THE BLOG
05/13/2016 03:57 pm ET Updated May 13, 2017

International Justice: The Case of Cyprus

On May 22, 2016, the Greek Cypriots in the independent south of Cyprus will go to the polls, with the issue of the reunification of the island heavily weighing on their minds. Northern Cyprus remains under Turkish occupation since 1974.

The preamble of the United Nations (UN) Charter states: "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law... our respective Governments... have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations (UN)." The purpose of the UN, as expressed in its Charter is: "To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes." To achieve this purpose, "all Members shall refrain ... from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." In the event that international law, as expressed in the UN Charter, has been breached the UN Security Council is empowered to decide on measures "to be employed to give effect to its decisions."

Cyprus has been a part of the Greek world as far back as can be attested by recorded history. After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the defeat of the Venetians it fell to Ottoman rule from 1571 to 1878. In 1878 it was placed under British administration, was annexed by Britain in 1914, and in 1925 became a British colony. Greek Cypriots joined the mainland Greeks in the wars of independence against the Ottomans, and the British played with Greece and the Greek Cypriots the idea of Cyprus' enosis(union) with Greece a number of times when this served their interests, to afterwards turn the other way. In 1955, the Greek Cypriots started a guerrilla war against British rule demanding enosis with Greece. The British colonial policy of "divide and rule" cultivated intentionally animosity between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority (18% of the population) in the island. Hitchens quotes C.M. Woodhouse's writing "Harold Macmillan [then Foreign Secretary] was urging us to stir up the Turks in order to neutralize the Greek agitation." It was the British who first in 1956 proposed the idea of partitioning the island, and their fingerprints are present on all developments on the Cyprus issue which in one way or another have some form of partition as a feature.

In 1960, Cyprus was granted independence under an imposed unworkable constitution, which made the conflict between the two communities unavoidable. The arrangements of 1960 (Treaties of Guarantee, Alliance and Establishment) were heavily influenced by the British, who were driven by the perception that the partition of the island, one way or another, served best their interests. This served also the Turkish interests, and since then Turkey is consistently striving to get the most from such a partition. The British ideas of division and the Turkish insistence on partition have propagated through what has followed including the UN supported negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and the Annan Plan.

On 20 July 1974, Turkey, a UN member state, in violation of the UN charter, claiming a right (which is also questionable) under the Treaty of Guarantee to intervene, invaded Cyprus and defying the UN Security Council quickly occupied 37% of the island, and forced the separation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots into two communities. The day of the invasion the U.N. Security Council called "upon all States to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus;" demanded "an immediate end to foreign military intervention;" and requested "the withdrawal without delay from the Republic of Cyprus of foreign military personnel present otherwise than under the authority of international agreements."

Subsequently, these demands were reiterated by the Security Council in numerous resolutions, which not only were ignored by Turkey, but also in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, Turkey settled in the occupied Northern Cyprus a large number of its own nationals to change the demographics of the island. It has been estimated that today in the occupied part of Cyprus there are about 150,000 - 160,000 settlers.

After the failure of the second Geneva Conference on 13 August 1974, under the urging of the Security Council the two Cypriot communities engaged in a lengthy series of heavily asymmetric negotiations - on the one side the Republic of Cyprus represented by the Greek Cypriots, the "orphan child" of the UN(Waldheim, UN Secretary General), pressured from all sides to compromise, and on the other side the leadership of the Turkish Cypriots, supported by 40,000 Turkish troops in the occupied territories, committed to the Turkish objective to partition the island. A walk through the resolutions of the UN Security Council and reports of the UN Secretary-General reveals that the international justice system left the victim, the Republic of Cyprus, to negotiate the settlement of the "case" by accommodating its assailant, Turkey.

The original call of the International Community (UN), for "the necessity to restore the constitutional structure of the Republic of Cyprus established and guaranteed by international agreements" retreated to a call for a bi-communal federal Republic, then for "a federation that will be bi-communal as regards the constitutional aspects and bi-zonal as regards the territorial aspects", then for "two politically equal communities....in a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation."

The original demand of the International Community for the withdrawal "of all foreign armed forces" retreated to a call for "significant reduction in the number of foreign troops."

The demand for the "return of all refugees" (about 240,000 Greek Cypriots) ended up in the Annan Plan to the return of about 50% of them.

