Security & Defense

Abomination in the Central African Republic: Sexual abuse by international troops

What do we really know about has been happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) for the past few years? Well, not much, and definitely not enough. What usually comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Sangaris’, or the name of the French stabilisation operation which was launched in December 2013 in CAR, is the rape allegations that were made against French soldiers.

Rape is a commonly used war tactic. Sexual assault has been used throughout history to disgrace and punish the enemy. In CAR, the parties to the sectarian conflict used this method to punish the women and girls “suspected of interacting with people on the other side of the sectarian divide.” The UN Secretary General Report of March 2015 outlined that “2,527 cases of conflict-related sexual violence were documented in the Central African Republic” between the end of 2012 and the publication of the report.

The fact that rape is commonly used in conflicts does not, however, make the practice acceptable as it strongly goes against human rights. The fact that soldiers, who were third parties in a conflict and were deployed to protect the local populations would take part in Continue reading

Divided Islands

The Divided Islands: Cyprus

This series of articles focuses on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

Upon starting this series, I thought studying divided islands would be easy as the division lines would be well defined. Of course, in Cyprus, this is not at all the case, and what is happening there depends on who you ask. But all in all, it is internationally recognized (by everyone but Turkey) that the island is one country with a de facto division. The resolution of the division of Cyprus has been on the table since its independence in 1960. Recent events may finally bring a solution.

Independence and Division

Internal struggles started immediately after Cyprus’s independence from the British empire in 1960. Three years later, violent outbreaks burst in Nicosia as the Greeks and the Turks could not find a suitable political arrangement, following which the Turkish Cypriots were confined into enclaves (or ghettos), which forced UN peacekeepers to deploy as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) with the mandate “to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities”.

Cyprus Map

Map of Cyprus

In 1974, the Greek junta toppled the Turkish Cypriot-led government. As a reaction, the Turkish government invaded the island and effectively seize control of the northern third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared the independence of the territories they controlled under the name of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) which is only recognized by Turkey as an independent state.

In reaction, the UN peacekeepers’ role extended to “include supervising a de facto ceasefire, which came into effect on 16 August 1974, and maintaining a buffer zone between the lines of the Cyprus National Guard and of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces.”

The EU as a potential game changer

In 1990, Cyprus applied for EU membership, which was finally granted in 2004. Cyprus joined although de facto divided. The “EU acquis – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under the internationally recognized government, and is suspended in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.” The strategy of the European Union was to allow Cyprus to join, hoping that it would unite the two communities around a common project, which would lead to the resolution of the situation. It was also expected that it would incentivise Turkey to withdraw from the island to secure its own membership in the EU. The results were, however, not as positive as anticipated.

Role of the UN

Peace talks between the two sides of the island were rare and unfruitful until 2014 when they officially resumed under the auspices of the UN. Many agreements have been put on the table, such as “the High-Level Agreements, an Interim Agreement, the Gobbi Initiative, the Proximity Talks, the Draft Framework Agreement, the First and Second Sets of Ideas, and finally the Annan Plan” but have always failed to lead to a solution as when one party was ready, the other was not. Resentment and the inability to acknowledge one another’s wounds and guilt are part of why the two sides have not been successful in finding a common accord.

Finding a solution

The division of the island did not happen in a nutshell. The Brits considered this option on the eve of decolonization but rejected it due to the risks associated with that solution. In order to secure the stability of the island, Cyprus’s constitution included the necessity for both ethnic groups to be represented at the political level, a clause which actually triggered the violent outbreaks in the 60s and 70s.

The inherent problem to finding a solution to the division of Cyprus is, however, not solely in the hands of the island. The 1960 Constitution actually designated Greece, Turkey and the UK as protecting powers of the newly-independent nation, a role which has given some legitimacy to Athens and Ankara’s interventions into the island’s affairs. In addition, the UN’s involvement in maintain the peace in Cyprus as well as the latter’s EU membership add the two international institutions as players to reckon with.


Cyprus photo

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) attends a trilateral luncheon in Davos, Switzerland, with Nicos Anastasiades (left), President of the Republic of Cyprus and and Mustafa Akinci, Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community.

Although not the primary goal of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, diplomatic talks often happen in margin of the gathering, as demonstrated by the ‘Reuniting Cyprus’ roundtable which took place there on January 21st. It was announced that the leaders of the two Cypriotes communities had been involved in negotiations since May 2015 in the hope of reuniting the island which is viewed by all parties as their common future.  He also declared that:

These are decisive times, for Cyprus, for the wider region, for the EU and the international community. I can assure you that living in the midst of a region of turmoil, we are committed to continue working with resolve to heal what is an open wound at the heart of Europe, so as for Cyprus to be established as a reference point and symbol for co-existence of the whole region.

Many issues, however, remain on the table. Cooperation and reconstruction will take a long time to implement, and “a settlement would require billions of euros in international aid to help resolve property issues”. But above all, trust will be the hardest to rebuilt.

The next step is to agree on the details of the agreement and gain the support of their respective political leaders as well as that of the international community.


(Read the full address by Greek President Anastasiades here).


