Freedom of movement in a divided Cyprus
Respect for International Law and Human Rights should be the priority in the EU approach towards the Cypriot question.
A surprising situation has occured during the last eight years in the EU: In 1974, Turkey (candidate country for EU membership since 1999) invaded Cyprus (EU Member State since 2004). To deal with this paradoxical situation, since Cyprus joined the EU, Council Regulation (EC) 866/2004 (also called the “Green Line Regulation”) has defined the terms under which provisions of EU law apply to the movement of persons, goods and services across the Line between the areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the government does not exercise effective control and the areas in which it does.
With respect to the movement of persons, according to the European Commission in its Eighth Report on the implementation of the Regulation (1 June 2012), the overall assessment of the crossings of persons during 2011 is positive: 621,406 crossings by Greek Cypriots were noted from the government-controlled areas to the northern part of Cyprus and 937,789 crossings by Turkish Cypriots from the northern part of Cyprus to the government-controlled areas during the reporting period. Moreover, a decrease in irregular migration across the Line from the northern part of Cyprus to the government-controlled areas has also been detected (1,330 irregular migrants were apprehended within the government-controlled areas, by contrast with the previous number of 1,855). But we must not forget that the European Court of Human Rights – see its two leading cases Loizidou v Turkey (1996) and Cyprus v Turkey (2001) - condemned Turkey for, amongst other reasons, a continuing violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights by reason of its refusal to allow the return of around 180,000 Greek-Cypriot displaced persons to their homes in northern Cyprus.
The dividing line between the Greco-Cypriot part and the territory under the control of the Turkish-Cypriot authorities is also the boundary between religious communities (Christians, mostly Orthodox, and Muslims). New tensions have arisen due to the denial of access by the authorities of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” - recognized only by Turkey, and illegally proclaimed according to Resolution 541 (1983) of the UN Security Council - to the northern part of Cyprus to some Christian ecclesiastic authorities. The recent notorious cases of Christoforos, Bishop of Karpasia, Bishop Porphyrios of Neapolis and Fr. Diomodis Konstantinou, of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, gave rise to some parliamentary questions at the European Parliament during 2012, with quite short and soft answers by the European Commission. In addition, the last EU-Turkey Association Council held on 22 June 2012 showed both the strong will of the Turkish government to maintain its position on the Cypriot issue and the political weakness of the European Union to use its authority to protect one Member State: at the end of the day, to simply express “serious concerns and call[ed] for full respect of the role of the Presidency of the Council” – as the EU did - is not enough and further actions are expected from the EU authorities.
The freedom of movement of Christian clerics and faithful and their access to the Turkish-Cypriot part of the country is an important human rights issue besides. Actually, it is unusual to have international unanimity (States and international organizations) on a case such as the illegal practices of Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot authorities concerning several human rights (religious freedom, property, privacy, etc.) linked to the freedom of movement of the Greek-Cypriots to the occupied part of their country.
Any future solution of the Cypriot issue must take into account the internationally declared illegality of both the occupation of the island and the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and the rights of the expelled Greek-Cypriots from the north of their country. While the Republic of Cyprus is an internationally recognized State - a member of the UN since 1960 and an EU Member State since 2004 - the TRNC is a de facto entity, legally invalid and with a unanimous lack of recognition by the international community and organizations. While freedom of movement is, in itself, a positive principle in the relations between both Cypriot communities, it must not be used to give legal force to illegal situations or to reinforce any policy of colonization.
The free access of Christian religious leaders to the northern religious sites and to Christian communities should be seen by the EU as a home affairs issue as well, and a matter of internal human rights. Freedom of movement cannot be considered as positive if these (and many other general cases) are not solved.
José Luis Bazán