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The Role of Intercommunal Dialogue in Revealing the Fate of Disappearances and Missing Persons: Cases of Kosovo and Cyprus

Grażyna Baranowska wrote "The Role of Intercommunal Dialogue in Revealing the Fate of Disappearances and Missing Persons: Cases of Kosovo and Cyprus" as part of the 2014 Humanity in Action Diplomacy and Diversity Fellowship.

“I want them to have proper graves. If they are alive, we want to know. If not, at least having graves will suffice so we can bury them according to our religion and lay flowers.” (1) - Cemaliye Şöferel, family member of a missing person, Cyprus

“…God willing, together, and with our governments, we will be able to find our missing family members... my biggest satisfaction in life would be to find my father, to know where his grave is.” (2) - Naser Kadriu, family member of a missing person, Kosovo


This article explores the role of the intercommunal dialogue between families of missing persons in Cyprus and Kosovo in revealing the fate of the disappeared. Disappeared and missing persons are one of the many aftermaths of the conflicts in both Cyprus (1974) and Kosovo (1999). The majority of the missing persons were men, who were last seen in effective control of the other side’s armed or paramilitary forces. After the end of the violence, their fate was not revealed (in many cases deliberately) for many years, which is one of the reasons that hindered reconciliation between the communities in the post-conflict period. Although the fate of most of the persons that went missing is still unknown, it can be assumed that the majority was murdered shortly after they went missing. Both in Cyprus and Kosovo their remains are frequently on the territory, which is now under control of the other ethnic group. Therefore the returning of remains – which is one of the most basic needs of the families – is not possible without cooperation between both sides: information about potential places of burial have to be exchanged and exhumations have to be conducted in collaboration of both communities. Those steps require involvement of the families of the missing.

Persons that are missing a loved one face an ongoing anguish of not knowing what happened to missing person and are unable to grief. This anguish is be aggravated, when the person was forcefully disappeared. (3) For the majority of the families, accepting that the missing person died is impossible without receiving the remains or getting to know the circumstances of the death and for many years they continue their search for the person. Therefore, the crime of disappearing someone is not solely committed against the individuals, but also against their families, friends and communities. In many conflicts the practice of enforced disappearances was used to frighten and control the population and indeed, the crime certainly has an impact at the societal level, especially when the truth about disappearances is masked by silence.

The issue of missing persons is of great importance in societies and revealing their fate is a precondition for sustainable peace. The families of the missing persons are highly involved in the whole process, as they are not only essential in the identification process, but usually become the main group pressuring for revealing the truth. (4) This poses both opportunities and challenges for the negotiations and eventually revealing their fate. Families are prone to support any action that will reveal the fate of their loved ones; therefore, if they are convinced about the necessity to cooperate with the other side, they are supporting the cooperation. Further, they can sympathize with families of the disappeared persons in the other community and – in the effect – facilitate dialogue, which can result in a broader interaction. The relations between the two post-conflict societies can benefit from such a dialogue. From the other side, if the issue is highly politicized, families might avoid any contact with the other authority or community, which actually hinders revealing their fate. In such a situation the whole reconciliation process can be slowed down because of the issue of missing persons. 

The article is based on review of literature and documents, as well as interviews carried out in October 2012 and July 2014. The semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of NGO’s, families of missing persons, lawyers, UN officials and members of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus.

The second part of the article introduces the main terms - intercommunal dialog with regard to missing persons and “missing persons” as well as “enforced disappearances”. The third and fourth part concern missing persons in Cyprus. The third part presents the background with regard to missing persons and current situation in Cyprus, while the fourth discusses the role of the families of the missing persons in the Greek and Turkish Cypriot society, as well as the existing dialogue. The fifth part explores the issue of missing persons in Kosovo, followed by the sixth part, which concentrates on the role of their families in revealing the truth. The last part of the article compares the two and contains conclusions. Both the conflicts in Cyprus and Kosovo are of very complicated nature and of course cannot be thoroughly analyzed in such a short article. A brief historical context and the background of the conflicts are presented respectively in the third and fifth part.

Definitions: Intercommunal Dialogue, Missing Persons

Intercommunal dialogue in this article is understood as the interactions between communities affected by the conflicts – in Cyprus, dialogue between Turkish and Greek Cypriots; in Kosovo, between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. The contact between the communities with regard to missing and disappeared persons is going to be analyzed and particular attention is going to be given to cooperation between families and victim organizations. Importantly, the dialogue is analyzed for its impact on revealing the fate of disappeared and missing persons – its meaning in the reconciliation project is not subject of this article.

