Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Heeding Guterres’ call for a stronger role for civil society

The Home for Cooperation in the buffer zone in Nicosia

By Costas Apostolides

With the imminent arrival of Jane Holl Lute, the UN secretary-general’s envoy, all those active in furthering the peace settlement should get involved, including civil society.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his latest report on Cyprus to the UN Security Council last month stressed the importance of including civil society in the process.

“The UN Security Council has consistently highlighted a general lack of outreach by the sides to their communities and a lack of integration of civil society into the settlement negotiations themselves,” his report said. “There has been a strong perception among both Cypriots and independent observers that negotiations, and the peace process more broadly, has been far removed from the public.”

He then goes on to state that a number of civil society actors have increasingly become vocal in public debate, and noted the following initiatives:

  • The Religious Track for the Peace process, an initiative of the Swedish embassy.
  • The Political Dialogue initiative facility by the Slovak embassy.
  • And the bi-communal business round table convened by the German embassy.

Unfortunately there was no specific mention of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) civil society programme on “promoting economic development for reconciliation”, organised by the Cyprus NGO Support Centre in 2017. The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce, the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, Civic Space and Pax Cypria Cyprus Institute for peace all participated.

There are many civil society organisations involved in bringing together the two communities in Cyprus, and most of them are Cypriot initiatives. Prominent civil society organisations focusing on bicommunal relations include the Home for Cooperation in the buffer zone, Unite Cyprus, Cyprus Dialogue and many others (refer to Stelios Foundation Facebook page). In addition the Chambers of Commerce on both sides constantly cooperate with each other, as do the 18 member bicommunal trade union forum, United Cyprus and the bicommunal Cyprus Dialogue forum.

There are, therefore, Cyprus organisations on both sides of the Green Line that are in constant touch, and are cooperating in research, dialogue, music, theatre and the arts, improving the relations between the two communities on the island. On the Stelios Foundation website alone there are more than 3,300 individuals, and bicommunal groups and organisations that are cooperating across the Green Line.

It is time that the United Nations good offices mission, Uficyp and the leaders of both communities take the prompt provided by the UN Security Council more seriously. They should get more involved not only in confidence building with civil society, but also with helping to find solutions to the real problems that are difficult to resolve in the Cyprus talks by cooperating with civil society.

Some years ago the US embassy promoted Track II and Track III negotiations which were designed to facilitate the peace settlement process by involving civil society in the Cyprus peace efforts. Such methods of negotiations are not stressed so much today, but they constitute supplementary peace-making activities that complement but do not replace official negotiations.

Costas Apostolides is co-founder of Pax Cypria Cyprus Institute for Peace Email: [email protected]

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