Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) ahead of its 31 July expiry. Special Representative and head of mission Elizabeth Spehar is expected to brief on the latest UNFICYP report and recent developments in a closed videoconference. A representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs may also brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Council last met on Cyprus on 30 January when it adopted resolution 2506, which extended the mandate of UNFICYP for six months. The resolution urged both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides, and others involved, to renew their commitment to reach a settlement under the auspices of the UN. It also called on the parties to establish an effective mechanism for direct military contacts with each other, with UNFICYP as a facilitator in its liaison role, and to reduce the existing obstacles to intercommunal contacts.
Over the past six months, there has been no meaningful progress on the political front and no direct formal engagement between the Cypriot leaders in the context of unification talks. The last formal meeting between the Cypriot leaders under UN auspices took place in August 2019. Secretary-General António Guterres tried to provide some impetus for the political process in November 2019 when he hosted an informal meeting in Berlin between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinçi. In a statement issued after the meeting, Guterres said that the Cypriot leaders agreed that the current status quo is not sustainable and that they had stressed the importance of reaching a solution to the Cyprus issue within a foreseeable timeframe. Guterres also noted that he would be willing to explore the possibility of organising an informal meeting with Cypriot parties and the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey, and the UK). The negotiations have remained at an impasse since the collapse of the latest round of unification talks in the middle of 2017.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most prominent issue in Cyprus during the past several months, pushing aside the discussions about the political process. In late February, the Greek Cypriot side closed four of seven existing crossing points on the buffer zone (the demilitarised zone controlled by UNFICYP) to prevent a possible spread of COVID-19 in Cyprus. At the time, Cyprus had no registered cases of COVID-19. In the following days, dozens gathered on both sides of the island to protest the closure of the crossing points. On several occasions, the Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators in Nicosia, some of whom attempted to make their way through the crossing point at Ledra Street.
In a 5 March statement, UNFICYP expressed concern about the disruption to daily life caused by the closure of crossing points. It called on both sides to enhance their cooperation in response to the pandemic. On 16 March, all crossings on the buffer zone were closed as the island detected its first cases of COVID-19. Both sides agreed to partially open the buffer zone crossings on 8 June for specific categories of people, while their full reopening is expected from 1 July.
Presidential elections in Cyprus’ north were initially scheduled to take place in April but were moved to October because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Akinçi, who has been leading the negotiations on unification during the past five years, will run for re-election. Given the circumstances, the resumption of the political process is expected only after the elections.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At its 43rd session (suspended on 13 March because of COVID-19 and resumed from 15 to 22 June), the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus (A/HRC/43/22). The report, which covers the period from 1 December 2018 to 30 November 2019, observed that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders met informally with the Secretary-General on 25 November 2019, agreeing that “achieving a comprehensive and durable settlement within a foreseeable horizon was of the utmost importance to the future well-being of both communities and that the status quo was unsustainable”. The report noted, however, that despite some positive developments, “the division of Cyprus still hinders the full enjoyment of … human rights and fundamental freedoms…”. In this regard, the report welcomed the work of intercommunal initiatives and civil society and encouraged further visits to Cyprus by the HRC special procedures mandate holders.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the most recent round of unification talks in 2017, the Council has primarily been concerned with the lack of any meaningful progress on the political front and diminishing prospects for advancing the political settlement of the Cyprus problem anytime soon. Although the Council has taken the view that the primary responsibility for finding the solution to the Cyprus problem lies mainly with the Cypriot sides, the Council could consider taking a more proactive approach to stimulating the process. An option would be to explore changing the mandate of UNFICYP, including seeking options for downsizing and for a possible exit strategy.
Developments in the political process have usually played an important role in guiding the mandate renewal negotiations. This year has seen no significant developments on the political front, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in anticipation of presidential elections in northern Cyprus. To date, Council members have received few, if any, substantial details about UN consultant Jane Holl Lute’s engagement with the parties. Ahead of the mandate renewal in July, the Council could consider holding a private meeting with Lute on the prospects for progress on the political track.
The Council will continue to monitor the situation as well as tensions over the exploration for hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus. As was the case in the past, these tensions can affect the political process negatively and carry potential risks for the security situation in the region.
Cyprus remains a low–intensity issue on the Council’s agenda. Among the members with a special interest in Cyprus and who follow the issue closely are France, Russia, and the UK. The latter is also one of the guarantor powers under the 1960 treaty guaranteeing the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus.
While the Council is united in its support for the political process, members diverge on the conditions and timeframe for the unification talks. Some seem to share the view that this process cannot be open-ended and that the Council could apply pressure on the parties to revive the negotiations.
The US has emphasised that peacekeeping missions must support political processes and that the Council should reconsider the mandates of missions where progress on the political track is absent. During past mandate renewal negotiations, the US has supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. On the other hand, Russia has strongly opposed any attempt to exert pressure on either side and to affect the negotiations, maintaining that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned to achieve lasting results. Most Council members seem wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. In the absence of progress in unification talks, the US position might gain more support from other members that have been cautious on this issue. Russia is likely to oppose any changes to the status quo.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolution|
|30 January 2020S/RES/2506||The Council extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.|
|7 January 2020S/2020/23||This was a report on UNFICYP.|
|14 November 2019S/2019/883||This was the Secretary-General’s report on his good offices in Cyprus.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|9 October 2019SC/13980||This statement reiterated the importance of the status of Varosha as set out in previous Security Council resolutions.|
|27 February 2019SC/13722||Council members issued a press statement welcoming the 26 February meeting between Cypriot leaders.|