The articles attempts to assess, whether and how the process of revealing the fate about missing and disappeared persons in Kosovo and Cyprus has been influenced by intercommunal dialogue, especially between the affected families. The different approaches toward the issue in the communities are going to be analyzed, as well as the effect it has on the intercommunal dialogue on this subject.

It is generally accepted both by practitioners and researchers, that inclusion of victim organizations and civil society is necessary in peace building. (5) In case of revealing the truth about the disappearances after inter-communal struggle their active participation seems to have even more relevance, especially when, like in the case of Cyprus and Kosovo, there have been perpetrators, victims and witnesses on both sides, and remains are buried on territories controlled after the conflict by authorities coming from both ethnic backgrounds. The drafting of lists of the missing, collecting of information, exhumation and identification require dialogue not only between the authorities, but also an involvement – to certain extend – of the families themselves. This dialogue does not have to be necessarily directly between the members of the families, it might be through intermediaries. The article attempts to evaluate the role of the families in the process, as well as their initiative in being involved.

During armed conflicts both civilians and combatants go missing – some are misplaced, some perish and are never found or identified, while others are “disappeared” purposely by the other side of the conflict. The crime of “disappearing” someone is called “enforced disappearances”, which is defined in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (6) as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law” (art 2) and in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (7) as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time” (art. 7.2.i). There is one crucial difference between those two definitions, which is also important in the context of the disappearances in Kosovo and Cyprus. In international human rights law the involvement of the state (at least someone acting with its authorization, support or acquiescence) is necessary, while in international criminal law also political organizations (8) can be responsible for disappearances. Therefore some of the disappearances in Kosovo and Cyprus – if they amount to a crime against humanity - would be considered enforced disappearances in the light of the Rome State, while they would not be considered as such in the light of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

In Kosovo and in Cyprus the other side of the conflict was involved in many of the “missing’s”, but as not all missing persons in Cyprus and Kosovo are victims of enforced disappearance, so in this article the term “missing persons” is going to be used. This is a term from international humanitarian law, which covers both victims (9) of enforced disappearances and persons that went missing because of other reasons. There is no definition of enforced disappearances in any of the treaties of international humanitarian law, but the crime is clearly forbidden by customary international humanitarian law. (10)

Cyprus: More than 40 Years After the Conflict 27% of the Remains are Identified

Turks and Greeks have been coexisting in Cyprus at least since the Ottoman Empire conquered the Island in 1570. The coexistence of the two communities has not been smooth, but tension increased in the end of the XIXth century during British rule (Cyprus fell into Great Britain’s sphere of influence in 1878), which manifested itself in a gradual reduction of the number of villages of mixed ethnic composition. The island inhabitants’ struggle for independence from Great Britain complicated the situation, as Greece aimed at annexing Cyprus, and Turkey and Turkish Cypriots opposed this strongly, fearing that it would be unfavorable for the Turkish Cypriots, who composed about 20% of the island’s population at that time. After long negotiations, the five interested parties (Great Britain, Turkey, Greece, the Greek Cypriot community and Turkish Cypriot community) signed an agreement, under which Cyprus gained independence on the 16th August 1960 and power was divided between the two major ethnic groups living there. This did not ease the tension and in December 1963 a series of armed confrontations between paramilitary formations began that led to many casualties and forced numerous Turkish Cypriots to live in fortified enclaves. Crimes committed by both sides further antagonized the communities. The military junta that ruled in Greece since 1967 overtly claimed for the unification of the island with Greece. When Greek Cypriot military formations supported by the junta overthrew the president of Cyprus on the 15th July 1974, Turkey invaded the island, which led to a huge number of internally displaced people, (11) the on-going division of the island, eventually the pronouncement of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (12) and an enormous change in Cyprus’s demographic proportions due to immigrants from Turkey. (13) Those actions have been repeatedly condemned as violations of international law.

The first disappearances happened during the intercommunal struggle between Turkish and Greek Cypriots of 1963 and 1964, throughout which mostly Turkish Cypriots went missing - according to UN Secretary General Report S/5950 from 10 September 1964, there were 232 Turkish Cypriots and 38 Greek Cypriots missing at that time. The phenomenon was exacerbated after the Turkish invasion in 1974, which affected particularly strongly Greek Cypriots. Overall 2,001 people went missing – 1,508 Greek and 493 Turkish Cypriots (14) - while the institutions and states responsible, or just capable of reacting, refused to acknowledge these disappearances. A major issue for families on both sides was the return of the remains, which was hindered because of the political climate. For exhumations and identifications the cooperation between the Republic of Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot authorities is crucial, especially taking under consideration the division of the island. However the two actors did not cooperate at all for many years. Additionally the very fact of disappeared persons in the other community was ignored in the official discourse, which further hindered cooperation on this subject.

