SRSG/DSASG Colin Stewart remarks for the OSASG End of Year Reception

11 Dec 2023

SRSG/DSASG Colin Stewart remarks for the OSASG End of Year Reception


H.E. Mr. Ersin Tatar and H.E. Mr. Nikos Christodoulides,

H.E. Mr. Nicos Anastasiades and H.E. Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all this evening to our traditional End-of-Year reception, under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s good offices for Cyprus.  I am very pleased to have the two leaders both with us once again. This is the first year that we welcome Mr. Christodoulides to this event as the Greek Cypriot leader.  I am also very happy to welcome two of the former leaders, Mr. Talat and Mr. Anastasiades.  I would also like to offer a special warm welcome to Mrs. Philippa Karsera and Mrs. Sibel Tatar, who are joining us tonight, along with my own wife Sophie Khan.

These End-of-Year receptions have a long history, and are an occasion for the two leaders, members of their teams, and civil society from both sides, together with the UN and many members of the diplomatic community, to spend some time together in a relaxed, social setting.   As you can see from tonight’s turnout, there is a lot of enthusiasm for seeing the two leaders together.  It gives people hope when they see the two leaders come together despite the differences between the two sides.

These events are also a chance to take stock of developments over the past year, and this year we have an especially impressive list of accomplishments to celebrate.  After several years without a UN envoy, we now have consensus on a candidate, and I expect that the official announcement from the Secretary-General will come very soon.  The Secretary-General sees this appointment as crucial.  It does not signal, of course, the start of new negotiations, but it is an important step in trying to see if a path can be found for a mutually-acceptable way forward, and it will certainly increase the focus on the Cyprus issue over the coming months.

In the meantime, of course, the UN will continue to work with the two sides to increase cooperation and improve the climate, which is essential, among other things to support the efforts of the envoy.  And preparing the ground is exactly what we have been doing in the regular weekly meetings that I hold with the Greek Cypriot Negotiator, Mr. Menalaos Menalaou and the recently appointed Turkish Cypriot Special Representative, Mr. Günes Onar.  I am pleased to tell you that we have seen an unprecedented surge in activity in the committees, with the two sides agreeing on 7 new projects just in the past few weeks.  Let me tell you about them quickly:

1) The Technical Committee on Economic and Commercial Matters has initiated a Young Professionals Internship Programme, a pilot project which will give Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots between the ages of 18 and 35 years a chance to acquire job experience, professional skills, and a better understanding of the working and cultural environment across the island.

The Technical Committee on Environment agreed on three new projects, including:

2) Preserving Biodiversity -­ Analysing Poison Use in Remote Wildlife Habitats.  This study will assess the important problem of poison use in the countryside and strengthen cross-island collaboration to address it. 

3) Environmental Caretakers - Empowering Youth on Environment.  This project will train people as young as 15 to observe and report on environmental issues so that they become active environmental stewards.

And, 4) Exploring the Geological Heritage of the island of Cyprus. This project will promote geo-education and raise public awareness on the geological heritage of the island, motivating young people to discover their shared heritage and connect with nature.

5) The Technical Committee on Culture is launching a website that will facilitate the exchange of experiences and information on cultural matters across the island. 

6) A second project from this Committee is “Connecting Arts 2” – a networking event for artists of all types on the island: Performing arts, Fine arts, Music, Cinema, Folk Art and Literature.  This is a follow-up to the highly successful first phase which took place in June this year.

7) And finally, the Technical Committee on Broadcasting will be organizing a series of activities including webinars with international experts, information materials and a website on the theme of “Transition to Green Energy: the future of electronic telecommunications" to inform practitioners in the communications sector of relevant technological advances and best practices that would contribute to the sustainability of their work.

In addition to these projects, many other events and activities have been organized by the committees throughout the year, including:

a) several substantive events held by The Technical Committee on Gender Equality,

b) an agreement by The Technical Committee on Crisis Management to enhance communication and cooperation on crisis management, including on earthquakes, wildfires and oil spills.

c) The Technical Committee on Health agreed on another island-wide survey for invasive mosquito vectors and continued to address vaccine and medicine needs of the Turkish Cypriots due the interruption of supply lines.

d) The Technical Committee on Culture organized a Drawing and Video Competition and Workshop on Cultural Heritage sites on the island for children and youth.  They organized an International Peace Day Run through the cultural heritage sites of Nicosia with Runite, and, as I already mentioned, they also held the first ‘Connecting Arts’ networking event.

e) The Technical Committee of Crime and Criminal Matters has also recorded increased cooperation and a record volume of police information shared between the sides through the Joint Cooperation Room.

In addition to these initiatives, two committees that have been largely inactive in recent years, the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Matters and the Technical Committee on Education have resumed meeting after a long hiatus.  This is welcome news especially considering the vital importance of education.

So, the work of the Technical Committees has really taken off and become significantly revitalized this past year, and I commend Mr. Menalaou and Mr. Onar, as well as their Coordinators, Ms. Seniha Biran Cinar and Mr. Theodoros Ioannou, and before him Mr. John Hunter, for their hard work to secure this progress.  We also recently saw a hand-over in the position of the Turkish Cypriot Special Representative, and I would like to thank and acknowledge the invaluable contribution of Mr. Ergün Olgun over many years, under whose guidance many of the things I have mentioned were initiated.  We wish you a pleasant and much-deserved retirement, Ergün. 

I would like to thank all the co-chairs of the technical committees, for their dedication and efforts over the past year. These committees are the only currently functioning Track I bodies and they not only improve people’s lives but also help create the conditions for the eventual settlement of the Cyprus issue.  And I must acknowledge the important role of the European Commission and UNDP in providing the means to have all these ideas implemented. These committees, and all of the other good offices activities including this reception, have been facilitated, supported or organized by the team of the good offices mission, with important support from UNFICYP colleagues. 

Looking forward to 2024, we are all anticipating the conclusion of the feasibility study for a major bi-communal solar plant in the buffer zone, which, if successfully completed, would be a huge confidence-building initiative.   We are also working together to ensure greater inclusivity across the technical committees, especially with youth and women.

Also in the coming year, we will be marking 60 years of the UN presence in Cyprus in the service of peace. We will be thanking the more than 150,000 uniformed personnel who have served in Cyprus since 1964, from over 40 troop and police-contributing countries, many of which are represented here today.  We will also use this occasion to pay tribute to the 186 fallen United Nations peacekeepers and staff who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace in Cyprus. Various events will be organized on and around March 4th and we will have some of the veterans and our former envoys join us.  This of course will not be a celebration, but rather a somber reminder that the long-standing Cyprus issue still remains unresolved.

Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge that the region we are in is going through very difficult times, and that conflicts that were thought to be frozen have turned out to be more volatile.   In Cyprus, people sometimes say this a frozen conflict, but as long as there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, which there should be, we cannot assume things will remain stable.  At the same time, there are some positive developments in the region, in particular between Greece and Türkiye who are actively pursuing a bilateral rapprochement. This is very encouraging, and I believe that developments such as these could set an example and also help create some positive momentum on the island.

Finally, as we prepare to welcome a new envoy to the UN team, even if the primary responsibility for the future of Cyprus lies with the people of Cyprus and their leaders, the rest of ushave a role to play. I would therefore like to strongly encourage everyone in this room to focus and redouble our efforts to support the two leaders in searching for a way out of the current impasse.  Now more than ever is the time to get active.

In closing, let me thank our bicommunal music group - Sinem Sadrazam and Konstantia Maimari.

Thank you all for joining us, and do enjoy the rest of the evening.