Expected Council Action
In January 2024, 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. The Council is expected to renew UNFICYP’s mandate ahead of its 31 January 2024 expiry.
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. The two sides have maintained alternative positions on the appropriate framework for resolving the Cyprus issue: the Greek Cypriots remain 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.
In August 2023, skirmishes broke out between Turkish Cypriots and UN personnel in the buffer zone, resulting in several injuries. On 17 August, Turkish Cypriots began working on the construction of a road connecting the town of Pyla/Pile, located within the UN-controlled demilitarised zone known as the Green Line, to Turkish Cypriot-controlled areas. In a press statement the same day, UNFICYP expressed concern over the “unauthorized construction work” being carried out inside the UN buffer zone. As UNFICYP sought to halt the construction on 18 August in line with its mandate, Turkish Cypriot bulldozers reportedly moved in to clear the UN vehicles placed in the buffer zone. Three UNFICYP peacekeepers were injured during the incident.
The incident was criticised by several international interlocutors. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the assault in an 18 August 2023 statement, stressing that attacks against UN peacekeepers may constitute serious crimes under international law. A joint statement issued on the same day by France, the UK, and the US urged Turkish Cypriot authorities to avoid further actions that could jeopardise the prospects of resuming settlement talks and to immediately halt any form of violence against UNFICYP personnel in the area. On 21 August, Security Council members held a meeting at the UK’s request on the situation in Cyprus under “any other business”. In a press statement following that meeting, the Council condemned the assault and reaffirmed its support for UNFICYP, particularly its mandated authority in and delineation of the buffer zone.
On 9 October 2023, Stewart announced that an understanding had been reached between the two Cypriot sides to resolve the situation in Pyla/Pile. Stewart said that while the specific modalities were still being discussed, the framework understanding would come into effect immediately. France, the UK, and the US welcomed the announcement in a 10 October joint statement, and Stewart briefed Council members on the details of the understanding during a 16 October meeting under “any other business”. Nonetheless, in November, both sides accused each other of breaching the understanding.
Cyprus has been without a UN envoy since Jane Holl Lute’s resignation in September 2021. Lute was initially hired as a UN consultant in August 2018, and was later referred to as a “Senior UN Official”, to conduct consultations with the parties on the Secretary-General’s behalf and to finalise the terms of reference for the peace negotiations.
Following Lute’s resignation, Guterres sought to appoint a UN envoy to assume her responsibilities. Guterres brought up this matter during a meeting with Tatar and then-Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades on 27 September 2021. However, the two leaders expressed differing preferences for the envoy’s terms of reference and title, specifically whether the position should be a special envoy or a personal envoy. (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 objected to the appointment of a special envoy, arguing that such an envoy’s ability to find common ground would be constrained by being forced to operate strictly within the BBF framework outlined in Security Council resolutions. A personal envoy, he suggested, would have greater autonomy to explore new ideas, including his proposed two-state solution.
During an UNFICYP-hosted event on 11 December 2023, attended by Tatar and Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Christodoulides, Stewart confirmed that the two sides had reached consensus on a candidate, adding that an official announcement from the Secretary-General was expected “very soon”. Stewart emphasised that the selection of an envoy “is an important step in trying to see if a path can be found for a mutually-acceptable way forward”.
According to media reports, the candidate for the position of UN envoy is Maria Ángela Holguín Cuéllar, who served as Colombia’s foreign minister from August 2010 to August 2018. However, details regarding whether the role will be designated a special envoy or a personal envoy and the nature of any reporting obligations to the Council remain uncertain.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks in Crans-Montana, the key issue for the Security Council has been the lack of meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for a political settlement of the Cyprus problem. The anticipated appointment of a UN envoy appears to mark a significant step towards the potential resumption of dialogue. An option for the Council is to consider mandating the new envoy to brief the Council regularly on any efforts aimed at reviving the peace process. It is noteworthy that during Lute’s three-year role, she did not provide any briefings to the Council.
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 UNFICYP and a political process based on a BBF with political equality, 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 impose solutions or timelines that might influence the peace talks.
While Council members agree on the necessity of appointing a UN envoy, some have expressed preferences for specific terms of reference for the position. Russia, in particular, has supported the appointment of a special envoy or adviser who would be directly appointed by and accountable to the Council.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolutions
|30 January 2023S/RES/2674
|This resolution extended the mandate of UNFICYP until 31 January 2024.
|5 July 2023S/2023/497
|This is the Secretary-General’s report on his mission of good offices in Cyprus.
|5 July 2023S/2023/498
|This is the Secretary-General’s report on United Nations operation in Cyprus.
|Security Council Press Statements
|21 August 2023SC/15391
|This condemned an 18 August assault by Turkish Cypriot security forces against members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.