1999 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Civil Liberties: 1
Political Rights: 1

Overview

Reunification of the divided island remained at the center of Cypriot political life in 1999. United Nations-sponsored negotiations took place at the end of the year in New York with both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders in attendance, marking the first talks on the future of the island since1997. At the same time as the negotiations, the European Union decided to continue accession talks with Cyprus, a move objected to by the Turkish portion of the island. In 1997, the Council of Europe had recommended that the EU offer membership to Cyprus in order to produce "significant economic and political advantages for the two communities" and a "major factor of stability."

Throughout 1998, President Glafcos Clerides's center-right coalition government devoted inordinate efforts to defend its decision to deploy Russian-made antiaircraft air defense missiles on Greek Cypriot territory. By year's end the missiles remained undeployed because of major opposition by the United States and EU member countries. However, in March President Clerides declared an end to a freeze on new weapons purchases, citing Turkey's failure to reduce tensions on the island. In August, the Cypriot defense minister, Yiannakis Chrysostomis, resigned amid widespread allegations of negligent leadership. It was revealed he was unaware that the Cypriot army was running out of ammunition and that the army's tanks had been using the wrong fuel for several years.

Efforts by the UN and the United States to settle the decades-old dispute over Cyprus have repeatedly stalled in the face of violence, land disputes, and unwillingness on the part of either side to agree on terms for formal talks. UN officials attempted to break the impasse during 1999 with rounds of talks held in New York with both Cypriot leaders in attendance, although not in face-to-face meetings. Warming relations between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Turkey did not translate into tangible gains at the negotiating table. Near-term reunification of Cyprus appeared doubtful following a new demand by the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for the recognition of his breakaway state and an August arson attack on a Muslim shrine in Larnaca, carried out by a previously unknown group called the Patriotic Organisation of Cypriot Fighters.

Annexed to Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a ten-year guerrilla campaign to demand union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot national guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Currently, the entire Turkish Cypriot community resides in the north, and property claims arising from the division and population exchange remain unsettled.

A buffer zone called the "Green Line" has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is the world's last divided city. The division of Cyprus has been a major point of contention in the long-standing rivalry between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean. Tensions and intermittent violence between the two populations have plagued the island since independence.

UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1982, Turkish-controlled Cyprus made a unilateral declaration of independence that was condemned by the UN and that remains unrecognized by every country except Turkey. [See Turkish Cyprus under Related Territories.]

Peace in Cyprus remains fragile. Propaganda in schools and in the media has sustained hostility among Cypriot youth. Blatant economic disparity exists between the prosperous south and the stagnating north. Cyprus ranks among the most heavily militarized countries in the world.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Greek Cypriots can change their government democratically. Suffrage is universal and compulsory, and elections are free and fair. The 1960 constitution established an ethnically representative system designed to protect the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding the presumption of innocence and the right to due process. Trial before a judge is standard, although requests for trial by jury are regularly granted.

Freedom of speech is respected, and a vibrant independent press frequently criticizes authorities. Several private television and radio stations in the Greek Cypriot community compete effectively with government-controlled stations. In addition, the government also publishes a Cyprus Internet home page, which features information regarding efforts to resolve the island's protracted dispute as well as regarding current developments and policy statements by Cypriot leaders.

Cypriot media reports in October alleged rife corruption among the island's police forces. An immigration scandal was revealed, in which police reportedly provided visas for foreign women to remain in the county in return for money and sex. In October, the chief immigration officer appeared in court on charges connected to the visa scandal. Police involvement in Cyprus's lucrative illegal prostitution racket was also alleged.

Underground violence continued during the year, culminating in a car bombing in Larnaca in October that left one person dead. The use of powerful weapons in several attacks led to speculation over police collusion in the violence. Most gang violence in Cyprus is linked to the illegal drug trade.

Freedom of assembly and association as well as the right to strike is respected.

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