This did not change much after the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) was established by an agreement signed between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot community under the auspices of the UN in 1981. The CMP is an investigative body, whose mandate was set in the “Terms of Reference,” (15) which were agreed upon in 1981. Article 7 of the Terms of Reference states as follow: “The committee shall look only into cases of persons reported missing in the inter-communal fighting’s as well as in the events of July 1974 and afterwards”. Additionally its art 13 states: “The committee will use its best efforts to draw up comprehensive lists of missing persons of both communities, specifying as appropriate whether they are alive or dead, and in the latter case approximate time of the deaths”. As the document explicitly states in art. 11 that it “will not attempt to attribute responsibility for the deaths of any missing persons or make findings as to the cause of such deaths”, the CMP had a very narrow mandate – looking into the cases and drawing up a comprehensive list of missing persons, while not attributing responsibility of making findings about the cause of deaths.

The CMP consists of three members - one of each community and one official selected by the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) (16) and appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN. During the first two decades after the CMP was established, the cooperation between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots mostly focused on negotiating a common official list of all those who disappeared. Furthermore, both sides worked on conducting investigations to establish the fate of the missing and collected blood samples from relatives for future identifications. Only in 1997, the leaders of the two communities agreed to provide each other information already at their disposal on the location of graves of missing persons. In August 2004, the two communities agreed to a proposal of the Secretary General who called for the resumption of work of the CMP. (17) Since 2006 the CMP runs excavations and exhumations. The first remains were returned to the families in 2007 and as of the 25th August 2014, remains of 424 Greek Cypriots and 127 Turkish Cypriots have been returned, which amounts to respectively 28% and 26% of the missing persons. Therefore the vast majority of the remains have not been found and identified, while the persons went missing 50 to 40 years ago.

Because of the passage of time and since many remains were purposely damaged or hidden by the perpetrators, not all persons will be found and identified. It is not possible to assess the number unambiguously, it can be only estimated. Gülden Plümer Küçük, the Turkish member of the CMP, stated during an interview with the author that finding 65% of the remains would be a great success. This is of course only estimation, although it seems quite optimistic. For the families affected, every one remain that is not going to be found and identified will be unsatisfactory, therefore preparing the families for the possibilities is one of the current challenges that the CMP and the communities face. (18)

Commemorating Missing Persons Differently: Turkish and Greek Cypriots

The families of the missing persons are organized in two main associations, which are state-supported. The Turkish Cypriots in the Şehit Aileleri ve Malül Gaziler Derneği (Eng. Association of Martyrs' Families and War Veterans) and the Greek Cypriots in the Pancyprian Organisation of the Relatives of Undeclared Prisoners and Missing Persons. Both organizations are supportive of state policies, do not necessarily cooperate with organizations from the other side of the island (if at all, then mainly through the CMP) and consider their own community to be the main victim of the conflict. (19) This seems to resemble the general attitude in the societies – the suffering of the own community, not only with regard to missing persons, is emphasized, while committed atrocities are downplayed.

There is one major difference in the general approach of Turkish and Greek Cypriots towards the issue of the missing. On the Turkish side, the missing persons were officially considered dead shortly after the end of the war. They were declared “war heroes” and their families received help and benefits resulting from that status. Although the majority of the families was never able to cope or accept not knowing the fate of their relatives, (20) they were not actively looking for the missing or demanding to get to know what happened. The approach in the Republic of Cyprus was contrary – the official state policy was to consider the missing persons alive. The state supported the families that protested and inquired in order to get to know something about their missing relatives. (21) One of the effects of this policy was that the wives of missing persons were not considered widows and had to divorce their (missing) husband in order to get married again. Today, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot families of the missing persons do not cooperate much with each other, which seems to be mainly an effect of the general hostility between the two societies, but the differences in the experiences of the last decades caused by official state policies might also make it more difficult for them to connect.

