 2009 legislative elections, the anti-unification National Unity Party (UBP) prevailed, winning 26 of the 50 parliamentary seats. Its leader, Derviş Eroğlu, became prime minister. Eroğlu then defeated Talat in the April 2010 presidential election with just over 50 percent of the vote.
Since 2010, there has been little progress in reunification talks. In April 2012, the United Nations cancelled plans for an international conference on reunification, and Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders blamed each other for the failure to reach an agreement; any progress awaits the election of a new RC president in February 2013. Greek Cypriot offshore gas drilling in November 2011 led to renewed tensions with Turkey, and Turkish drilling both offshore (supported by warships) and on TRNC-controlled territory has sparked protests from the RC. Turkey has also warned international companies against drilling in contested off-shore waters. While some analysts have speculated that the discovery of oil and gas could generate incentives to reunify the island, Greek Cypriot officials maintained in 2012 that they would share resources only after the division of the island is resolved. Others, noting Israeli cooperation with the RC in developing off-shore drilling sites, cite potential for broader regional conflict.
Meanwhile, continued economic problems and government austerity proposals in 2012 led to protests and strikes in the TRNC, with some protests critical of the Turkish government.
Elections in the TRNC are generally free and fair. The president and the 50-seat Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The prime minister is the head of the government. The main parties are the ruling anti-unification UBP and the pro-unification opposition CTP. Five parties are currently represented in the Assembly.
The Turkish military plays an important role in the TRNC, and the TRNC remains dependent on Turkey for security and economic support. In March 2012, a Turkish minister controversially suggested that Turkey might annex the TRNC if reunification talks fail. In September 2012, Özkan Yorgancıoğlu, the CTP leader, expressed concern that Turkey was trying to exert excessive influence over government policies.
The results of a December 2011 census have been in dispute. The 2006 census showed that about half the population was composed of indigenous Turkish Cypriots, with most of the remainder consisting of immigrants from mainland Turkey. There were also a few hundred Greek Cypriots and Maronites who resided primarily in their ancestral villages and faced difficulties at Green Line checkpoints and alleged surveillance by TRNC authorities; they are RC citizens and do not vote in TRNC elections.
The government has made efforts to combat corruption in recent years, but graft, alleged vote buying, and lack of transparency remain concerns. In May 2012, a group of British homeowners filed suit against the TRNC government for allegedly scheming to sell “stolen” property seized from Greek Cypriots and for which buyers could not obtain a clear legal title.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, but problems persist. The government has been hostile to independent outlets. In 2011, there were several attacks on journalists, in particular on the editor of the newspaper Afrika, which is critical of the government and the Turkish military’s presence on the island; nationalist groups were accused of orchestrating these actions. In September 2012, the government launched an investigation into Afrika’s publication of documents critical of the prime minister.
A 1975 agreement with Greek Cypriot authorities provides for freedom of worship, and the TRNC is officially a secular state. However, according to a March 2012 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious activities of non-Muslims are subject to some regulations, and there are still disputes over the condition of Christian churches and access to religious sites. In 2012, the CTP opposed the opening of an Islamic divinity school, which it claimed the Turkish government supported. Academic freedom is generally respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are generally upheld, though police have been criticized for disrupting protests and allegedly using excessive force. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike. However, in January 2012, a government decree blocked a strike of electrical workers in January 2012, and two dozen union members were arrested in August at a protest over government austerity measures.
The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Turkish Cypriot police, under the control of the Turkish military, sometimes fail to respect due process rights, and there have been allegations of abuse of detainees. Lawyers’ associations and journalists have actively worked to remedy irregularities in the justice system.
The only direct flights from the TRNC are to Turkey. All EU citizens, including Greek Cypriots, can now travel to the north by presenting identity cards and no longer require passports or visas. Most governments do not recognize TRNC travel documents, so thousands of Turkish Cypriots have obtained RC passports since the option became available in 2004. However, in 2008, Turkey began forbidding Turkish Cypriots from leaving the TRNC through Turkey without TRNC passports.
A property commission formed by the TRNC in 2006 has resolved hundreds of restitution claims by Greek Cypriots who owned property in the north before the island’s division. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognized the commission in 2010 as an “accessible and effective” mechanism. In July 2012, the RC government approved a controversial land swap involving property on both sides that was previously approved by the commission and the ECHR.
According to Articles 171 and 173 of the criminal code, male homosexuality is punishable with jail time. Two men were arrested in January 2012 for allegedly engaging in a homosexual act. In July 2012, a case was filed with the ECHR against Turkey—deemed responsible for administering the TRNC—to decriminalize homosexuality, though the law had not been repealed as of year’s end.
Women have equal legal rights with men, but reports suggest that they face widespread discrimination. Women are under-represented in politics, and only 4 of 50 members of parliament are women. Provisions for equal pay for women are not always enforced. In 2011, the government adopted the Council of Europe’s Convention on Violence Against Women, but surveys suggest domestic violence is a major problem. The TRNC is a destination for trafficking in women, and local officials have done little to address this problem. Abortion is legal, but married women must receive permission from their husbands.
See also the country report for Cyprus.