(Application no. 18404/91)
27 January 2009
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Nicola v. Turkey,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Nicolas Bratza, President,
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Işıl Karakaş, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 6 January 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. PRELIMINARY ISSUE
II. THE GOVERNMENT'S PRELIMINARY OBJECTIONS
III. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL NO. 1 TO THE CONVENTION
He invoked Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, which reads as follows:
“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”
A. The arguments of the parties
1. The Government
2. The applicant
B. The third-party intervener's arguments
C. The Court's assessment
“63. ... as a consequence of the fact that the applicant has been refused access to the land since 1974, she has effectively lost all control over, as well as all possibilities to use and enjoy, her property. The continuous denial of access must therefore be regarded as an interference with her rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. Such an interference cannot, in the exceptional circumstances of the present case to which the applicant and the Cypriot Government have referred, be regarded as either a deprivation of property or a control of use within the meaning of the first and second paragraphs of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. However, it clearly falls within the meaning of the first sentence of that provision as an interference with the peaceful enjoyment of possessions. In this respect the Court observes that hindrance can amount to a violation of the Convention just like a legal impediment.
64. Apart from a passing reference to the doctrine of necessity as a justification for the acts of the 'TRNC' and to the fact that property rights were the subject of intercommunal talks, the Turkish Government have not sought to make submissions justifying the above interference with the applicant's property rights which is imputable to Turkey.
It has not, however, been explained how the need to rehouse displaced Turkish Cypriot refugees in the years following the Turkish intervention in the island in 1974 could justify the complete negation of the applicant's property rights in the form of a total and continuous denial of access and a purported expropriation without compensation.
Nor can the fact that property rights were the subject of intercommunal talks involving both communities in Cyprus provide a justification for this situation under the Convention. In such circumstances, the Court concludes that there has been and continues to be a breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.”
“187. The Court is persuaded that both its reasoning and its conclusion in the Loizidou judgment (merits) apply with equal force to displaced Greek Cypriots who, like Mrs Loizidou, are unable to have access to their property in northern Cyprus by reason of the restrictions placed by the 'TRNC' authorities on their physical access to that property. The continuing and total denial of access to their property is a clear interference with the right of the displaced Greek Cypriots to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions within the meaning of the first sentence of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
189. .. there has been a continuing violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 by virtue of the fact that Greek-Cypriot owners of property in northern Cyprus are being denied access to and control, use and enjoyment of their property as well as any compensation for the interference with their property rights.”
IV. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION
This provision reads as follows:
“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
“172. The Court observes that the official policy of the 'TRNC' authorities to deny the right of the displaced persons to return to their homes is reinforced by the very tight restrictions operated by the same authorities on visits to the north by Greek Cypriots living in the south. Accordingly, not only are displaced persons unable to apply to the authorities to reoccupy the homes which they left behind, they are physically prevented from even visiting them.
173. The Court further notes that the situation impugned by the applicant Government has obtained since the events of 1974 in northern Cyprus. It would appear that it has never been reflected in 'legislation' and is enforced as a matter of policy in furtherance of a bi-zonal arrangement designed, it is claimed, to minimise the risk of conflict which the intermingling of the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities in the north might engender. That bi-zonal arrangement is being pursued within the framework of the inter-communal talks sponsored by the United Nations Secretary-General ...
174. The Court would make the following observations in this connection: firstly, the complete denial of the right of displaced persons to respect for their homes has no basis in law within the meaning of Article 8 § 2 of the Convention (see paragraph 173 above); secondly, the inter-communal talks cannot be invoked in order to legitimate a violation of the Convention; thirdly, the violation at issue has endured as a matter of policy since 1974 and must be considered continuing.
175. In view of these considerations, the Court concludes that there has been a continuing violation of Article 8 of the Convention by reason of the refusal to allow the return of any Greek-Cypriot displaced persons to their homes in northern Cyprus.”
V. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 1 OF THE CONVENTION AND OF ARTICLE 14 OF THE CONVENTION TAKEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION AND ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL NO. 1
The relevant provisions read as follows:
Article 1 of the Convention
“The High Contracting Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in Section I of [the] Convention.”
Article 14 of the Convention
“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in [the] Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
VI. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 13 OF THE CONVENTION
He relied on Article 13 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
VII. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
A. Pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage
1. The parties' submissions
(a) The applicant
(b) The Government
50. The Government filed comments on the applicant's son's updated claims for just satisfaction on 30 June 2008 and 15 October 2008. They pointed out that the present application was part of a cluster of similar cases raising a number of problematic issues and maintained that the claims for just satisfaction were not ready for examination. The Government had in fact encountered serious problems in identifying the properties and their present owners. The information provided by the applicants in this regard was not based on reliable evidence. Moreover, owing to the lapse of time since the lodging of the applications, new situations might have arisen: the properties could have been transferred, donated or inherited within the legal system of southern Cyprus. These facts would not have been known to the respondent Government and could be certified only by the Greek Cypriot authorities, who, since 1974, had reconstructed the registers and records of all properties in northern Cyprus. Applicants should be required to provide search certificates issued by the Department of Lands and Surveys of the Republic of Cyprus. Moreover, in cases where the original applicant had passed away or the property had changed hands, questions might arise as to whether the new owners had a legal interest in the property and whether they were entitled to pecuniary and/or non-pecuniary damages.
