The Cyprus Conflict

The Cyprus case study finds its place in the negotiation stage of the conflict (Diez 2002; Richmond 1998; Tocci 2004). It highlights vividly how the violation of individual human rights occurred prior to the emergence and consolidation of the conflict. The conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots (supported by Greece and Turkey respectively) began crystallising under British colonial rule when the Greek Cypriot claim to union with Greece and the Turkish Cypriot/Turkish outright rejection of this goal triggered violent clashes in the mid 1950s. Conflicting claims followed by violence set the scene both for the short-lived constitutional Republic of Cyprus in 1960 as well as for its ensuing collapse in 1963. This led to more extreme levels of violence and human rights abuses during the climax of the conflict (1963-1974). In 1963-1974 violations were directed mainly towards the Turkish Cypriots. In the 1974 war and the ensuing displacement of persons, the main victims were the Greek Cypriots.

As the conflict entered into its negotiation stage, reaching a climax with the UN negotiated ‘Annan Plan’ in 2004, human rights became a principal item on the conflict settlement agenda, and a fundamental factor underlying the parties’ conflicting claims. The Greek Cypriot community has demanded the unconditional right of refugee return and the full liberalisation of the freedoms of movement, settlement and property acquisition throughout the island. The Turkish Cypriot community has rejected these claims based on the fear that their satisfaction would trigger a renewed domination and ensuing abuses of human rights against them.

In this respect, the Cyprus case study highlights two key questions of fundamental relevance to this project. The first, calling for a critical analysis of human rights in conflicts, concerns the manipulation of a human rights discourse to justify and legitimise inflexible positions in negotiations. Defending a bargaining position on the basis of human rights and demonstrating how such rights are enshrined in international law (and in the case of Cyprus now, the more binding and specific Community law) has been used frequently in Cyprus as an instrument to bolster spoiling positions in negotiations.

Second, the Cyprus case study raises the fundamental question of the very definition of human rights in terms of their relevance and causal relationship to conflicts. In ethno-political conflicts, do human rights include only individual rights or do they also comprise the right to self-determination, whose satisfaction could be accomplished minimally through minority rights or federal arrangements and maximally through recognised statehood? Are, and more importantly when are collective rights, including the right to self-determination, accepted into the broad definition of human rights in conflicts? Do they qualify only when they are constitutionally enshrined and consequently violated (as in the case of Cyprus in the 1960 agreements)? When does their previous violation call for a higher level of protection in future agreements (shifting a solution in Cyprus from a bi-communal one in 1960 to a territorial federal/confederal one since 1974)?

Moving to the civil society dimension, the Cyprus conflict has witnessed the primacy of local NGO activity both within Cyprus and in third countries, most notably countries hosting large Cypriot communities such as the UK. In other words, the conflict has seen a predominance of separate Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot NGO activity, operating both on the island and abroad. The functions of these groups have been concentrated in the areas of information provision, lobbying as well as mobilisation (in the case of the Turkish Cypriots this has been more evident than for the Greek Cypriots, particularly since 2002). By contrast, bi-communal civil society actors as well as international NGOs have been far fewer. The absence of bi-communal groups has been largely due to the closure of the border up until 2003, as well as the constructed feeling of animosity present on the island. The absence of international NGOs may be largely explained by the lack (since 1974) of a visible and acute crisis on the island. While dynamics on the ground have been far from static, Cyprus, like other conflicts in the European neighbourhood, has been often referred to as a ‘frozen conflict’. This has entailed a minimal level of international attention, by both governmental and non-governmental actor alike.

What have been the effects of the predominant role of local NGOs on the conflict, in particular with respects to its human rights dimension? Has the predominance of community-based groups fostered reconciliation, or has it spurred segregation and bolstered the use of an inflexible human rights discourse? What has been the effect of NGO activity on the negotiating positions of the leaderships? What role did NGOs play in mobilising the wider public in favour of particular solutions? What has been the effectiveness of these groups on wider EU-decision-making, both in influencing EU institutions as well as (and perhaps primarily) by working through member states in which they were strongly represented?