COMMENT

General comment on the issue of missing persons

The tragic issue of missing persons is a humanitarian problem with human rights and international humanitarian law implications. It should be depoliticised and consequently should not be dependent on the political settlements of the conflicts concerned.
The clarification of the fate of missing persons requires the establishment of various mechanisms at various levels. Mechanisms should benefit from all relevant information and the cooperation of all involved should be ensured in this regard. Moreover, they should have access to archives of national and international organisations, including military contingents.
The right of family members to know the fate of their missing relatives, including their whereabouts and the circumstances and causes of their disappearance, and the correlative obligation to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding a disappearance is provided by both international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
While focusing on the humanitarian dimension of missing persons in armed conflict, it is also necessary to bear in mind that cases of missing persons can sometimes constitute criminal offences, including war crimes or crimes against humanity. States should ensure effective investigation and prosecution of all human rights violations linked to missing persons.


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MEDIA COVERAGE

The following article appeared in the Guardian 'Comment & Features' section on Tuesday April 15 2008.

'Bones don't speak'

For two years, the UN has been exhuming mass graves across Cyprus, reviving harrowing memories of the bloodshed in which 2,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots disappeared without trace. Angelique Chrisafis explains how finding her uncle's remains after 34 years has helped her family - but also raised painful new questions about the fate of those still missing.

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Laid out carefully on a white sheet, limb by limb, rib by rib, knuckle by knuckle, was the yellowed skeleton of Uncle Yiannos. For 34 years he had been one of the disappeared, the missing people whose haunting black-and-white photos family members had carried round their necks at silent demonstrations. Now the UN had dug up his bones from a mass grave.

Laid out beside him were a few relics preserved by the dry Cyprus soil: two buttons, pieces of his shoes and socks, a belt buckle and his small pocket-knife for cutting fruit. My cousin, Andis, picked up his skull and cradled it, tracing his fingers around the bullet holes. "One shot to the back of the head, one bullet into the temple which exited the cheek," he surmised.


Angelique Chrisafis at the site of the mass grave in Cyprus where the body of her uncle was found in September 2006

Read the full article here
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