The first, and so far only, organization dealing with missing persons that represents both Greek and Turkish Cypriots is the Bi-communal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of Massacres and War, established in 2005. It is one of the few organizations on the island, which represents both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. The organization does educational work on both sides of the island, helps to exchange information in order to locate new places and facilitates discussions on reconciliation on various seminars and conferences. The majority of people involved in the Bi-communal Initiative are relatives of missing persons and they state, that contact with families from the other community has been very helpful. Members of the organization emphasize that through the Bi-Communal Initiative friendships between Greek and Turkish Cypriots relatives of missing persons are being developed. (22) Nonetheless, the group of people involved in the initiative is rather limited and although they do important work, most of my interlocutors who were not involved in the work of the Bi-Communal Initiative, stated that they do not have a big impact on the majority of the population in Cyprus. (23) In general, the families of missing persons seem to prefer to cooperate on that issue with person from their own ethnic group.

The majority of families of missing persons in Cyprus meet with families from the other side mostly through CMP initiatives. (24) Although the goal of the CMP’s current activity is to find, identify and return remains, through making the exhumation and identification project a bi-communal initiative and mediating between the two communities, for a substantial part of Cypriots, the CMP is the main organization which facilitates between the two communities with regard to missing persons. It must be noted, that the contact between the communities is mostly initiated by the CMP, which has been emphasized by most of my interlocutors from families, victim organizations and the CMP (the persons active in the Bi-communal Initiative being the exception). Especially representatives from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot official victim organizations spoke highly of the cooperation with the CMP and the possibility to cooperate trough it with representatives of the other community. That being said, there was also a lot of criticism against the CMP concerning many other aspects of its work – most notably the pace of actual progress and the lack of dealing with the responsibilities or circumstances of the death – which are not analyzed in this article.

Missing Persons After the Kosovo War

Similarly to Cyprus, also Kosovo was under Ottoman Rule for almost five centuries until the last decades of the empire; it became a part of the Kingdom of Serbia after the first Balkan war (1912-1913). For most of the XXth centuries the relations between the ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have been tense, culminating during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. At this time the hostilities evolved into fighting, which in turn resulted in the Kosovo War 1998-1999. After the NATO intervention Kosovo was placed under transitional UN administration (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo – UNMIK) (25) and while it formally was still a part of Serbia, its status was discussed internationally in the following years, which led eventually to the declaration of independence in February 2008. During and after the Kosovo War both sides have been committing crimes and Serbians as well as Kosovo Albanians have been tried by local courts and by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Throughout the conflict about 5,000 persons went missing, most of them Kosovo Albanians who were last seen in control of the Serbian army or paramilitary forces during the NATO military operation. After Serbian armed forces left Kosovo there was a second wave of disappearances – the majority of victims were ethnically not Kosovo Albanians (mostly Serbians but also members of other ethnic communities living in Kosovo, such as Roma or Bosnians).

Differently than in Cyprus, the exhumation were started shortly after the war, just after the UN forces were deployed in Kosovo. The exhumations were coordinated by the ICTY and their main goal was to collect evidence of war crimes and to demonstrate that they were systematic and widespread. For this reason, identification was not the priority and even re-burial locations were not always documented. The situation improved slightly in 2000, when more attention was given to the identification process and the return of the remains to the families. However, at the end of 2000 when the ICTY forensic operation was closed, less than half of the 4,000 bodies exhumed by the ICTY were identified. (26)

During the same time, the ICRC was collecting information on missing persons with the aim of creating a comprehensive list of persons unaccounted for as a result of the conflict. Additionally a number of other local and international organizations got involved in the process of collecting information, performing exhumations and identifying the remains. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has established a small forensic identification program. The Kosovo Force, which is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, was also recording potential grace sites and recovering human remain. Furthermore UNMIK established a number of units dealing with missing persons (27) and in an effort to address the issue more coherently and centralized in 2002 the Office on Missing Persons and Forensics was set up. The efforts have been criticized inter alia for a lack of centralization. (28)

The Kosovo Albanians and the Kosovo authorities dealt mostly with disappearances that happened during the war, while the Serbians and Serbia drew attention to the ones that happened after the war. Nevertheless, cooperation between the two communities with regard to missing persons was necessary if only to exchange information about potential graves. For this reason a Working Group on Missing Persons (Working Group) was established in 2003, which is a part of the process of direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. It has been chaired by the ICRC since February 2004. In 2007 the UN became involved in the activities of the Working Group and since that time the forensic efforts were undertaken by the authorities in Pristina and Belgrade, organizational efforts by the ICRC and political by the UN. The UN was among other responsible for the coordination of the work with the families. After Kosovo declared independence, the Serbian-Kosovo cooperation was almost entirely broken and the Working Group has been for some time the only officially functioning platform for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