2. The third-party intervener
3. The Court's assessment
B. Costs and expenses
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT
(a) reserves the said question in whole;
(b) invites the Government and the applicant's son to submit, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, their written observations on the matter and, in particular, to notify the Court of any agreement that they may reach;
(c) reserves the further procedure and delegates to the President of the Chamber the power to fix the same if need be.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 27 January 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Fatoş Aracı Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President
In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the dissenting opinion of Judge Karakaş is annexed to this judgment.
DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE KARAKAŞ
Unlike the majority, I consider that the objection of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies raised by the Government should not have been rejected. Consequently, I cannot agree with the finding of violations of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and of Article 8 of the Convention.
The rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies is intended to give Contracting States the opportunity to prevent or provide redress for violations alleged against them before such allegations are referred to the Court. That reflects the subsidiary nature of the Convention system.
Faced with the scale of the problem of deprivations of title to property alleged by Greek Cypriots (approximately 1,400 applications of this type lodged against Turkey), the Court, in the operative part of its Xenides Arestis v. Turkey judgment of 22 December 2005, required the respondent State to provide a remedy guaranteeing the effective protection of the rights set forth in Article 8 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 in the context of all the similar cases pending before it. The State has a legal obligation not just to pay those concerned the sums awarded by way of just satisfaction under Article 41 of the Convention, but also to select the general or, if appropriate, individual measures to be adopted in its domestic legal order to put an end to the violation found by the Court and to redress so far as possible the effects. The Government submitted that by enacting the Law on Compensation for Immovable Properties (Law no. 67/2005) and setting up a Commission to deal with compensation claims it had discharged that obligation (see also Xenides Arestis v. Turkey (just satisfaction), no. 46347/99, § 37, 7 December 2006). It is that domestic remedy which, in their submission, the applicant failed to exercise in the present case.
The exhaustion of domestic remedies is normally assessed at the time when an application is lodged with the Court. However, there are exceptions to the rule which may be justified by the particular circumstances of each case (see Baumann v. France, no. 33592/96, § 47, ECHR 2001-V (extracts)).
Examples of such exceptions are to be found in the cases against Italy which raised similar questions and in which the Court found that certain specific facts justified departing from the general principle (see Brusco v. Italy, (dec.) no. 69789/01, ECHR 2001-IX).
In other examples the Court also took the view, in the light of the specific facts of the cases concerned, and having regard to the subsidiary nature of the Convention mechanism, that new domestic remedies had not been exhausted (see the following decisions: Nogolica v. Croatia, no. 77784/01, ECHR 2002-VIII; Slaviček v. Croatia, no. 20862/02, ECHR 2002-VII; Andrášik and Others v. Slovakia, nos. 57984/00, 60226/00, 60242/00, 60679/00, 60680/00 and 68563/01, ECHR 2002-IX; and Içyer v. Turkey, no. 18888/02, ECHR 2006-I).
In situations where there is no effective remedy affording the opportunity to complain of alleged violations, individuals are systematically compelled to submit to the European Court of Human Rights applications which could have been investigated first of all within the domestic legal order. In that way, the functioning of the Convention system risks losing its effectiveness in the long term (the most pertinent example is the Broniowski v. Poland case ([GC], no. 31443/96, ECHR 2004-V).
In my opinion the above examples provide an opportunity to review the conditions for admissibility in the event of a major change in the circumstances of the case. For the similar post-Loizidou cases, the Court can always reconsider its admissibility decision and examine the preliminary objection of failure to exhaust domestic remedies.
Since the Court may reject “at any stage of the proceedings” (Article 35 § 4 of the Convention) an application which it considers inadmissible, new facts brought to its attention may lead it, even when examining the case on the merits, to reconsider the decision in which the application was declared admissible and ultimately declare it inadmissible pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention, taking due account of the context (see, for example, Medeanu v. Romania (dec.), no. 29958/96, 8 April 2003, and Azinas v. Cyprus [GC], no. 56679/00, §§ 37-43, ECHR 2004-III).
The existence of a “new fact” which has come to light after the admissibility decision may prompt the Court to reconsider that decision.
I consider that the Law on Compensation for Immovable Properties (Law no. 67/2005) and the Commission set up to deal with compensation claims, which are based on the guiding principles laid down by the Court in the Xenides-Arestis case, are capable of providing an opportunity for the State authorities to provide redress for breaches of the Convention's provisions, including breaches alleged in applications already lodged with the Court before the Act's entry into force (see Içyer, cited above, § 72). That consideration also applies to applications already declared admissible by the Court (see Azinas, cited above).
In order to conclude whether there has or has not been a breach of the Convention, complainants must first exercise the new domestic remedy and then, if necessary, lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights, the international court. Following that logic, I cannot in this case find any violation of the Convention's provisions.