Freedom in the World
Northern Cyprus *
In October 2011, the latest round of UN-sponsored unification talks between the Turkish Cypriot president and his Greek Cypriot counterpart failed to reach a tangible settlement. Also during the year, Northern Cyprus was the focal point of a dispute between Turkey and Cyprus regarding drilling for natural resources in waters surrounding the island.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain 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 that ruled Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at accomplishing the union. Five days later, Turkey invaded from the north, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the portion it occupied. Since then, a buffer zone called the Green Line has divided Cyprus, including the capital city of Nicosia. 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 as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey.
Reunification talks accelerated after a more receptive Turkish government was elected in 2002, and under added pressure for an agreement from the European Union (EU), the United States, and the United Nations. A prounification TRNC government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected in late 2003.
In April 2004, a reunification plan proposed by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island. Amid accusations that the proposal favored the Turkish side, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against it, 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.
Talat’s Republican Turkish Party (CTP) retained power at the head of a coalition government after winning February 2005 legislative elections, with the antiunification National Unity Party (UBP) placing second. Rauf Denktaş, who had held the presidency since the TRNC declared independence, did not seek a new term in the April 2005 presidential election. Instead, Talat emerged as the victor in a field of seven candidates, defeating UBP leader Derviş Eroğlu, 56 percent to 23 percent.
The UBP won legislative elections in April 2009, capturing 26 of 50 seats. Polls indicated that voters turned against the CTP, which secured just 15 seats, due to its failure to achieve reunification and because of an economic downturn that began in 2008. The Democratic Party, headed by Serdar Denktaş, son of the former president, won five seats, while the Free Party and the Communal Democracy Party each captured two. Eroğlu became prime minister, having previously held the post from 1985 to 1994 and 1996 to 2004.
In April 2010, Eroğlu defeated Talat in a presidential election, capturing more than 50 percent of the vote. Eroğlu’s election was seen as a mandate for maintaining the status quo. Nevertheless, in October the two sides opened a seventh border crossing near the northwestern town of Limnitis, increasing the permeability of the Green Line.
Pressure on the TRNC government to implement fiscal austerity measures continued in 2011, and protesters demonstrated against benefit cuts in October. Also that month, the latest round of UN-backed reunification negotiations between the island’s two governments concluded without a breakthrough. In November, Turkey and the TRNC signed an energy agreement giving the Turkish Petroleum Corporation permission to explore for natural gas in Turkish Cypriot territory, despite Greek Cypriot complaints that it would not be recognized as legal by the international community.
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 UBP, which has opposed unification, and the opposition CTP, which has supported it.
The TRNC’s roughly 1,000 Greek and Maronite Christian residents are disenfranchised, but many vote in elections in the southern Republic of Cyprus. Minorities are not represented, and women are underrepresented, in the TRNC Assembly.
The government has made efforts to combat corruption in recent years, but graft and lack of transparency remain problems. After the 2009 elections, Democratic Party leader Serdar Denktaş asserted that all TRNC political parties had bought votes, and admitted to distributing €10,000 ($13,300) himself.
Freedom of the press is generally respected, though some problems persist. The criminal code allows authorities to jail journalists for what they write, and the government has been hostile to independent outlets. Some journalists report threats in connection with their work and difficulty accessing public information. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
A 1975 agreement with Greek Cypriot authorities provides for freedom of worship, which is generally respected. The TRNC is an officially secular state. In 2011, the opening of a school with ties to the movement inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic theologian Fethullah Gülen was met with resentment by secularists and teachers’ unions. The government does not restrict academic freedom. In 2004, Turkish Cypriot schools began teaching a less partisan account of Cypriot history, in accordance with Council of Europe recommendations.
The rights of freedom of assembly and association are typically upheld, though police were criticized for disrupting union protests during 2011, making several arrests and allegedly using excessive force. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, though union members have been subject to harassment.
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 expose and remedy irregularities in the justice system.
Census results released in 2007 showed that about half of the TRNC’s population consisted of indigenous Turkish Cypriots. The rest included people of mainland Turkish origin and many foreign workers, as well as Greek Cypriots and Maronites. The latter three groups face discrimination, difficulties at Green Line checkpoints, and alleged surveillance by the Turkish Cypriot authorities. A census planned for November 2011 was indefinitely postponed amid widespread concerns that the native Turkish Cypriot population is rapidly diminishing.
There are no direct flights between the TRNC and the rest of the world due to Greek Cypriot resistance and international regulations that restrict the operation of the north’s ports and airports. However, trade between the two sides of the island has continued to increase since restrictions were loosened in 2004. In addition, 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 Republic of Cyprus passports since the option became available in 2004. However, in 2008, Turkey began forbidding Turkish Cypriots from leaving the country 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, though critics have claimed that the compensation amounts were inadequate. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognized the commission in 2010 as an “accessible and effective” mechanism, and claims must now pass through the commission and a local appeals process before they can be appealed to the ECHR.
According to Articles 171 and 173 of the criminal code, male homosexuality is punishable with jail time. Reports show an increase in the number of arrests based on the law in recent years, and homosexuals face societal discrimination. Three men were arrested in October 2011 on charges of conspiring to engage in a homosexual act. President Derviş Eroğlu subsequently announced plans to repeal the laws in question, and on October 25 the Communal Democracy Party submitted a proposal to repeal Chapter 154 of the criminal code, which criminalizes homosexual acts. However, the three men had not been released from prison as of the end of 2011.
Legal provisions for equal pay for women are not always enforced, especially in blue-collar jobs. A 2007 survey found that three-quarters of women were victims of violence at least once in their lives, with most attacks occurring at home. There are no laws specifically concerning domestic violence or sexual harassment, and incidents typically go unreported. According to the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation, the TRNC is a destination for trafficking in women, particularly from Eastern Europe and Russia, and little effort has been made to address this problem.
See also the country report for Cyprus.