Expected Council Action
In July, Security Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the situation in Cyprus. Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Colin Stewart is expected to brief.
UNFICYP’s mandate expires on 31 January 2024.
Key Recent Developments
Over the past six months, there has been no meaningful progress on the political front and no direct formal engagement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in the context of unification talks, which have been stalled since the collapse of negotiations at Crans-Montana in July 2017. Efforts to reinvigorate the political process have failed to find common ground for the resumption of talks. The recently elected Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Christodoulides is firmly committed to a settlement based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality, as stipulated in previous Security Council resolutions, while Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar insists on a two-state solution based on sovereign equality.
After winning the election in February, Christodoulides has intensified his efforts to break the deadlock in the peace talks, underscoring his campaign pledge to make a peace deal an overriding priority. In an informal 23 February meeting hosted by Stewart, Christodoulides tested the waters with Tatar about reviving the stalemated talks before Christodoulides took office on 1 March. The topics of the informal meeting included the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria earlier in February, in which Turkish Cypriots were among those killed. The two leaders expressed their sympathy for the victims and their families. However, no other informal or formal meetings between the two are known to have happened since then. Tatar insists that negotiations between the two sides can only begin when sovereign equality and the equal international status of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are confirmed.
Christodoulides appears to be pushing for more active EU involvement in the negotiations, including a European envoy, as he believes the bloc can provide necessary incentives to create a win-win situation. According to media reports, European political leaders have responded positively to Christodoulides’ efforts. As a response to Christodoulides’ efforts, Tatar reiterated in a European Parliament speech on 13 June that “the EU leadership must understand that efforts to involve other players besides the UN in the Cyprus conflict are futile. No one can interfere in a possible process if the Turkish Cypriot side does not consent”.
From 15 to 18 March, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo made her first trip to Cyprus—a visit that had been scheduled last year. She had meetings with Christodoulides and Tatar, exchanging views on the Cyprus issue. She also reiterated the Secretary-General’s commitment to “supporting the two leaders in their effort to find a mutually acceptable way forward”.
During a phone call with Christodoulides on 15 June, Secretary-General António Guterres reaffirmed his commitment to a settlement of the Cyprus dispute within the relevant Security Council resolutions. Christodoulides said he was ready to resume talks from where they left off at Crans-Montana. The Secretary-General’s report on good offices in Cyprus is expected to be released in early July before the consultations in the Council.
Appointing an envoy of the Secretary-General, an issue that remains deadlocked, also came up during the phone call. The Greek Cypriot leader “underlined the added value of appointing an envoy of the Secretary-General”, a position that has remained vacant since Jane Holl Lute’s resignation in September 2021. At the time of writing, the Turkish Cypriot leadership has not released a statement or otherwise commented on the issue. In an informal 27 September 2021 meeting Guterres hosted for former Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar, however, Tatar objected to the appointment of a UN special envoy, preferring a personal envoy, according to media reports. (Special envoys are usually assigned to undertake special missions related to matters of which the Security Council or the General Assembly are seized, while personal envoys undertake missions at the Secretary-General’s initiative.) Tatar reportedly argued that a special envoy would be constrained by having to operate strictly within the framework of the BBF with political equality, but a personal envoy would have greater autonomy to explore new ideas, including his proposed two-state solution. This matter appears unlikely to be resolved quickly.
Tensions between the Republic of Cyprus and Türkiye resurfaced over reports that a Turkish aircraft overflew and photographed Deneia, one of the four villages in the UN buffer zone—the first time a flight of this type has happened. Christodoulides called the flight a violation of UN resolutions and decisions on Cyprus. This is one of the latest incidents in the buffer zone in recent years, which have included entry obstruction to buffer zones and construction at the Cetinkaya stadium, heightening tension between the two sides as they consider these activities to violate UN resolutions or to be unauthorised.
On 13 June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the northern part of the island and reiterated his support for a two-state solution. “If there is a return to the negotiation table, the way to do this is through recognition of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus,” he said. The visit marked his first trip abroad after winning re-election in May. Responding to Erdoğan later that day, Christodoulides reiterated during a European Parliament debate his “unwavering efforts” to reunify Cyprus through a comprehensive settlement in line with international law, UN Security Council resolutions and EU law, values and principles.
On 17 May, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with Christodoulides in Reykjavik, Iceland, on the margins of the Council of Europe Summit. Thomas-Greenfield reiterated the US commitment to deepening its bilateral relationship with the Republic of Cyprus. She expressed continued US support for a Cypriot-led, UN-facilitated effort to reunify the island as a BBF.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk presented a report on 7 March about Cyprus (A/HRC/52/18) that provided an overview of human rights issues in Cyprus from 1 December 2021 to 30 November 2022. The report noted that because of the island’s continued division, “monitoring and reporting by international mechanisms on the human rights situation in the northern part of Cyprus have remained limited”. In his statement, Türk observed that the division of Cyprus continues to affect the human rights of people across the island, particularly concerning missing persons and freedom of movement, expression, and religion, among others. The report also noted the negative socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, affecting the economic and social rights of people in vulnerable situations.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks, the key issue for the Security Council has been the lack of meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for reaching a political settlement of the Cyprus problem. In the consultations, Council members could reiterate their firm commitment to a peaceful settlement based on a framework of BBF with political equality as stipulated in previous Security Council resolutions.
Council members could urge the parties to reach an agreement regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to appoint a UN envoy on Cyprus to succeed Lute, stressing that the envoy could provide critical support in the search for common ground with the goal of returning to formal negotiations, while reassuring the parties that the envoy will not be constrained in their search for common grounds for the resumption of talks.
Another issue for the Security Council is for both sides to promote and strengthen intercommunal contacts to improve the public atmosphere for negotiating a peaceful settlement, while providing platforms to address island-wide matters such as health, climate change, and migration. The Council may call on the leaders of both communities to further support the work of the twelve Technical Committees, established by the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities under the auspices of the UN, to build confidence and improve the daily lives of Cypriots. They may also call on the leadership of both sides as a matter of priority to support the Technical Committee on Gender Equality. In this regard, they may encourage the parties to implement recommendations under the action plan on women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the settlement process and to review the plan’s implementation every six months.
Another key issue for the Council is establishing a direct military contact mechanism between the parties, facilitated by UNFICYP. Council members may decide to encourage the parties to approach negotiations on the basis of “engagement without recognition” and undertake significant confidence-building measures, which could help facilitate the resumption of negotiations.
Some Council members may comment on recent developments on the ground since the last consultation on Cyprus, including heightened tension in the buffer zone and new developments related to the Turkish Cypriots’ efforts to reopen a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha.
Cyprus remains a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda. Council members with a vested interest in Cyprus include France, Russia, and the UK, which also serves as the penholder on the issue.
While the Council is united in its support for the political process, members diverge on the conditions and timeframe for the unification talks. Some members have previously supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. Russia remains adamant that there be no external interference or attempts to enforce solutions and schedules to influence the peace talks.
Council members will encourage the Secretary-General to continue working with the parties to find common ground for formal negotiations to resume.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 January 2023S/RES/2674||This resolution extended the mandate of UNFICYP until 31 January 2024.|
|3 January 2023S/2023/6||This was the report of the Secretary-General on his mission of good offices in Cyprus.|
|3 January 2023S/2023/3||This was the Secretary-General’s report on UNFICYP, which covered developments from 15 June to 12 December 2022.|