Speech by H.E the President of the House of Representatives, on the occasion of the meeting of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - 22/05/2023
Speech by H.E the President of the House of Representatives, Ms Annita Demetriou, on the occasion of the meeting of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Larnaca, Monday, 22 May 2023 - Radisson Blu Hotel - Larnaca
Honourable Chairperson and dear members of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the PACE,
Dear friends and Colleagues,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Larnaca, my hometown. This is the first time Larnaca is hosting a Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and I am honoured to address this meeting here today.
The work of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the PACE is of utmost significance on many levels, both for the Council of Europe and its member states. The protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe and beyond, constitute the backbone of this Committee’s work and I wish to sincerely congratulate its members and Secretariat for the quality of the work produced that clearly enhances the credibility of the Assembly and its members, but most importantly improves the human rights and lives of millions of citizens.
A simple look at today’s agenda testifies the importance, relevance and scope of the Committee’s work. Issues related to the protection of human rights across the European continent, particularly in places where fundamental rights are being put into question, the adherence to the Convention system and the transposition into national legislation of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, combating impunity, eradicating judicial corruption and upholding the rule of law are some of the most important issues and activities this Committee deals with. This ongoing work of course is reflected in PACE resolutions and recommendations addressed to member states and other bodies of the Council of Europe. Unfortunately, far too many member States still commit themselves far too less to what they should guarantee their citizens under the Convention. And due to a series of crises, we are even witnessing an erosion of these rights and freedoms in some member states.
The situation in Cyprus is directly related to the work of this Committee, as well as other Committees. Many important decisions, resolutions and recommendations relating directly or indirectly to the Cyprus problem have been adopted through the years. Some of you will remember the Report on the Rights and fundamental freedoms of Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the northern part of Cyprus (2003), the Report on the colonisation by Turkish settlers of the occupied part of Cyprus (2003), the Report on national sovereignty and statehood in contemporary international law (2012), as well as the one on enforced population transfer as a human rights violation (2011). All the above attest widespread violations of human rights in Cyprus. Of course, we also look forward to Mr. Piero Fassino’s Report on the return of Famagusta to its lawful owners, currently under preparation in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.
For 49 years now, the people of Cyprus have been suffering gross violations of their fundamental human rights, as a result of Turkey’s invasion and continuing occupation of more than one third of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus. The protracted Cyprus problem and the de facto division of the country continue to haunt the lives of whole people of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, alike. For our part, we exert every effort for the resumption of substantive negotiations from where they stopped, within the agreed United Nations framework and with the European Union having a complementary and supportive role with the aim of reaching a just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem, in accordance with international law, pertinent UN Security Council Resolutions and European principles and values. A settlement that will reunify our country in conditions of lasting peace and prosperity for the sake of our youth and generations to come.
The European Court of Human Rights has dealt with complex issues relating to the situation in Cyprus in individual applications lodged before it, as well as in interstate applications. Taking this opportunity, I wish to express my disappointment at the decision of the Committee of Ministers to close the supervision of the case Titina Loizidou vs Turkey. This decision sets a dangerous precedent as regards property rights of affected persons in other Council of Europe member states. It also sends a dangerous signal, that with the passage of time, human rights violations can be erased. Human rights violations cannot be normalized, nor can we accept the systematic, unlawful exploitation and sale of Greek Cypriot properties in the areas under Turkish military occupation. We count on your support on this crucial matter and I am certain that during the hearing tomorrow on interstate cases, you will have a better understanding of the fundamental issues at stake.
What is important to remember is that the principles and values of the Council of Europe must be applied in all member states, with no exceptions. The logic of double standards depending on who the aggressor is, emboldens perpetrators to proceed with their unlawful acts. The landmark summit in Reykjavik has been all the more relevant in reaffirming the pivotal role of the Council of Europe in addressing key challenges to our democratic security.
I wish to pay tribute to the presence here, today, of Ms Evgenia Kara-Muzra, wife of the Russian opposition activist and recipient of the 2022 Vaclav Havel prize of the Council of Europe, Mr. Vladimir Kara-Muzra. Ms Kara-Muzra’s courage and resolve to fight for the rights of her husband, who is today in prison on charges of treason because he has openly criticized Russia’s war in Ukraine, deserves our profound respect and admiration. The burden this family is carrying is immense and it is important to acknowledge their suffering and reassure them of our friendship and solidarity. It is important to reach out to and support people who speak out the truth and who have shown, often at the risk of their lives, how relevant the core principles and values of the Council of Europe remain to this day. From the very first day the Russian invasion started, the Republic of Cyprus and the House of Representatives have stood firm by the people of Ukraine, but also by those who oppose Putin’s war in the Russian Federation.
Politically motivated persecutions, such as in the Kara-Muzra case, and violations of human rights falling under article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as our dear Colleague Mr. Constantinos Efstathiou, has recently documented in the 11th Report on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, cannot be tolerated. Open, vibrant and dynamic societies need not be afraid to speak up, freely criticise mainstream narratives and policies and express dissenting opinions. All voices should be heard and respected in a democratic society, not silenced. The same applies with respect to the Osman Kavala case, Alexei Navalny or Sergei Magnitsky. Our duty as parliamentarians, at the national, European and international levels, is to urge our governments to take action and fully commit themselves to their obligations towards their citizens. At the same time, we must initiate legislative changes and reform to better protect human rights and anchor the rule of law firmly within our institutions and societies.
With these thoughts, I wish you all fruitful deliberations and a pleasant and memorable stay in Cyprus.
Thank you for your attention.