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Humanitarian Forensic Action in Cyprus

Humanitarian forensic action has been operating in Cyprus to locate, excavate and identify the missing from the civil conflict in the 60s and 70s.
Cyprus showing the division between the Turkish and Greek areas
© Durham University and CMP

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 with a range of complexities. It is also more challenging to undertake anthropological analysis on commingled, disarticulated remains (as outlined previously) and these are seen in such contexts as this. 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.

Work by forensic practitioners such as Maria Mikellide (see below for links) has argued that 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

You can read Maria Mikellide’s work on Burial Patterns during Times of Armed Conflict in Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s and the Recovery and identification of human remains in post-conflict environments: A comparative study of the humanitarian forensic programs in Cyprus and Kosovo – although note that both articles require journal subscription. And Open Access article on the Development and future perspectives of a humanitarian forensic programme: the committee on missing persons in Cyprus example can be read here.

© Durham University and CMP
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Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology

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