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Cyprus & the ICC – international reactions

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Given the recent ICC complaint about Turkish settlements in Cyprus, it is worthwhile to examine the reactions of the various parties. While the ICC is seem by many as powerful magic in the context of Israeli settlements (where it does not have jurisdiction), no one seems very excited about the possibility of an investigation of Cypriot war crimes.

It is quite remarkable that the government of Cyprus has not formally referred the alleged crimes to the ICC in the 12 years since joining the Court, despite complaining about them repeatedly and bitterly, and being unlikely to achieve its desired outcome through the diplomatic process. (The Cypriots would like the removal of Turkish settlers in a peace deal, but the international community has largely not supported the demand.) Cyprus’s long-standing silence about a possible ICC investigation is a particularly stark contrast to the Palestinian leadership, which has repeatedly said the the ICC holds the answer to its problems Israeli settlements. (Though given the Palestinians’ lack of acceptance of jurisdiction, the difference may be rhetorical.)

Nicosia has probably not filed a referral, and taken a lukewarm approach to the recent complaint, in part because of the same political pressures from Europe that the ICC will face – the last thing the EU wants is an angry Turkey on its flank. Indeed, with Turkey occasionally threatening to formally annex the north, or even renewing hostilities, the Republic of Cyprus might simply be afraid of antagonizing its much more powerful neighbor, especially without the support of the international community.

While Israeli officials sweat the mere possibility of ICC jurisdiction, Turkish politicians seem to not have lost any sleep about it in the past 12 years, and have, as far as I can tell, reacted to the recent complaint with a yawn. I do not think that says anything about the ICC itself, but it does suggest something about the effectiveness of the Court’s jurisdiction, and perceptions of its partiality.

Human rights groups
Pretty much every international human rights group out there has called for an ICC investigation into Israeli settlements (despite the Court’s lack of jurisdiction), including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and a host of others. More generally, these groups support international courts, and like to see the ICC doing more, not less. Yet they have never said a word about the ICC looking into Turkish settlements in Cyprus. They have, as far as I can tell, not filed any communications with Prosecutor on the topic in the past 12 years, nor have the been inspired to do so by the recent complaint. The reasons for their inaction are mysterious.

The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has a unique treaty-based role as guarantor of Cyprus’s territorial independence. (The UK permanently retains “sovereign base areas” consisting of over 3% of the territory of Cyprus, a military arrangement not unlike those sought by Israel in a peace treaty with the Palestinians, but which is decried as denying them the essential elements of sovereignty, apparently by people who do not know about Cyprus.)

Yet Britain has apparently never even remotely encouraged an ICC investigation into the settlements on the island. This puts reports that Britain has discouraged in an investigation into Israel in some perspective; and also raises questions about the silence of British lawyers and human rights groups.
(Of course, the Britain’s role as a guarantor of Cyprus’s territorial integrity has always been a joke, with Albion not lifting a fighter to protect the island in the Turkish invasion of 1974.)