The urge of the UN for negotiations "whose outcome should not be impeded or prejudged by the acquisition of advantages resulting from military operations", retreated to pressure on the Greek Cypriots to accommodate the demands of Turkey, which has and is taking "advantages resulting from military operations." The problem of Cyprus gradually morphed from one of a foreign invasion in violation of international law into, and dealt as, an issue of conflict between two communities to absolve the assailant of its criminal actions.

The leadership of the Turkish Cypriots, with the support of Turkey and its troops on the island, defying the calls of the Security Council, first declared the occupied north Cyprus an "autonomous" Turkish Cypriot administration, then "Turkish Federated State of Kibris," then independent "Turkish Cypriot Administration," and subsequently a sovereign state, the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."

The intransigence of the Turkish Cypriot leadership led to the failure of the Waldheim (UN secretary) initiative.

The Turkish Cypriot leadership, caused the failure of Perez de Cuellar's (UN Secretary) initiative by insisting to "the right of secession", caused the failure of Ghali's (UN Secretary) initiative by voicing positions "fundamentally at variance with the Set of Ideas", and "repeatedly imposed obstacles in the establishment of bi-communal contacts" aiming "to build co-operation, trust and mutual respect between the two communities."

Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter empower the Security Council to take measures "to give effect to its decisions." They include "complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations," and if these would "have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations." Since 1966, the Security Council has imposed sanctions against a number of countries, in the 1960's intervened militarily in Congo, and in 1990 authorized the use of force against Iraq, which had invaded Kuwait.

The unwillingness of the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions and its continuous yielding to the Turkish demands led in 2004 to the Annan Plan, heavily influenced by the British. The Plan re-endorsed the Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance, which provided the excuse for the Turkish invasion; re-affirmed the British sovereignty rights on the Cypriot territory of the British bases; would, if implemented, keep Cyprus a hostage of Turkey in perpetuity; would dismantle the Republic of Cyprus and replace it with the United Republic of Cyprus without real sovereignty in a federal system of veto powers that most likely would lead to the same deadlocks as the unworkable constitution of 1960; did not resolve the illegal settlement of Turks in the occupied Northern Cyprus; did not resolve equitably the territorial issue; did not allow for the return of about 50% of Greek Cypriot refugees to their homes; and would enforce many other inequities to accommodate Turkey, the assailant of the Republic of Cyprus and the violator of international legality.

If the Annan Plan was a just resolution of the Cyprus problem why it is not implemented by Turkey to resolve its Kurdish problem? Why the international community does not pressure Turkey to adopt such a solution to its Kurdish problem?

Since the Greek Cypriots voted "no" in the referendum for the Annan Plan, the Security Council resolutions continue to urge the two sides to proceed with the implementation of confidence-building measures and negotiations for a comprehensive settlement. However, as it was recognized in a recent security council report, the Annan Plan looms in the background, with Greek Cypriots hoping "to create a new basis for negotiations that did not involve the Annan plan", and "Turkish Cypriots (and Turkey)" fearing "that this new process would put aside the fragile achievements of past rounds of negotiations and, particularly, the gains they had achieved in the Annan plan."

Recently optimism has been expressed that a solution of the Cyprus problem can be imminent. In January 2016, Cyprus president Anastasiadis said: "To paint a picture that we're just shy of an overall settlement is a mistake." He said Akinci, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, is expressing "positions that reflect concerns of the past." One such issue is an insistence that Turkish Cypriots remain the majority in terms of population and ownership of private property inside the constituent state they will govern as part of an envisioned federation. The Turkish Cypriots also want the retention of the Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance that give the right of intervention in Cyprus to Turkey, Greece and Britain.

The President of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus Yiannakis Omirou, expressed similar concerns. He said that we want a solution the soonest, but one that will end the Turkish occupation, safeguard human rights, terminate the 1960 guarantees, and will not provide for permanent derogations from the EU acquis communautaire.

The problem of Cyprus demonstrates the impotence of the international community "to maintain international peace and security... in conformity with the principles of justice and international law." The critical issues of the problem remain the same since 1960: the insistence of Turkey to either partition the island, or keep it under its thumb; the unwillingness of the international community to enforce the dictates of international legality; and the appeasement of Turkey with the imposition of unworkable solutions. Understandably, as international law and our world are today, there are many cases where realities make the enforcement of international law a daunting or unfeasible task, but Cyprus has been an example of a not such a case.

Before the aspirations of the Greek Cypriots to free Cyprus from British colonial rule came to surface, Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together peacefully. There is no reason that they could not live again peacefully together under their own State and under the protections provided by the membership of Cyprus in the European Union.