Non-Self Governing Territories: the UN’s failure to eradicate colonialism

This post consists of extract of my master thesis “Non-Self-Governing Territories: What Power Structure with their Metropolitan States? – Upside Down Decolonization and Remnants of Empires”

Decolonization and self-determination promotion are often argued to be a prerogative of the United Nations due to the organization’s inclusive membership and the context of its creation. The UN, building on the failures of the League of Nations, put together a system based on mutual trust and international collaboration through collective security to create a world free of wars. One way to achieve this goal included an institutional approach to resolving conflicts, but also counted on putting an end to colonialism which had oppressed some parts of the world for centuries. Although at the time of the emergence of the UN, empires were disintegrating and some colonial powers still needed to be pushed to give away what they saw as their sovereignty rights. However, in spite of the harsh condemnation of the non-respect for the principle of self-determination, some territories, named “non-self-governing territories” (NSGTs) by the UN, still lack autonomy today, a situation that is unlikely going to change any time soon.

UN's list of the 17 non-self-governing territories

UN’s list of the 17 non-self-governing territories (United Nations)

Included in Wilson’s 12 points, the idea of self-determination and the end of colonialism was first advocated after the First World War, and became one of the League of Nations’ central principles. It was the first time “that the West European colonial Powers created truly international machinery for supervising the conduct of colonial administration, and even then only under pressure from the United States, in particular from her idealistic President, Woodrow Wilson”.

After the First World War, the mandate of the defeated countries’ former colonies fell mostly under the supervision of the other colonial powers (Belgium, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) although Wilson had suggested they were administered by “smaller Powers”. The organization had very limited impact on the decolonization process due to evident flaws in its system.

In the wake of the Second World War, most empires had collapsed, or at least shrunk. Amongst the fifty-one founding members of the organization, “over half had previously experienced some form of colonial rule”, creating a strong anti-colonial front amongst the UN. Colonialism became a “fundamental evil which all members of the family of nations have a positive moral duty to assist in terminating”. In addition, opposition was visible amongst what would become the Permanent Members of the Security Council (P5): the USSR was a fervent advocator of decolonization due to its Marxist political ideology; China and the United States were moderate supporters of the idea, while France and the United Kingdom remained opposed to the project due to the importance and advantages of their colonial empires.

The creation of the United Nations opened a new chapter of world history where ensuring self-determination of all peoples and putting an end to colonialism were central goals. The importance of these ideas can be illustrated by the fact that out of the nineteen chapters of the Charter of the United Nations Organizations, three are dedicated to decolonization (XI, XII and XIII).


Definition of a non-self-governing territory

The criteria defining a non-self-governing territory where adopted by the General Assembly on November 23, 1953 in resolutions adopted based on the recommendations of the specially created Fourth Committee. A territory is defined as a NSGT if it “has not attained a full measure of self-government” or if it retains “final remnants of global colonialism which are yet to be granted acceptable levels of self-governance”. Resolution 742 (VIII) defines the parameters that should be taken into consideration when analysing a territory. To be ‘eligible’ to make the list, only inhabited territories are qualified, therefore excluding “the Antarctic territories claimed by the UK, Norway, Australia and others and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam”.
It is important to note that being removed from the list is not irreversible: French Polynesia was added again in May 2013 after decades of absence from the list.

Criteria for making the list

Based on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Factors (Non Self Governing Territories) set up by resolution 648 (VII), the list of criteria includes three parts which each correspond to different paths to self-governance. Independence is therefore not the only acceptable alternative. The UN “considers that the manner in which Territories referred to in Chapter XI of the Charter can become fully self-governing is primarily through the attainment of independence, although it is recognized that self-government can also be achieved by association with another State or group of States if this is done freely and one the basis of absolute equality”. Territories will be added to the list if they do not respect the demands linked to their status.

The list defines the requirements in terms of autonomy (political and economic), of democracy (free and regular elections) as well as on the way a territory changed status. It is clearly stipulated that “for a Territory to be deemed self-governing in economic, social or educational affairs, it is essential that its people shall have attained a full measure of self-government”. The report also affirms that a colonial power cannot decide to send off a colony without ensuring its viability

Remarks on the list of non-self-governing territories 

Map of the non-self-governing territories

Map of the non-self-governing territories (United Nations)

Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) are the object of a sovereignty dispute – the former between the UK and Spain, the latter by the UK and Argentina.

The United Kingdom is the country that still holds the most NSGT with ten under its jurisdiction, and New Zealand the least with only one (Tokelau).

Apart from Western Sahara and Gibraltar, the remaining fifteen territories are all islands. The latter is the only territory located in Europe, a striking exception when considering that colonialism traditionally does not refer to the Old Continent.
Most territories are located in the Caribbean and Pacific.

Western Sahara is the only NSGT which is officially not administered by a foreign country, although de facto, Morocco plays that role.

Difference with other overseas territories

Aside from the obvious differences with other territories which enjoy the characteristics listed above, NSGTs are different in the fact that their situation is still considered as ‘colonial’ by the UN as, on top of “the social and cultural traces the colonial past may have left”, they also lack autonomy. NSGTs are still colonized and colonialized.
Jan de Koning made the difference between these two terms to explain that all territories that were once ruled by a foreign power are colonized and thus principles of Postcolonialism apply there. However, the territories that have been granted enough autonomy or independence have been decolonialised as they cannot be considered as colonies in terms of material possession. For that reason, it is possible to assume that territories mentioned in the United Nations’ Non-self-governing territories list are by definition neither decolonialised nor decolonised.



The United Nations aims to ensure the promotion of self-determination, under the different forms it believes fulfil the necessary criteria. Some territories however remain in a situation which is deemed problematic and thus ought to be changed.
When reviewing the NSGTs, one cannot help but notice that the reason for them being on the list are plural and more complex that they might first appear. The local population might be satisfied with their situation and yet be on the NSGT list.
It appears that the territories can be split into three main categories as to why the UN believes they are not self-governing.

 To read more about why each territory is on the NSGT list, refer to my thesis available here