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Failing on issue of missing persons

By Stefanos Evripidou

POLITICIANS have failed Europe by allowing the fate of 20,000 missing persons from various conflicts to remain unknown, said British MPs Jim Sheridan and Alan Meale yesterday in Nicosia.
The two MPs highlighted the need to intensify efforts to investigate the fate of missing persons from both communities in Cyprus.

Sheridan and Meale were speaking during a press conference in Nicosia to present Sheridan’s report on the issue of the 20,000 missing persons whose fate still remains unknown in Europe following armed conflicts over recent decades in Cyprus, the Balkans and North and South Caucasus.

The report was adopted unanimously last week by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The report notes that Cyprus lags behind all other post-conflict zones in Europe in terms of progress on the fate of the missing, said Meale.

“It’s not good enough. You have to get to the meat of the situation, the first thing on the agenda is people,” he said, adding that the pain felt by relatives of missing persons was the same on either side of the divide.

He called on governments to prioritise a speedy resolution to the ongoing uncertainty over the missing.

“When you have war and conflict, it’s not territory, its people that count,” said the British MP.

Meale noted that the report prepared by Sheridan was unanimously adopted by PACE and has now been put on the agenda of the Council of Ministers for November.

“What we agreed in the Assembly last week is that it is not just a disgrace, but represents a democratic deficit and failure of governments that these situations are not considered a priority of any negotiated part of any settlement.

“We cannot stand idly by. We must go to politicians throughout Europe and find a solution, and we will,” he added.

The report’s rapporteur, Sheridan, an MP from Scotland, said he comes from a part of the world where there is no problem of missing persons. “When I say I can only imagine what the relatives are going through I truly mean that.”

Sheridan said he has met many families of the missing: “And the one constant I find is that there are no more tears for them, the tears have dried up, and they want action. It is incumbent on politicians, regardless of where we come from, to bring some sort of closure, whether that be for Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots or Bosnians.”

He said the report was put together in a non-partisan manner, without preferences.

“Our view is a missing person is a missing person is a missing person regardless of what part of Europe they come from.”

During his research, Sheridan said he learnt of disappointing practices taking place.

“Unfortunately, there are some authorities, regimes, who look to use the missing persons issue as a way to negotiate, get some leverage. It’s appalling”.

He added: “That’s why we’re saying to the international community, you have a responsibility to go back to your national governments and say, ‘this is a disaster, a catastrophe, that can be solved’.”

The report provides an overview of the present situation of missing persons and points out the principle reasons for Europe’s failure to find a solution to this problem.

It notes that solving the problem of missing persons is vital for establishing reconciliation between warring factions or former conflicting parties and ensuring peace on the European continent.

According to the report, the two main reasons why the problem of missing persons has not yet been solved are lack of political will and individuals’ fear of reprisals.

It also highlights the need to put the families of missing persons at the centre of all actions taken by governments, to ensure they receive proper care and support.

The report reminds member states of the Council of Europe that they are obliged under European case law to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and calls both member states and relevant de facto authorities to speed up the process of exhumation and identification of the remains of missing persons and to bring the truth of their fate to family and friends.

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