The role of the UN in Cyprus discussed at the H4C

The “Role of the United Nations in Cyprus and UN reform” was debated at an event organised by the Home of Cooperation with the support of the Civil Affairs Sector of the UNFICYP last Thursday. During the event academics Ahmet Sözen, Constantinos Adamidis and Costas M. Constantinou, shed light on the role of the UN on the island over the years, their role after the Crans Montana collapse and reforms that may help the body revive trust of the Cypriots towards the institution.

Ahmet Sözen, professor of Political Science and International Relations, provided the background on the role of the UN on the island. Explaining that the UN has had two distinct, but complementary mandates said that on the one hand UNFICYP is charged with preventing fighting and on the other to support the negotiations between the two communities. While UNFICYP has been stationed on the island since 1963, the UN Secretary General’s Good Offices in Cyprus have been trying to support negotiations since 1968.

Sozen said that ever since 1968 the mandate of the Good Offices was limited to facilitating the talks and taking notes, with some exceptions. In 1993-94 they had proposed 15 confidence building measures to bridge the gap between the two communities and in 2004 with the Anan plan when they took the initiative to fill in the blanks of the plan.

The professor commented that the mission of the UN is misperceived by people on the two sides of the divide who consequently do not trust the body. “In the eyes of the GCs the UN has failed because it could not prevent, what the GCs call, the Turkish invasion and occupation of the island. In the eyes of Turkish Cypriots the UN failed to prevent attacks against them in the 60’s and 1974” he said.

Sözen added that the mandate of the good offices of the UN is limited even further when it is coupled with the important principle of the negotiation process, which says that nothing is agreed unless we agree on everything. However, as he said, the UN could take this in consideration and force the sides to agree on certain preconditions for the restart of the negotiations. “In his last report, Guterres laid down the preconditions. He said that the progress reached needs to be protect and added that for a UN involvement in a new process, the leaders need to call the Secretary General together. He has hinted that the aim should be a strategic agreement which details should be filled by technocrats. The question here is whether they can insist on these before the beginning.

Taking over from Sözen, Constantinos Adamides, Assistant professor of International Relations, elaborated on how the UN is perceived by Greek Cypriots.  “In 2009 Cyprus came last amongst EU states  in a survey, with 60% of Cypriots not trusting the UN, 2010 63% did not trust the UN. In 2015 it dropped to 51%, but still more than half the GCs do not trust the UN” said the Assistant Professor.

He attributed GCs’ mistrust towards the body to a misunderstanding of the UN’s role and to that Cypriots on both sides do like to be blamed. “We like to blame the other side, or the international community, and the UN” he explained.

Admides gave as an example the way GC media presented Gutteres’ statements after the collapse of the Crans Montana conference. “The UNSG had called it ‘a collective failure’ but it was portrayed as the UN was letting Turkey of the hook” he explained.

The professor added that any heavy intervention of the UN is perceived as an existential threat and that a portion of the Cypriot population tread organisations working towards a solution as enemies. He also pointed to the luck of strong local support for the UN in Cyprus which minimises its role and impact.

He said that Gutteres had essentially asked for legitimation from the two leaders to make a heavier intervention. However, “a heavy intervention seems to be hard as arbitration is an anathema for Greek Cypriots” he commented.

Concentrating on reforms needed to be made by the organisation to restore people faith in it in Cyprus and worldwide, Costas M. Constantinou, professor of Political science, separated them into three categories: organisational and reforms concerning the democratic and justice deficit.

Focusing on what he referred to as the moral aspect of reforms, Constantinou reminded attendees that the preamble of the UN begins with “We the people”. Despite it being a primarily member state organisation, the promise of the UN is towards the people. “When we refer to the democratization of the UN we are referring to non-state involvement within the UN” said Constantinou.

As he said even the UN realise that there is a democratic deficit in their procedures and “that is why advisory and observer status has been given to many nongovernmental organisations and even within the security council progressive members try to use the regulations to get non-state actors to give their opinions to the council via informal procedures. To get the voices of people who are affected in conflicts and humanitarian crisis to be heard”.

Talking on the justice deficit within the UN, Constantinou said that it would be interested to see is to see an international court of justice, with compulsory jurisdiction. “Only a handful of states like Haiti have given the court full jurisdiction.

Concluding, the professor said that the issue of the hydrocarbons could be resolved in the international court “However, in Cyprus we have a fear of arbitration”.

The discussion was followed by a lively discussion from the audience who concentrate their questions and contributions on the future of the talks and the UN’s role in them.


Kyriakos Kiliaris-Voice of the island

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