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Cyprus showing the division between the Turkish and Greek areas
The division of Cyprus between the Greek and Turkish areas.

Humanitarian Forensic Action in Cyprus

The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) is a humanitarian organisation mandated to locate, exhume and identify the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who went missing during the tragic events of 1963-64 and 1974 in Cyprus. From an official list of 2,002 missing persons, so far 1,208 persons have been exhumed and 974 missing persons have been identified and returned to their loved ones for dignified burials.

The Cypriot conflicts resulted in a variety of burial contexts, including primary burials (bodies buried after death), secondary burials (bodies re-buried elsewhere after a period of decomposition), as well as burned remains. From an archaeological perspective, secondary burial locations are much more challenging to excavate and identify than primary burials. It is also more challenging to undertake anthropological analysis on commingled, disarticulated remains (as outlined previously). The emphasis of this project is to recover and identify the remains through an integrated approach in which every little piece of information is used to determine the identity of the remains in addition to the information collected from the anthropological/genetic analysis. Information about circumstances of disappearance, finding of remains, injuries / trauma observed is also taken into account when determining the identity of the remains.

The CMP mandate explicitly states that it will not attempt to attribute responsibility for any cause of death observed on the skeletal remains.

During the search for the missing, people with information regarding the likely location of grave sites were guaranteed confidentiality and immunity from prosecution. This is because the exhumation and identification of the missing to their loved ones is a priority.

A major limiting factor regarding the investigations in Cyprus, however, has been the length of time that elapsed since the conflict and the start of the investigations. People with relevant information and first-degree relatives will have died in the interim and as time passes witness testimony becomes less reliable and scarce. Local intelligence is crucial for identifying likely burial locations in such conflicts.

Another key problem with delaying such investigations, of course, is the anguish faced by family members, who spend decades in a state of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones. Timely interventions are the most effective in terms of body retrieval and the most humane way of proceeding.

For more information about the work of the CMP please click here. Thank you to the CMP for allowing us to include information about their important work.

Click here for a short documentary overview of the work of the CMP. A transcript is available here

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This article is from the free online course:

Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

Durham University