EU-Turkey Refugee Plan Could Seal UN Cyprus Deal

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A UN peacekeeper observes from the buffer zone dividing Cyprus. (UN Photo)

March 9, 2016 – The plan carved out by Brussels and Ankara on Monday to resettle Syrian refugees, if implemented, could also see a resolution to the four-decade Cyprus dispute, with UN-talks which resumed in May already yielding results.

Under the EU-Turkey plan, Syrian refugees would be returned to Turkey from Greece, and in return for Turkey’s promise to take back refugees, EU countries would agree to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey.

Ankara’s agreement is contingent on the EU liberalizing visa requirements for Turkey’s 75 million citizens and Turkey also wants to reopen EU accession talks. But for this to happen, Turkey will have to recognize EU member Cyprus. It is difficult to see any EU member state agreeing to reopen accession talks and green-lighting visa liberalization for Turks if Ankara refuses to recognize one of the EU-28. Moreover, Cyprus, as a member state, has a veto on accession talks.

The UN-backed Cyprus talks are aimed at reunification of Northern Cyprus, which is backed by Turkey, with the internationally recognized EU member state Cyprus. The Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded the northern part following a coup d’etat ordered by Greece’s then military junta aimed at unifying Greece and Cyprus.

The coup and Turkish invasion were preceded by years of tension between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities and a UN peacekeeping force has been in place since 1964, making it the United Nations longest-running peacekeeping mission.

In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot community in the north declared independence from internationally recognized Cyprus, but Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.

Following the 1974 hostilities, UN troops were mandated to monitor the de-facto ceasefire and a 110-mile wide buffer zone was created that runs through Nicosia, Europe’s only divided capital.

While the situation has remained mostly calm since, a political solution has remained elusive and the Security Council has renewed the mandate for UNFICYP every six months.

But the election of a new Turkish leader in Northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, last April – he campaigned on a peace platform – gave impetus to the talks. The Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, elected in 2013, has long called for a deal.

The talks which began in May have been held at the highest level with both leaders agreeing to six rounds of face to face meetings and both also released video messages in each other’s respective language at the end of 2015 calling for a peace deal this year.

Any peace deal must be approved in referendums by both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities.

A resolution to the dispute would ease tensions between fellow NATO members Greece and Turkey and would also pave the way for Turkey’s recognition of Cyprus, which in turn would ease the way for Cyprus to withdraw its veto over Turkey’s EU accession process.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has long prized EU visa access and the refugee deal reached on Monday, if it goes ahead, could result in Turks being granted automatic Schengen visas in June, but only with Cyprus’s consent, and that’s why a resolution to the island’s 42-year dispute is crucial.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 1 Wrap

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo)

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at a leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon on Monday (UN Photo)

Sept. 28, 2015 – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the 70th General Debate with a speech in which he called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and said that five countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and the United States – are key to finding a solution to the conflict, now in its fifth year, and which has claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Three of those countries – the United States, Russia and Iran – spoke in the morning session with U.S. President Barack Obama telling delegates that the US is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to find a solution but there is ultimately no place for Bashar Al Assad in a future Syrian government. He called for a “managed transition away” from Assad who he held responsible for killing tens of thousands of his own citizens and creating the conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS, who he called “an apocalyptic cult.” Obama said military power alone is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Preempting criticism from Putin, he said the U.S. learned a “hard lesson” in Iraq and that after the 2011 intervention in Libya, U.S. and other NATO members did not do enough for the country after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and this had contributed to the collapse of institutions there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his first appearance at the UN in ten years, told the General Assembly that foreign interference in the Middle East and North Africa had lead to the “flagrant destruction of national institutions” and that “nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” He said arming opposition forces in Syria only leads to more arms going to, and people joining, ISIS. Putin said it should “be acknowledged” that Assad forces and Kurdish militia are the only ones “truly fighting ISIS.” Russia has been supplying arms to Assad forces and recently moved military logistics equipment into Syria. Putin called for a coalition to fight terrorism “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” and that the Sept. 30 ministerial Security Council meeting under the Russian presidency is aimed at agreeing on a resolution on coordinating actions on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Neither Obama nor Putin made any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their addresses. Nor did either mention the deteriorating situation in Yemen.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, began his speech by saying mismanagement by Saudi Arabia had led to last week’s Haj tragedy that left more than 800 pilgrims dead, including more than 200 Iranians. He called for an independent investigation and immediate consular access to help identify the bodies. Rouhani said the agreement reached with the E3+3 on Iran’s disputed nuclear program had opened up a “new chapter in Iran’s relations with the world.” He said his country is “prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and … are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and Yemen.” He blamed U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support for Israel, which he called the “Zionist regime,” for the current situation in the Middle East. He closed by declaring “ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety.” Iran provides arms and financing for Hezbollah, which is currently fighting in Syria in support of Assad forces. Members of Iran’s Republican Guards are also fighting on Assad’s behalf in Syria. A recent UN Security Council report stated that an Iranian vessel had delivered 180 tons of arms to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

