Today the telephones are ringing non-stop in the building housing the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus. The worn-down office complex incorporates the Office of the Attorney General Costas Clerides and his closest advisor Attorney Mary-Ann Stavrinides who together gave yesterday September 4th an impressive performance in front of the International Court of Justice.
The Hague based court which is the principal judicial institution of the United Nations was deliberating over the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. Mauritius asked the ICJ for a legal opinion on sovereignty over the archipelago, on the grounds that they were unlawfully separated and incorporated into the British Indian Ocean Territory ahead of independence.
Clerides's team methodically and with forensic precision argued that the British military bases in Cyprus are in fact a British colony and as such they constitute a violation of the United Nations charter.
“Colonialism is a violation of international law in general and of the United Nations Charter in particular,” said Clerides. “The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle, and a peremptory norm, of contemporary international law, generating erga omnes obligations,” said Clerides standing in front of a panel of 15 judges.
Cyprus’s international relations are often stipulated by legal determinism to a degree that it becomes detrimental to its objectives of peace and prosperity. However this instance was an exception, the culmination of hundreds of hours of meticulous study in order to make a measured and rational point -it is a towering irony that the Cypriot delegation consisted of career jurists.
These public advisory hearings have shed light on the status of British diplomacy in the Brexit era. Britain had earlier failed to rally enough support to prevent the UN General Assembly adopting the resolution that led to this week's hearing. Indeed there was a time when countries would rally behind UK led initiatives because it was the right thing to do.
Beyond these deliberations we are also starting to get a glimpse of Cypriot institutions of law and foreign policy attempting to capitalise from the untangling of the UK from the rest of Europe. Conversely back in January 2014 the UK agreed to lift restrictions on the development of locally owned property within the British military bases in Cyprus, partly as a means to build better relations with the newly elected President Anastasiades.
As the core values of societies change, their relations with others shift in tandem. The potential ramifications of a ruling in favour of Mauritius’s case will produce a landmark court decision, placing the status of the British bases in Cyprus in question and elevating the debate from a nationalist claim to an international human rights issue, the kind the UK respects.