Cyprus: Vote on UNFICYP Mandate Renewal Resolution*
Tomorrow (29 July), the Security Council is scheduled to vote in person on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 January 2022. The UK, the penholder on Cyprus, circulated a first draft of the resolution last week and members held two rounds of negotiations on 23 and 27 July. After passing silence this afternoon (28 July), the draft text was put in blue.
The negotiations on the draft resolution appear to have been smooth, reflecting the Council’s united support for UNFICYP’s work. The draft text in blue renews the mission’s mandate without making any changes to the mission’s tasks, which were most recently outlined in resolution 2561 of 29 January. Some language was modified to reflect recent developments, however.
The political process in Cyprus has traditionally been the central focus of UNFICYP mandate renewal negotiations. The draft text in blue welcomes the UN’s work in convening an informal “five-plus-one” meeting from 27 to 29 April in Geneva. The meeting, which marked the first direct negotiations between the two parties since the collapse of the previous talks at Crans-Montana in 2017, was attended by the leaders of the two Cypriot sides, representatives of the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) and Secretary-General António Guterres. The draft resolution regrets that sufficient common ground could not be found at the meeting to allow for more formal negotiations to continue. A subsequent informal meeting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders may take place later this year. The meeting is unlikely to take place in a “five-plus-one” format, however.
During negotiations on the draft resolution, it appears that most Council members expressed their support for retaining language on the settlement parameters based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality for the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, as stipulated in previous Council resolutions. While the Greek Cypriot leadership still supports this approach, the Turkish Cypriot leadership had unveiled its own proposal during the Geneva “five-plus-one” meeting. It called on the Security Council to adopt a resolution establishing equal international status and sovereign equality for the two sides as a prerequisite for formal negotiations. Arguing that negotiations based on the BBF model had been exhausted, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar claimed that he was seeking to revitalise the peace talks by introducing a novel approach based on a two-state paradigm.
It seems that an early draft of the resolution noted that the BBF parameters provide a framework for a variety of possible arrangements, suggesting there is room for finding common ground. However, most members apparently thought it important that the Council remain committed to its established position on the BBF and this reference was not retained in the draft text in blue.
The draft text in blue contains language reflecting recent developments regarding the status of Varosha, the city located on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone, a demilitarised area separating the two sides on the island. On 20 July, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders announced the reopening of a section of Varosha. On 23 July, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the announcement. It appears that an early draft of the presidential statement expressed concern about the announcement, but the language was strengthened to express the Council’s condemnation of the announcement at the request of China and India. During the negotiations on the draft resolution in blue, it seems there was some discussion on how to reflect the 23 July presidential statement. Initially, the draft resolution described the presidential statement as only addressing the ongoing developments in Varosha. At the request of several Council members, the draft text in blue recalls the presidential statement in greater detail, reiterating its condemnation of the 20 July announcement.
Recent developments regarding crossing points on the island are also addressed in the draft text in blue. Regretting the impact that the uncoordinated COVID-19 responses had on bi-communal engagement, the draft resolution welcomes the decision in early June by the leaders of the two Cypriot sides to reopen all crossing points and encourages the sides to return to the status that existed prior to February 2020. In this regard, the Council welcomes the establishment of the so-called “trilateral dialogue” between the two sides and the UN. The Council previously expressed concern that the closure of the crossing points severely limited opportunities for bi-communal engagement and trust-building activities, both of which are considered vital to the peaceful settlement of the dispute. The latest Secretary-General’s UNFICYP report, issued on 9 July, notes that failure to harmonise procedures at the crossing points had led to frequent disputes that required the intervention of UNFICYP.
Another topic which is addressed in the draft resolution is hydrocarbon exploration. In 2019 and 2020, there was a period of heightened tensions, during which Turkey deployed several of its vessels to start hydrocarbon exploration and drilling activities off the coast of Cyprus. However, the Secretary-General, in his 9 July report on the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus, noted that there were no major developments in that regard since his previous report in January. As such, the draft resolution notes the easing of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and calls on both sides to refrain from actions and rhetoric that might threaten the settlement process.
The draft resolution also regrets the lack of meaningful participation of women’s organisations and youth in the settlement process. It calls on the leaders of both sides to submit to the Secretary-General by 15 December an action plan to increase women’s participation in peace talks and to provide support to civil society organisations to enhance inter-communal contact. It further requests that the Secretary-General include this action plan in his next report on the work of the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus.
*Post-script: On 29 July, the Security Council adopted resolution 2587, renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 January 2022.