An unsolved murder case is going before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday, with Cyprus and Turkey being accused of refusing to cooperate to solve the crime.
The case was filed in 2007 by relatives of the victims, represented by two UK-based lawyers - a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot - who say the Republic of Cyprus, along with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration in the north “failed to conduct an effective investigation into the killing of their relatives.”
On 15 January 2005, a Turkish Cypriot family living in the south was found brutally murdered along the Nicosia-Larnaca highway in the south. The victims, 52-year-old banker Elmas Guzelyurtlu, his wife Zerin and daughter Eylul, aged 50 and 15 respectively, were believed to have been murdered by members of the underworld in the north. Another rumour that the male victim, who fled the north five years earlier following a banking crisis, had some conflict with one of his associates in the south was not found to be credible.
Eight suspects were quickly named in the case following a string of evidence collected on the highway where the victims were discovered as well as in the family’s apartment in Agios Dometios. Evidence included DNA samples, fingerprints, ballistics, and checkpoint video footage pointing to Turkish Cypriot members of the mob.
Greek Cypriot authorities in the Republic of Cyprus refused to turn over evidence, while Turkish Cypriots refused to hand over the suspects
The suspects were subsequently apprehended by Turkish Cypriot police and placed under arrest. But they were later released due to lack of evidence, following what was later described as a total failure of the two sides to cooperate.
Greek Cypriot authorities in the Republic of Cyprus refused to turn over material, while Turkish Cypriots refused to hand over the suspects, with both sides claiming jurisdiction over the case. An extradition request issued in the south, which was to be delivered to Ankara via Athens, had failed to be handled properly. As a result, the investigations on both sides of the island had reached an impasse in 2008.
The UN made attempts to suggest ways to break the impasse but failed to convince the sides to cooperate, as suggestions to meet at Ledra Palace in the buffer zone to conduct video interviews of suspects or share copies of material evidence were flatly rejected due to mistrust and lack of political will. Turkish Cypriots were requesting evidence before they could put the suspects on trial, citing jurisdiction based on the original Cypriot constitution that says a suspect of Turkish or Greek origin should be tried by a judge of the same origin.
Last April, ECHR judges ruled unanimously in the case that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration, which is recognised only by Turkey, had violated Article 2 of the European Convention, which is the right to life and investigation of a crime. They also found the Republic of Cyprus had violated the same Article with a 5-2 vote.
Both Cyprus and Turkey requested a referral to the Grand Chamber, where on Wednesday judges will first hold a public hearing at 9:15am Strasbourg time and then carry out private deliberations. However, a decision is not expected to be forthcoming quickly.
The family is suing the authorities, both north and south in Cyprus but also in Turkey, for being responsible in keeping the case open for such a long time.
The court had said it would not assess how much each side tried to cooperate in solving the crime. But there are high expectations from the Grand Chamber to issue a more direct ruling.