MEP Santos expresses will to try for new impetus to Cyprus missing persons issue

Her intention to help give new impetus to the work being done on the issue of missing persons Permanent Rapporteur of the European Parliament on the missing persons in Cyprus, Isabel Santos, expressed on Monday, after her meeting with members of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) and a tour of the anthropological laboratory.

Santos said that there should be cooperation regarding access to information and excavation sites to locate missing persons since this was a humanitarian and not a political issue, which concerns both communities on the island.

Referring to the joint visit to the CMP by President Nikos Christodoulides and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Ersin Tatar, on July 28, she said that she sees it with great hope and as a new step towards dialogue, joint work, and joint efforts.

UN member of the CMP, Paul-Henri Arni, said that this year they hope to increase the number of recoveries as they have better information and investigations from both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot offices of the CMP.

After her meeting with Arni and the Greek Cypriot member to the CMP, Leonidas Pantelides, and a visit to the CMP’s anthropological laboratory, Santos said that immediately after being appointed as Permanent Rapporteur of the European Parliament on the issues of missing persons in Cyprus, just three weeks ago, she decided to visit Cyprus.

“I know that we are really running against time, this is a long-standing issue and families are waiting for many years for information. This is a very sensitive humanitarian issue, it is a question of human rights that we need to address with all our capacity,” she said.

She also said that she would like to publicly recognise the value of the mission of the CMP, which as she said, was acting for many years with determination, and trying to provide the best answer, “but we need to try to go further and faster and for that, cooperation is needed, as well as information, resources and to analyse what are the conditions on the ground and how can we improve the conditions and try to provide better answers to this problem”.

She also said that she would try to give a new answer and impetus to this work “that we are doing together” and expressed hope to have conditions to present a recommendation to the European Parliament until the end of this year.

Asked by a journalist about her meeting with relatives of missing persons, and whether they still have hope almost 50 years later, Santos said they do have hope, “and we are trying to (provide an) answer to this hope”. She noted that the main objective is to give people in Cyprus the possibility to close one tragic chapter of this country. “We need to understand the difficulties of obtaining testimonies, of information but despite the difficulties work continues on the ground. We will try to accelerate as much as we can, we will try to have more results and deliver more results,” she added.

Santos noted that, what was very clear to her, was the will of the families to close this chapter and that she did not see hate, but rather heard statements of reconciliation and the will to overcome this.

On whether the European Parliament can put pressure on Turkey on the issue of the missing persons, Santos said that they will, of course, ask for better cooperation from the Turkish side “and we hope to have better cooperation, because this is not a problem of only one community but of both”. Everybody needs to understand, she added, that this is not a political issue but a humanitarian one, “and it’s on humanitarian grounds that we need to act”, noting that it is better to keep politics aside and resolve the political problems in another debate.

Arni welcomed Santos for her important visit, as he said, and noted they were very grateful at the CMP for the European Parliament support and the European Commission “who’s been our constant and most trustful donor for the last 17 years”. Without the EU this programme would not exist, he said, adding that they provide CMP with €2.6 million per year which is 80% or the Committee’s regular budget, and that the rest is provided by individual states.

As regards the recovery of the remains of missing persons, he said there was “no quick fix in the CMP, our results are coming painfully slowly but they are coming”, adding that they hope this year to increase the number of recoveries back to 40+. “So, we really hope that this year will bring us more results because we have better information and better investigations from both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot office,” he said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The latest round of negotiations, in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.

Since 1974, the fate of hundreds of people remains unknown. A Committee on Missing Persons has been established, upon agreement between the leaders of the two communities, with the scope of exhuming, identifying and returning to their relatives the remains of 492 Turkish Cypriots and 1,510 Greek Cypriots, who went missing during the inter-communal fighting of 1963-1964 and in 1974.

According to statistical data published on the CMP website by June 30, 2023, of 1510 Greek Cypriot missing persons 741 were identified and 769 are still missing. Out of 492 Turkish Cypriot missing persons 292 were identified and 200 are still missing.