Cyprus Issue

Missing Persons

Over one and a half thousand people have gone missing when Turkey invaded and occupied a large part of Cyprus in 1974. This tragic problem of a purely humanitarian nature remains unresolved to this day because Turkey, in full disregard of international conventions and declarations, does not allow effective investigations to be carried out. Persuasive information, which could determine the fate of missing persons, has not been revealed. Wives and mothers of the missing, like latter day Penelopes, have been waiting for news of their loved ones, living life in a state of limbo.

Military personnel and reservists, as well as civilians, including women and children, were captured by the invading Turkish armed forces during July and August of 1974, or disappeared, after the cessation of hostilities, in areas under the control of the Turkish army. Some were listed as prisoners of war by the International Red Cross, but they have not been heard of since.

Television footage taken by a BBC crew in Turkish jails in Adana in September 1974 shows some persons who have later been identified by their own relatives as missing. Turkey is refusing to reveal information from prisons%26rsquo; records in order to ascertain the identity of these people. Certain prisoners of war, released after the invasion, have stated they were held in prison with people who never came back to Cyprus.

In 1981 the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) was established, in compliance with relevant UN General Assembly resolutions. The humanitarian mandate of the Committee, which operates under the auspices and with the participation of the United Nations, is to investigate and determine the fate of all the missing persons in Cyprus.

The CMP is made up of three members - one representative from each side and a third member, who is designated by the UN Secretary-General. The position of the third member, however, has remained vacant since the death of Ambassador Jean-Pierre Ritter, on 17 January 2000, who was appointed as Third Member by the UN Secretary-General on 15 June 1998.

Unfortunately, not a single case has been solved to date, through the work of this Committee. This failure may be attributed to the restrictive terms of reference of the Committee, and the failure of those, who are either in possession of the required information, or are in a position to obtain it, to cooperate in the appropriate manner. Moreover, inquiries were limited to Cyprus alone and not to Turkey, where as it has been decidedly proven, some of the missing were taken after their arrest.

This unsatisfactory situation brought about the intervention of the U.N Secretary-General. As a result of this intervention, during 1995, additional rules governing the work of the Committee on Missing Persons were agreed upon, and the submission of all the cases to be investigated within the framework of the Committee was completed. In all 1493 cases of missing Greek Cypriots were submitted. The Turkish side submitted for investigation 500 cases.

The European Commission of Human Rights has examined the issue of the missing persons of the Turkish invasion and found (in 1976, 1983 and 1999) that Turkey violated fundamental articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. On 8 September 1999, the European Commission established that article 2 of the Convention, referring to the right to life, was violated. It had also concluded, unanimously, that there has been a continuing violation of the right to liberty and security because Turkey did not carry out an effective investigation into the fate of missing Greek Cypriot persons. The Commission further concluded unanimously that Turkey had violated the human rights of the relatives of the missing persons.

More recently, on 10 May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated the right to life and the right to personal freedom of the missing persons. Turkey was found guilty of persistently denying an adequate investigation into the fate of missing persons, in respect of whom there was an arguable claim that they were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance. Ankara was also found guilty of violating the rights of the relatives of missing persons because of her failure to inform them about the fate of their loved ones.

Efforts to overcome the stalemate concerning this humanitarian issue resulted in an Agreement betweenPresident Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, on 31 July 1997, to exchange information about the missing. The two leaders agreed that the problem of the missing persons in Cyprus "is a purely humanitarian issue" and that "no political exploitation should be made by either side". In this context each side would designate a person who would exchange information about the missing and make the necessary arrangements for the return of the remains of the missing persons to their families.

The first exchange of information took place towards the end of January 1998. On 30 April of the same year, the Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, who represented President Clerides in the implementation of the Agreement, Mr Takis Christopoulos, met with the Turkish Cypriot representative Mr Rustem Tatar, in the presence of the UN Secretary-General%26rsquo;s Acting Special Representative in Cyprus, Mr Gustave Feissel, with the ultimate aim of defining the procedure for exhuming the remains of the unidentified dead. Mr Christopoulos suggested that the assistance of the Red Cross be sought, as this organization had past experience in exhumations, in other parts of the world, such as in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The Turkish Cypriot side rejected this proposal and stated clearly that it was not interested in any exhumations thereby violating the 31 July 1997 Agreement. A further Greek Cypriot proposal that an international team of scientists be allowed to exhume at least the remains of those Greek Cypriots who were buried in the occupied area, for whom the Turkish Cypriots themselves had given information as to where their remains were to be found, was also rejected by the Turkish side.

The Government of Cyprus in the meantime, decided to proceed with the exhumation of the remains of persons, both military and civilians, buried in the Lakatamia and Sts Constantine and Helen cemeteries, in the government-controlled areas of the island, in order to eliminate the possibility that bodies which had been buried haphazardly, would be counted as missing persons.

In this respect the Cyprus Government is cooperating with the Physicians for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, which, together with another organization, was awarded a Nobel Prize for its humanitarian work in 1997. This organization, chaired by professor William Haglund, had acquired much experience in exhumations in many places, such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Croatia. The exhumations began in June 1999, and through DNA testing, dozens of persons known to have died in 1974 were identified. A small number of these were included in the list of Greek Cypriot missing persons as, obviously, records were not properly kept at the time, because of the prevailing situation.

The Turkish Cypriot side, despite having generally adopted a clearly negative and intransigent stand in this purely humanitarian issue which affects hundreds of Greek Cypriots, did cooperate with the US Administration, in the case of one missing person, Andreas Kasapis, a boy of Greek descent but with US citizenship, who was 16 when he was apprehended and killed.

More specifically, on 5 October 1994, the US Senate unanimously adopted an Act for the ascertainment of the fate of five US citizens missing since the Turkish invasion. Following this, the US President appointed Ambassador Robert Dillon, who came to Cyprus to carry out the necessary investigation. Andreas Kasapis%26rsquo; grave was discovered in January 1998 in the occupied part of Cyprus and his remains were sent to the US for DNA testing. After he was identified, his remains were returned to his next of kin for a proper burial on 22 June 1998.

The question that begs to be asked is this: Why did the Turkish Cypriot side agree to cooperate with the US Government in a single solitary case, but refuses to cooperate with the Cyprus Government in hundreds of other cases of Greek Cypriot missing persons%3f
Hopefully, the case of Andreas Kasapis is just the first of many to come. Appeals are made to all who have evidence about the fate of any missing person to submit it to the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Committee on Missing Persons in Nicosia for proper evaluation and examination. In this context the goodwill and co-operation of Turkey is essential, necessary and overdue.

Entry Date 21/11/2001