A considerable part of the actions initiated in Kosovo with regard to missing persons was directed at the Kosovo Albanian victims of the conflict, while not much attention was paid to the missing persons of Serbian ethnicity. This was not only the case with regard to efforts undertaken by the Kosovo authorities, also UNMIK was found to have failed to investigate in the abduction and murders in the aftermath of the conflict, which concerns exclusively persons that were not Kosovo Albanians, mostly Serbians. (29)

As presented, there have been many efforts in Kosovo to find the remains of the missing persons and return them to the families. Because of that, relatively quickly a large amount of the missing persons has been identified (so far over 66%), nevertheless still more than 1,700 (30) persons have not been found. Similarly as in Cyprus, not all of the remains are going to be found, but as the exhumation and identification process was started shortly after the disappearances happened, this is going to be a much smaller number of non-elucidated cases. Currently the paste of returning the remains has substantially slowed down. The dialogue on reciprocal recovery of the missing between Serbia and Kosovo, which had been ongoing for the first years after the conflict, is now stalled because of political reasons.

The Families of Missing Persons in Kosovo: Playing an Active Role

The narratives of the Serbian and Kosovo authorities are very similar to the ones in Cyprus, as both communities very much concentrate on their own victimhood. Also the numerous organizations dealing with missing persons or representing their families, such as Mothers Appeal Association or Thirrjet e Nënave (Eng. Mothers Cry), are mono-ethnical – both in Kosovo and in Serbia. While there is a number of similarities to the ways the families in Cyprus undertook actions in order to reveal the fate of their missing loved ones, there also seems to be one major difference. Whereas for decades in Cyprus the families were protesting and pushing the authorities from the other side of the island, the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian families were involved not only in putting pressure on the other side, but were also encouraging their own authorities to take more action – through contact with their own authorities, creating NGO’s and campaigns. They further continuously pushed for carrying on the dialogue with regard to missing persons. Of course, the fact that the meetings and activity of the Working Group were carried on even after Kosovo declared independence and other dialogue was frozen, was due to a number of factors (one of them the active involvement of international organizations, especially the UN) and not only pressure that the families exerted on the responding authorities. Nevertheless it was also the participation of the families in the negotiations that influenced – in a constructive way – how exhumations and returning the remains was handled between Kosovo and Serbia. (31)

Although the dialogue on reciprocal recovery of the missing persons has been widely supported by the families, cooperation for reconciliation reasons has far less support. As one of the mothers of the missing persons put it: “The ICMP has tried many times to hold meetings with mothers of missing Albanians and Serbs. I am not against them [Serbian mothers]. But they do not know where my son is. I do not know where their children are. They make us sit together and discuss personal issues. Some people can do that. Not me”. (32) This seems to be the general approach of the families, who are supporting the dialogue in order to get results and not for reconciliation reasons. But it must be born in mind that solving the problem of the missing persons is a crucial element in reaching understanding between the communities.

The families on both sides pushed for the continuation of the Working Group’s activities, as they insisted on the need of exchanging information and negotiating technical details. This is an example of how the active engagement of the families has played a positive role in revealing the fate of the missing persons, as the continuing cooperation in the Working Group - while other cooperation was frozen - made it possible to steadily continue the exhumation and identification.


International humanitarian law requires parties to an armed conflict to take measures necessary to ensure that people do not go missing. (33) The right to know the fate of missing persons is also mentioned by the ICRC in its study about International Customary Humanitarian Law. (34) Missing persons are therefore a humanitarian issue, but it cannot be addressed without taking into consideration the political aspect. As presented in the two discussed case studies the context and background of the situations have an enormous impact on how the issue is tackled. It could seem that exhuming, identifying and returning the remains can be an apolitical project, but many of the concerns involved are highly political, for example: who is going to be considered missing? How is the information about possible burial sites going to be collected? Since the exact burial places are usually not known, who decides where the exhumations should take place? In what order are the exhumations going to be performed? When or if should the discussion about truth revealing and punishing perpetrators begin? Therefore one of the crucial aspects is political will to earnestly tackle the issue.