In the afternoon, Obama held a leaders summit on peacekeeping and said some 50 countries had pledged to contribute an additional 30,000 troops to current and future peace operations. He added that the US would double the number of military advisers serving in UN peacekeeping operations. In a separate memo, Obama said he would not relinquish command over any troops deployed to UN peace operations. The US currently has 78 personnel deployed in UN missions. The total number of current peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions is more than 106,000. The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations – assessed at 28 percent of the more than $8 billion annual budget.

China’s President Xi Jingpin said his country would provide 8,000 troops to a UN peacekeeping standby force as well as providing $100 million to the African Union for peacekeeping operations. Beijing, which is the largest troop contributor among the permanent five members of the Security Council, will also take the lead in establishing a standing UN police force.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said his country – currently the fourth largest troop contributor with more than 7,500 Pakistanis deployed in blue-helmet operations – vowed continuing support for peacekeeping, including pledging additional utility helicopters, an infantry battalion, and a canine unit. He said UN peacekeeping should not be used for counter-terrorism operations.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the summit that troop contributing countries do not have a role in the decision-making process to form a peacekeeping operation. He also said troop contributing countries lack representation in senior management posts and as force commanders. India, which UN insiders say covets the top peacekeeping job currently held by France, is the third biggest troop contributor, and has served in 48 of 69 peacekeeping mission and lost 161 troops. Modi pledged an additional 850 troops for new operations as well as three police units. In closing, he called for reform of the Security Council to keep the UN relevant.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of his country’s contributions to peacekeeping, which includes heading the UN mission in Lebanon, a 10,000-strong force. He proposed establishing a peacekeeping unit that would be tasked with preserving cultural heritage.

Among the some 50 countries also speaking was the Netherlands. The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced that the current deployment of 450 Dutch troops with MINUSMA in Mali would be extended by one year. He also said the Netherlands, in conjunction with the U.S., is devising a training program for peacekeepers on protection of civilians. The country is still grappling with shame over the decision by its troops to handover Bosnian Muslims to Serb forces in 1995 when they were sheltering in a UN compound. A court in the Hague last year found the Netherlands liable for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslim men killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz 

Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

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Sept. 4, 2015 –  Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was nominated by her government on Friday as a candidate to succeed Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as head of the UN refugee agency. Guterres, also a former prime minister, has headed the agency since 2005 and was nominated unopposed by Ban Ki-moon for a second term in 2010.

His successor will be elected by the General Assembly in the fall.

Thorning-Schmidt would be the eleventh high commissioner for refugees and the second woman to head the world refugee agency since its inception in 1950. The agency, with almost 10,000 staff members, works in 123 countries responding to a growing global refugee crisis. Japan’s Sadako Ogata was the first female high commissioner for refugees. She served from 1991-2001.

There are currently 60 million refugees around the world, a figure which includes 40 million displaced inside their own borders and five million Palestinian refugees, whose welfare is handled by a separate agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Syria overtook Afghanistan this year as the world’s biggest source country for refugees with more than four million having fled the country – 3.7 million of whom are hosted in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – in addition to almost eight million displaced inside their own borders. Afghanistan, for long the world’s biggest source country, has the second highest number of refugees residing outside its borders at 2.6 million – mostly hosted in Iran and Pakistan, followed by Somalia, with 1.1 million refugees who are mostly residing in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Thorning-Schmidt served as her country’s prime minister from October 2011 until June this year and was Denmark’s first female premier. She was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2004 and in 2005 succeeded Mogens Lykketoft as leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats party. Lykketoft has since been elected as president of the 70th UN General Assembly and will assume his post this month. Thorning-Schmidt is daughter-in-law of the former leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock.

