Cyprus: Vote on UNFICYP Mandate Renewal Resolution*
Tomorrow (27 January), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 July. The UK, the penholder on Cyprus, circulated a first draft of the resolution on 18 January and members held two rounds of negotiations on 20 and 24 January. After passing silence this morning (26 January), 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 core mandate and tasks, which were most recently outlined in resolution 2587 of 29 July 2021. Some language was modified to reflect recent developments, however.
It seems that discussions during the negotiations centred on several issues, including how to address the lack of progress towards restarting peace talks, the Secretary-General’s proposal for a UN envoy to lead further engagement in the search for common ground, the deployment of additional surveillance technology in the buffer zone (a demilitarised area separating the two sides on the island), renewed tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, and the freedom of movement of UNFICYP personnel.
The political process in Cyprus has traditionally been the central focus of UNFICYP mandate renewal negotiations. 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 informal meeting of the “five-plus-one” format, which convened Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, and representatives of the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) under UN auspices, was held in late April 2021. The meeting failed to establish agreement between the two delegations to proceed with formal negotiations.
In an attempt to reinvigorate the political process, Secretary-General António Guterres, on 27 September 2021, hosted an informal luncheon with the Cypriot leaders in New York. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus, issued on 31 December 2021, both leaders expressed their support for his offer to appoint a UN envoy to pursue the search for common ground. (Efforts to advance a political process and finalise the terms of reference for the peace negotiations were previously led by UN Senior Official Jane Holl Lute, who resigned from her post in August 2021). The report also noted the two leaders’ divergent views on the “specific role and mandate” of the UN envoy.
According to media reports, Tatar objected to the appointment of a UN special envoy, preferring 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 reportedly argued that such an envoy’s efforts would be constrained by being forced to operate strictly within the bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality framework outlined in Security Council resolutions. A personal envoy, he maintained, would have greater autonomy to explore new ideas, including his proposed two-state solution. The draft text in blue welcomes the Secretary-General’s proposal for the appointment of a UN envoy and urges both sides to actively engage with the Secretary-General to reach an agreement to this end.
Despite stalled progress on the political front, the Secretary-General’s latest UNFICYP report, which was published on 31 December 2021 and covers the period from 19 June to 15 December 2021, highlights effective cooperation between the sides on harmonising COVID-19 measures through the Technical Committee on Health. The report underscores that the pandemic continued to have a “substantial negative socio-economic impact” across the island, albeit to varying degrees on each side. The draft mandate renewal resolution welcomes this cooperation, particularly initiatives aimed at enabling greater access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Council members also apparently discussed how to address the deployment of additional surveillance equipment on both sides of the buffer zone. According to the Secretary-General’s UNFICYP report, the sides enhanced their surveillance technology during the reporting period without consulting with UNFICYP. The Secretary-General encourages a dialogue between the parties and Special Representative and head of UNFICYP Colin Stewart to “explore the idea of unmanning the ceasefire lines” in return for UN validation that each side’s surveillance technology is not deployed inside the buffer zone or capable of seeing beyond it. The draft resolution in blue welcomes the Secretary-General’s proposal for a dialogue to explore a possible agreement on this issue.
Another matter raised in the UNFICYP report is restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNFICYP personnel imposed in Varosha—a coastal city located on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone—and the village of Strovilia. The Secretary-General deplores these restrictions and recalls that UNFICYP’s mandate is not limited to the buffer zone. He further requests that the mission’s ability to patrol and implement its mandated activities be restored in full. The draft resolution in blue stresses that UNFICYP’s mandated authority extends throughout the island and that restrictions on freedom of movement can pose a threat to the safety and security of UN personnel. The draft text requests the parties to take reasonable measures to ensure unrestricted and immediate access for UNFICYP staff.
The UNFICYP report also highlights the situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the island and notes that the challenges to granting access to asylum seekers in accordance with international law are “of serious concern”. According to the report, the number of asylum applications received by the Greek Cypriot side increased significantly from January 2021 onwards. According to Greek Cypriot government officials, the vast majority of migrants entered the country illegally through the UN buffer zones. Greek Cypriot authorities maintain that the situation is overwhelming state institutions and, as a result, submitted a request to the European Commission on 10 November 2021 to suspend applications for asylum by individuals entering the country illegally. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the issue of illegal migrant crossings “was often referred to as the reason for the enhancement of surveillance capacity along the ceasefire lines”. The draft text in blue recalls the importance of fully adhering to applicable international law when addressing issues relating to asylum seekers and refugees.
During the negotiations, it appears that Council members also discussed the rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. The Secretary-General’s report on the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus notes with concern these growing tensions, which stem from planned hydrocarbon and energy cooperation activities and maritime zone claims, as well as “heightened rhetoric between guarantor powers Greece and Turkey”. In the report, the Secretary-General stresses that the island’s natural resources should benefit both communities and “constitute a strong incentive for the parties to find a mutually acceptable and durable solution to the Cyprus problem”. While resolution 2587 noted the easing of tensions around this issue, the current draft text in blue expresses concern regarding the continuing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
*Post-script: On 27 January, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2618, renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months, until 31 July 2022.