In cases of missings and disappearances that happened during intercommunal fighting  - such as in Cyprus and Kosovo - the authorities of the communities typically have political will to support families from their own ethnic group, but they do not undertake actions necessary to return the remains to the families. Quite the contrary, their actions might actually hinder necessary cooperation with the other authorities: such a situation could be observed for many years in the Republic of Cyprus, (35) where the families received a great deal of support from the state, (36) but the authorities did not initiate cooperation with Turkish Cypriot authorities concerning missing persons, making it de facto impossible to exhume and identify the remains, as without access to Turkish Cypriot information and territory this could not be done. How politicized the issue was, shows the example of missing Greek Cypriots that were buried on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus in 1974 but have not been exhumed and identified until late 1999. (37)

One of the reasons for such a situation is the fact that each community concentrates on its own victimhood and tends to exclude the suffering of the other ethnic group. (38) This can be observed while taking a look at the very fundamental issue of defining who is a missing person. The Republic of Cyprus defined in 1979 a “missing person” as a “Greek-Cypriot who is still missing since 20 July 1974, due to the Turkish invasion . . . and the state has no positive information that s/he died”. Even after the definition was broadened in 2003 and contains now ‘all citizens’, it still excludes the majority of Turkish Cypriots, as they went missing before the Turkish invasion of 1974. (39) Similarly the first discussed definition in Kosovo excluded the vast majority of Serbian victims, as it covered only persons that went missing before the peace plan was adopted. Finally a broader definition was adopted, covering persons that were reported missing between the 1st January 1998 and the 31st December 2000. (40) Although concentrating on its own victimhood is a typical phenomenon, in the case of persons that are missing in the aftermath of an inter-communal conflict, it leads to impeding of the process of returning the remains to the families.

So far 27% of the remains have been returned in Cyprus, while the persons are missing for over 50 and 40 years. In Kosovo over 66% of the remains have been returned, more than 16 years after the conflict took place. Therefore, although the rate in both conflicts is highly unsatisfactory for the families, the remains in Kosovo were returned significantly faster than in Cyprus. There are a number of reasons for that, among others: the presence of international forces who supported the exhumation and identification process on the ground in Kosovo right after the conflict; the establishment and involvement of the ICTY; the great number of organizations involved in the issue Kosovo (next to local ones, also the UNDP, OSCE, KFOR, ICTY etc.); progress in forensic science.

Both in Kosovo and Cyprus, the dialogue with regard to missing persons has been facilitated with the help of the UN and ICRC. In Kosovo, the Working Group on Missing Persons is headed by the ICRC and supported by the UN. It has not only been successful in enabling the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with regard to missing persons, but also has been for some time the only official functioning platform for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. In Cyprus, the CMP was created under the auspices of the UN and one of its three members is an official selected by the ICRC and appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN. Although the CMP is an investigative body and was not created in order to facilitate dialogue, it does so through making the exhumation and identification project a bi-communal initiative and through acting in some ways as a channel of information between the two communities. 

Therefore the UN and the ICRC have played a very important role in facilitating dialogue between the communities in both conflicts. Interestingly, there are various personal links connecting the work on missing persons in Cyprus and Kosovo trough the ICRC and UN representatives. Especially many officials at the CMP had previous ICRC experience in Kosovo, for example the current Third Member of the CMP, Paul-Henri Arni was the head ICRC’s Regional Delegation for the Western Balkans, where he coordinated the work of teams involved in searching for the missing. Rarer is experience in Kosovo among UN officials supporting the CMP, but Oleg Egorov is one of the examples of an UNDP officers being delegated to the CMP after working in Kosovo. (41) Personal contacts of the officials enable interaction and the transfer of knowledge and experiences between the two post-conflict situations. For example, one of their initiatives was to bring families of missing persons from Kosovo to Cyprus, and from Cyprus to Kosovo for short visits. In this way the relatives of the missing could themselves exchange experiences.

The Serbian and Albanian families in Kosovo have been the driving force for the dialogue on reciprocal recovery of the missing between Serbia and Kosovo, which was one of the reasons why it was possible to carry on the mutual work in the Working Group after relations between Kosovo and Serbia were frozen. In Cyprus there is less cooperation between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot families, which may be explained also by the passage of time between the period when the missing’s occurred and when personal contact was made possible between the two ethnic groups by opening the borders. But since it resumption of work in 2004, the families have learned to work with other through the CMP. (42)

The impact of dialogue with regard to missing persons after intercommunal conflicts cannot be underestimated, as dialogue is necessary in order to identify and exhume many of missing persons. Additionally, it can also foster mutual understanding and reduce hostility, as many relatives of missing persons get eventually involved in peace and reconciliation projects. But for many – if not for the most – of families getting to know the fate of the missing persons is a precondition for further cooperation, which makes the issue the more important. Of course, any actions with regard to missing persons are not possible without cooperation between state authorities. What is needed in cases of missing persons after inter-communal struggle is therefore dialogue between the families and negotiations with regard to missing persons between the authorities involved. The international community, meaning IGO, NGO and other third parties involved, can also support this.