During her time as prime minister, she rolled back anti-immigration policies put in place by her predecessor including eliminating the immigration and integration ministry although she was criticized during her 2015 campaign for prime minister – which her party lost to an anti-immigration coalition – for taking a tough stance on immigration saying immigrants and refugees must learn Danish and must work. During Thorning-Schmidt’s tenure time in office the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark more than doubled and she proposed sending people back to their home countries if the situation permitted.

She made global headlines in 2013 when she posed for a selfie with US President Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

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Eight of the 10 previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans including Thorning-Schmidt’s fellow Dane, Poul Hartling, who served from 1978-1985 and collected a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency in 1981. While senior UN positions are ostensibly open to nominations from all member states, the top posts tend to be divided among the permanent members of the Security Council and major donor countries.

Having missed out on the top humanitarian job, which a Norwegian and Swede held in the past, there’s a view among Danish diplomats that the refugee chief job should go to a Scandinavian.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Updated to reflect Thorning-Schmidt would be only second ever female high-commissioner in 65 years.

Turkey’s Erdogan on Women Contradicts UN Charter and UDHR

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Nov. 24, 2014 – Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s remarks on Monday that women are not equal to men contradict both the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” he told a women’s conference in Istanbul. “It is against nature.”

The preamble of the UN Charter states that, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Meanwhile, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Turkey in 1949, declares that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Turkey ranks 69th in the UNDP Gender Equality Index with particular gaps in women’s participation in the workforce, politics, and education. Fourteen percent of Turkish Parliament members are women, or 79 MPs out of 548. with Turkey ranking 96th out of 188 countries for participation in politics according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

As for employment, only 24 percent of Turkish women are employed outside the home, typically in low-paying jobs such as in the textile industry or farming.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Fiji, Turkey, Venezuela Among the Running for 2015/16 UNSC Seats

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
April 16, 2014 – Fiji and Malaysia are competing in the Asia-Pacific group for the non-permanent Security Council seat being vacated by South Korea at the end of the year while New Zealand, Spain and Turkey are vying for the two spots available for the Western Europe and Others Group when Australia and Luxembourg finish their two-year stint on Dec. 31.

To date, those are the only two competitive races for membership of the 15-nation body for 2015/16 with Venezuela set to replace Argentina for the Latin America seat and Angola slated to replace Rwanda for the one available African seat.

Fiji is the only one of the seven candidates to have never previously served on the Council.

The election is set to take place in October with candidates requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the 193-member General Assembly.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

Competing Draft Statements Illustrate UNSC Division on Syria

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Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, speaks outside the Security Council chamber on Thurs Oct 4. He offered condolences for the shelling inside Turkey but no apology saying the incident is under investigation (photo credit: UN Photo)

Oct 8, 2012 – Illustrative of the Security Council’s division on Syria are the competing draft statements that were circulated last week when the 15-nation body endeavored to speak on Syrian shelling inside Turkey.

Here’s the original Western-backed draft proposed Wednesday (Oct 3) by non-permanent Council member Azerbaijan, on behalf of Turkey:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree.

Such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately.

The members of the Security Council call on the Syria Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.”

Here’s the draft as amended by Russia:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling from the Syrian territory of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately. The members of the Security Council requested the Government of Syria to carry out a speedy and full investigation of the shelling. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.

The members of the Security Council called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border area between Syria and Turkey, as well as to reduce tensions and forge a path toward a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.” 

Syrian Armed Forces becomes Syrian territory, violations of international law that threatened international peace and security simply become violations and the Syrian government is asked to conduct a speedy investigation. 

Here’s the final statement as agreed by all 15 Council members on Thursday evening (Oct 4):

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale, which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Turkey. 

The members of the Security Council underscored that this incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace and stability. The members of the Council demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. 

The members of the Security Council called for restraint.”

Both sides got some of what they wanted in the final version. Key for Russia is deletion of the phrase “a serious threat to international peace and security,” which speaks directly to the Council’s mandate, – maintaing international peace and security – and instead the shelling is a threat to “regional peace and stability.”

For the West, Syrian armed forces are squarely blamed and the statement demands an end to “such violations of international law.” 

– Denis Fitzgerald