President Erdogan, during his visit to Cyprus earlier this week, is reported to have “called on the Greek Cypriots to respect international law concerning energy matters”.
This cannot remain unanswered.
The Republic of Cyprus respects the rules of international law on matters of energy as well as the rules of the law of the sea and generally the rules of public international law. Article 121 on the Regime of Islands, Articles 122 and 123 on Enclosed and Semien closed seas and the other relevant articles of UNCLOS III (1982) are fully supported by Cyprus (the delegation of which actively supported their adoption during the Law of the Sea Conference 1973-82).
It was only Turkey that opposed these rules and voted against the resultant Convention. Moreover, Cyprus proceeded to conclude bilateral EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) delimitation treaties with Egypt (2003), Lebanon (2007) and Israel (2010) on the basis of the median line and with a provision for arbitration in case of a dispute.
Turkey, by contrast, unilaterally and arbitrarily declared a continental shelf zone in the Mediterranean, which conflicts to the EEZ/CS of the Republic of Cyprus.
Failing an agreement after negotiations, the rule of the law of the sea is that the issue be referred to third party settlement (International Court of Justice or arbitration). Is Turkey prepared to do this?
In a broader sense, it is our conviction that if the rules of international law had been observed the problem of Cyprus would not have arisen. If these rules are applied today, the Cyprus problem would be solved fairly for all concerned and for peace in the region, rendering the continuation of UNFICYP unnecessary. Is Turkey willing to do that?
As for the “rights of the Turkish Cypriots”, there is no dispute that they would be entitled, as Cypriot citizens in the context of a settlement, to equal benefits to any wealth found in the Cypriot EEZ.
But it would be absurd to assert that ethnic communities anywhere in the world would be entitled to grant exploration licences to energy companies. For this, in any country including Turkey or Egypt or Lebanon, the sole right belongs to the recognised government of the state concerned not to the Kurds in Turkey, the Copts in Egypt or the Maronites in Lebanon. Security Council Resolutions 541 and 550, among others, are clear on the lack of legal status of the ‘TRNC’ and to that of the government of Cyprus.
With all due respect to the newly re-elected President of Turkey, this is the legal position in international law as opposed to making unfounded declarations such as the one made by him earlier this week.
Andrew Jacovides, former Ambassador of Cyprus to the United Nations and to the United States and former Head of the Cyprus delegation to the Law of the Sea Conference