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About the Author

Grazyna Baranowska is a researcher in the Poznan Human Rights Centre of the Institute of Legal Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, where she also works on her doctorate about enforced disappearances in Europe. She received her MSc in European studies (2009) and Turkish Philology (2011) from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. Her main fields of research are the universal system of human rights protection, enforced disappearances and human rights in Turkey. Grazyna completed a five-month fellowship program at the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid in the German Parliament. Graznya was born in Poland and raised in Berlin. She is a Humanity in Action Senior Fellow (Diplomacy and Diversity 2014).


Baranowska, Grazyna. "The Role of Intercommunal Dialogue in Revealing the Fate of Disappearances and Missing Persons: Cases of Kosovo and Cyprus." Article, "Knowledge & Action," Humanity in Action, 2015. Humanity in Action, Inc. 


1. Sevgül Uludağ, "Oysters with the Missing Pearls," İkme Bilban publishing house, 2007, Cyprus

2. REKOM, local consultation with victims’ associations, Mitrovia/ Mitrovicë, Kosovo, September 5th 2009, available on the REKOM webpage www.zarekom.org. 

3. Some publications on the situations of the families of missing persons: Living with absence: Helping the families of the missing, ICRC, Geneva 2014; Blaauw M., Lähteenäki V.; ‘Denial and silence’ or ‘acknowledgment and disclosure’, International Review of the Red Cross 2002, nr. 848.

4. This has been the case in Cyprus and Kosovo, but also in many other countries. The most famous examples are the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the Saturday Mothers in Istanbul, for more information see for example: Baydar G, İvegen B, Territories, Identities and Thresholds: The Saturday Mothers Phenomenon in Istanbul, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2006, vol. 31, no. 3.

5. UNSG Report “The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies” S/2004/616, 23 August 2004; Lundy P., McGovern M, Whose justice? Rethinking justice from the bottom-up, Journal of Law and Society, vol. 35 n. 2.

6. For more on the Convention see Citroni G., Scovazzi T., The struggle against enforced disappearance and the 2007 United Nations Convention, Leiden 2007; Ott L., Enforced Disappearances in International Law, Antwerp 2011; Perez Solla M. F., Enforced Disappearances in International Human Rights, Jefferson (North Carolina), London 2006; Vermeulen M. L., Enforced Disappearance, Determining State Responsibility under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Utrecht 2012

7. Importantly, the Rome Statute addresses only enforced disappearances as a crime against humanity, meaning, that it covers only enforced disappearances, which are “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack” (art. 7). For more on enforced disappearances in the Rome Statute see Boot M., Dixon R., Hall C., Article 7. Crimes against humanity, (w:) Triffterer O. red. Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Observers’ Note, Article by Article. Baden-Baden, 1999, s. 117-172.

8. The term “political organizations” is not defined in the Rome Statute and is only used in the treaty with regard to enforced disappearances. It definitely covers ‘state-like’ organizations (for example non-state actors with effective control over a territory), while there are disagreements over what other organizations are covered by this term, see for example Giorgou I., State Involvement in the Perpetration of Enforced Disappearance and the Rome Statute, Journal of International Criminal Justice 2013

9. Meaning the persons that were disappeared. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance considers also all individual who has suffered harm as the direct result of an enforced disappearance as victim of enforced disappearance (art. 24).

10. See for example rule 98 (Enforced disappearances is prohibited) in  Henckaerts J.-M., Doswald-Beck L., Customary International Humanitarian Law, Cambridge, 2008.

11. Close to 210,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been internally displaced, see for example Profile of Internal Displacement: Cyprus. Compilation of the information available in the Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council. 27 April 2005, available at: http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/library/Europe/Cyprus/pdf/Cyprus-April-2005-2.pdf.

12. The unilateral declaration of independence took place on the 15th November 1983 and only Turkey recognizes it.

13. For more on Cyprus modern history see W. Mallinson, Cyprus. A modern history, New York, 2005.

14. Those numbers are official numbers given by the Commission for Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP); see CMP Progress Report at http://www.cmp-cyprus.org/. 

15. The Terms of Reference were agreed upon in 1981 and are available online at http://www.cmp-cyprus.org/about-the-cmp/terms-of-reference-and-mandate/.

