Thousands of displaced Cypriots fled for their lives and sought sanctuary outside of Cyprus as refugees. The refugees and displaced persons have lived in hope that one day they will be permitted the right to return to their towns and villages in the Turkish-occupied north of their island.
Despite United Nations resolutions such as 37/253 endorsing the right to return, the fate of refugees and the displaced will be decided in a negotiated political settlement. We expect a proposed negotiated settlement to be put to the people of Cyprus in referenda.
While displaced persons who reside in Cyprus are permitted to vote a Cyprus settlement referendum, the refugees who reside outside of the island are currently denied that right. Non-resident citizens are also denied their right to vote in referenda that will finally decide the fate of their country.
The right to vote in Cyprus settlement referenda should be extended to those refugees who live in exile and all those Cypriots in the disapora. They are victims of war, invasion and occupation and should not be denied the right to participate in shaping the future of their homeland.
Cypriot law stipulates a six month residency requirement in order to qualify an individual to vote. But that is a major obstacle for those living in the diaspora and in particular for the refugees whose homes are under Turkish military occupation.
Extending the right to vote to those in the Cypriot diaspora would not require a constitutional amendment, only the adoption of an ad hoc law.
In contrast, the Turkish nationals who were sent to colonise the occupied north and to take the place of the ethnically cleansed Cypriot refugees (in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute) were granted the right to vote in the Cyprus referendum of 2004.
Why should others decide what happens to the homes, lands, villages, churches, graveyards, schools and village squares of Cypriots in the diaspora?
Facilitating the right to vote of those in the diaspora is in accordance with international standards and is in line with recent referenda held across the globe. Eligibility criteria in other referenda were simple and not connected to residency, they were related to ancestral rights and entitlement to citizenship.
Granting all Cypriots the right to vote and to participate in shaping the future of Cyprus is not just a matter of principle – it is a matter of justice.
To the President of the Republic of Cyprus Mr Anastasiades
In the 2004 referendum on the Annan Plan to settle the Cyprus issue, Turkey’s illegal regime extended the right to vote to the illegal Turkish colonists.
However the refugees and other Cypriots in the diaspora were not granted the right to vote. The vast majority of them were unable to satisfy the criteria of the Republic of Cyprus, which includes the requirement that they are resident in Cyprus for six months before a referendum.
Not residing in Cyprus has not diminished their ties with Cyprus or their commitment to finding a just settlement to end the Turkish occupation. Cypriots of the diaspora should not be disenfranchised by denying them their right to vote.
We call upon the government of the Republic of Cyprus to respect the right to vote and give those in the diaspora a voice in determining the future of the Republic.
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