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 February 2014, Turkish Cypriot president Derviş Eroğlu and Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint statement aimed at reviving long-stalled negotiations to unify the island, which has been divided since the 1974 Turkish intervention and subsequent 1983 declaration of independence by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey. The two leaders committed themselves to work toward a comprehensive settlement that would create a federation. In July, Eroğlu presented a five-step roadmap for a settlement that would culminate in a referendum in both parts of the proposed federation. This was rejected as premature by the Greek Cypriots. Progress on many of the issues dividing the two sides, including a new constitutional framework, border adjustments, property claims, and management of off-shore oil and gas resources, has been elusive.
On June 5 the National Assembly in the TRNC passed 23 constitutional amendments, the first amendments to the 1985 constitution. These were designed in part to bring TRNC laws into greater harmony with European Union (EU) standards, and to combat corruption. Proposals by some center-left parties and civic organizations to expand minority rights, remove Turkish military control over the police, establish conscientious objection to military service, and instruct courts to use opinions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to interpret constitutional rights were rejected. Although the final reform package was supported by all parties in the National Assembly, voters rejected it in a June 29 referendum. Some observers suggested that one reason the “no” vote (62 percent) prevailed is that many voters were poorly informed or thought the reforms did not go far enough; others interpreted the result as a protest vote against the current government.
In January, the National Assembly repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized male homosexual acts.
Political Rights: 32 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12
Elections in the TRNC have long been judged free and fair. The TRNC employs a proportional representation system with a 5-percent threshold for parties to enter the 50-seat National Assembly. In 2013 elections, four out of five parties won seats. The Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which had been the main opposition party, won the most seats (21). Its leader, Özkan Yorgancıoğlu, became prime minister and leads a coalition government with the Democratic Party (DP).
The president, who serves as head of state and represents the TRNC internationally, is popularly elected to a five-year term. President Eroğlu of the National Unity Party (UBP) was elected in 2010.
The Supreme Election Committee is an independent body. However, in June opponents of the constitutional reform package protested that the committee had allowed the assembly speaker’s office to publicly take sides on the referendum vote.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 12 / 16
Turkish Cypriots are free to organize political parties, and elections are competitive. One of the 2014 constitutional amendments, which were rejected by voters, would have allowed civil servants to join political parties.
There is a widespread perception that Turkish officials wield most political power in the TRNC, undercutting the authority of elected TRNC officials. The TRNC relies heavily on Turkey for security and economic support. In 2013, Ankara pressured the TRNC to adhere to an economic protocol that demands austerity measures and privatization, threatening to cut off funds if these measures are not implemented. The protocol remains in effect, and in 2014 critics of the government still saw Turkey’s alleged hand in the TRNC’s economic policies. Efforts to change or remove “transitional” Article 10 of the TRNC constitution, which grants the Turkish military control over the TRNC’s security and police forces, failed, prompting some to campaign for a rejection of the constitutional reform package.
Minority rights remain a concern. A few hundred Greek Cypriots and Maronites live in the TRNC. They are legally citizens of the Republic of Cyprus and thus not eligible to vote in TRNC elections. Efforts in 2014 to expand minority rights as part of the constitutional reform package failed to win parliamentary support.
C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12
Many observers suggest the effective functioning of the TRNC government is hampered by interference from Turkey. Corruption among TRNC politicians is also a concern. Parliamentary elections in 2013 occurred after several representatives decried corruption in the then-ruling party. In August 2014 another legislator resigned, citing problems of corruption. The constitutional amendments passed in June, which were ultimately rejected in a popular referendum, would have required members of parliament and their families to declare their wealth upon assuming office. Critics of the government allege that it has given tax amnesties to its supporters.
Civil Liberties: 47 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, and some media outlets are openly critical of the government. However, some observers suggest press freedom has been compromised as the Turkish government pressures editors and journalists in the TRNC to tone down some of their stories, particularly those critical of Ankara. Some journalists also express concern about new laws on privacy that were passed in March that could limit investigative journalism and sharing of information. The government does not restrict internet access.
A 1975 agreement with Greek Cypriot authorities, as well as the TRNC constitution, provides for freedom of worship; the TRNC is a secular state. However, 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. For example, in May 2014 police broke up a service at a Maronite church because the worshippers, some of whom were from the Republic of Cyprus, lacked permission from the TRNC foreign ministry to hold a service. The government, dominated by Sunni Muslims, has also failed to honor its pledge to build a house of worship for the minority Alevi community.
There is academic freedom and open private discussion.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are generally upheld, though police have been criticized for disrupting protests and allegedly using excessive force against them. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike. In June many unions and NGOs openly lobbied for the rejection of the constitutional amendments. In September, five trade unions organized a hunger strike to protest government interference in collective bargaining activity. That same month, unions and other NGOs organized protests against a visit by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Police moved against the protesters, a few of whom were arrested.
F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16
The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. TRNC 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. However, proposed constitutional reforms to establish juvenile courts and jails, parliamentary appointment of an ombudsman, and expanded oversight powers of the high administrative court over local governments failed to pass in the June referendum.
The tiny Greek and Maronite minorities live in a collection of enclaves where their social and economic prospects are extremely limited. Some report difficulties at border checkpoints, as well as alleged surveillance by TRNC authorities.
In January 2014, the National Assembly decriminalized male homosexuality. Prior to this, those found guilty of homosexual behavior could be sentenced to jail, but this was rarely enforced.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 12 / 16
Movement within the TRNC territory is relatively free. The only direct flights from the TRNC are to Turkey. Most governments do not recognize TRNC travel documents, so many Turkish Cypriots have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports, for which they are eligible. All EU citizens can now travel to the North without obtaining a visa.
There is a right to private property. The TRNC formed a property commission in 2006 to resolve claims by Greek Cypriots who owned property in the North before the island’s division. The ECHR recognized the commission in 2010 as an “accessible and effective” mechanism. By the end of 2014, approximately 6,000 applications had been lodged with the commission; around 600 had been resolved. Maronites have reported that they are not allowed to leave property to their heirs if the latter do not live in the TRNC and hold TRNC identification cards. In March, the ECHR ordered Turkey to pay €90 million ($120 million) in damages resulting from its invasion and subsequent division of the island; two-thirds was to go toward restitution for property claims to the Greek minority population in the TRNC. Turkish officials said Turkey would not pay this penalty.
The settlement of Turkish nationals in Northern Cyprus is a source of contention. Official figures indicate that more than one-third of TRNC residents were born in Turkey, and that when tallied with their children, settlers account for nearly one-half of the total population. The Republic of Cyprus government has accused Turkey of deliberately encouraging population transfer to increase its control over the TRNC and undermine the reunification process. In July 2014, a Cypriot group filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) demanding an investigation into Turkey’s settlement policy as a potential war crime.
Women have equal legal rights to men but face various forms of discrimination and problems such as domestic violence. In August the government pledged that it would establish a new protocol to help fund women’s shelters. Women are underrepresented in politics, though the speaker of the National Assembly is female; she was nominated in September as the CTP’s 2015 presidential candidate. The TRNC is a destination for trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution, and local officials have done little to address this problem. Abortion is legal, but married women must receive their husbands’ permission.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year
See also the country report for Cyprus.