16. Since its creation, the ICRC has played a crucial role in the issue of missing persons. To learn more about it, see for example the special issue of the International Review of the Red Cross, 2002, No. 848 – Missing persons

17. CMP factsheet http://www.cmp-cyprus.org/media/attachments/CMP/CMP%20docs/CMP%20Fact%20Sheets/CMP_Fact_Sheet_July07.pdf. 

18. The issue of not being able to identify all remains is not only a problem in Cyprus, and has been touched upon by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, who states in the General Comment on the Right to the Truth in Relation to Enforced Disappearances: There is an absolute obligation to take all the necessary steps to find the person, but there is no absolute obligation of result. Indeed, in certain cases, clarification is difficult or impossible to attain, for instance when the body, for various reasons, cannot be found. (…) The State still has an obligation to investigate until it can determine by presumption the fate or whereabouts of the person.

19. Interviews were carried out with persons in managing position and members of both organizations. Interview n. 1, 2, 4, 5.

20. In 2004, when the borders were partly lifted, some families had hopes that their loved once would return. Polili Ö., Kuzey Kibris’ta kayip kişiler ve ailelerinin insan haklari, Lefkozja, 2012, p. 10-13.

21. This concerns only persons that went missing because of the activities of the Turkish army or the Turkish Cypriot paramilitary. There are also a number of persons who were disappeared before the Turkish invasion, which do not fit the definition of ‘missing persons’ in the Republic of Cyprus. For more information see for example: Yakinthou C., The Quiet Deflation of Den Xehno? Changes in the Greek Cypriot Communal Narrative on the Missing Persons in Cyprus, The Cyprus Review, 2008, vol. 20:1.

22. Interview n. 8, 11.

23. Interview n. 3, 6, 10, 12.

24. Interview 1, 3, 12.

25. For more information on the modern history of Kosovo see for example Tim Judah, Kosovo - War and Revenge, Yale University Press, 2000.

26. Brasey V., The forensic-led approach to the missing persons issue in Kosovo, Politorbis 2010, nr. 50-3, p. 163.

27. Detainees and Missing Persons Bureau, Victim Recovery and Identification Commission, Missing Person Unit operating under the UNMIK Civil Police.

28. For more information on the missing persons and the exhumation process in Kosovo see: Brasey V. … p. 161-169.

29. Serbia (Kosovo): UNMIK Legacy: The failure to deliver justice and reparations to the relatives of the abducted, Amnesty International, Index Number: EUR 70/009/2013. The report is based on the initial findings of the Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP) set up by the UNMIK to receive complaints from those who consider their rights to have been violated by UNMIK.

30. Annual Report 2012. International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva 2013, s. 350.

31. Interview n. 16.

32. Di Lelllio A., McCurn C., Engineering grassroots transitional justice in the Balkans. The case of Kosovo, East European Politics and Socieites, Vol. 27, n. 1, p. 140.

33. See inter alia art. 15 (Search for casualties. Evacuation); art. 6 (Recording and forwarding information) and art. 17 (Prescription regarding the dead. Graves Registration Service) of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field and part II (Wounded, sick and shipwrecked – Missing and dead persons) of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.

34. Rule 116 of International Customary Humanitarian Law: Accounting for Missing Persons: “Each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and must provide their family members with any information it has on their fate.”

35. See also: Yakinthou C., The Quiet Deflation of Den Xehno? Changes in the Greek Cypriot Communal Narrative on the Missing Persons in Cyprus, The Cyprus Review, 2008, vol. 20:1.

36. The support included: positive discrimination in employment, financial support for housing, no property taxation, and a pension for relatives. In the early 1990s during discussions for the establishment of the University of Cyprus, there was consensus that the relatives of the victim groups should enter university without exams. Kovras I., Loizides N. Delaying truth recovery for missing persons, Nations and Nationalism 2011, vol. 17, p. 9.

37. Kovras I., Loizides N. … p. 4.

38.To learn more on victimization of nations especially in the Cypriot context see the books by Vamık Volkan.

39. Law Nr 77/1979 and Nr. 178(I)/2003, Republic of Cyprus.

40. Law No. 04/L-023 on Missing Persons, http://www.ic-mp.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/law-on-missing-persons-republic-of-kosovo.pdf. This definition is still criticized by many Serbians, as some Serbians went missing after this date.

41. Oleg Egorov mentioned, that one of the reasons why he was chosen for the post in the CMP was because of his UNDP experience. Previously the majority of staff had ICRC experience.

42. Interview n. 16.

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