A delegation of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) expressed on Wednesday support for the work of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), during a visit to Cyprus.
The LIBE delegation, accompanied by Cypriot MEPs, is having a series of contacts on the island in order to take stock of the progress made by CMP in recovering and identifying the remains of missing persons. European parliamentarians met this morning with the three members of the CMP, at the Committee’s anthropological laboratory in the now defunct Nicosia airport area.
Speaking later to the press, Spanish S&D MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who is heading the delegation, said the task of the CMP was not an easy one. Half the work has yet to be completed and every effort should be made towards this direction, he added.
He said moreover that the EU supports all diplomatic efforts aiming to create the grounds on which both communities can communicate in a constructive way, in order to overcome difficulties and complete the job for the benefit of the families of the missing persons.
Aguilar, who is also the EP’s standing rapporteur for missing persons, said moreover that it was important to provide access to every possible burial site, including in military sites located in the “Turkish Cypriot zone” – as he called the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus. Providing access to archives is of the essence, he went on, when asked about Ankara’s refusal to open up its archives dating from the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Speaking about past incidents involving the relocation of remains from one burial site to another, the Spanish MEP underlined that “it shouldn’t have happened and it should never happen again”.
“Each and every one of us are sensitive about the importance and the humanitarian dimension of the issue of missing persons, not only for Cyprus but for the whole of the EU” Aguilar said.
He added that “we need to keep the job going until it is done in the best possible way”. “This is why we support the Committee on Missing Persons, that is why we have been securing the budgetary allocations of the EU” which is the largest donor of this operation, he said.
According to the Spanish MEP, the delegation is well aware of the importance of the CMP’s work that provides comfort to families with missing persons, and is also aware of the difficulties ahead. This is not an easy task, but it has to be completed, both in a scientific and legally sound way, he underlined.
He also assured people on the island that the LIBE Committee will continue raising awareness and will remain in solidarity with the families awaiting to receive the remains of their beloved ones.
According to Aguilar, the assessment of the work so far is positive but “half of the work has yet to be completed”. We will continue to work hand in hand with the EP budget committee, for the EU to remain the largest donor of this joint effort, he said.
Asked about access to military archives, that could provide insight for more burial sites, Aguilar said that the EP delegation was aware of the difficulties in accessing military sites as well as archives, documents and information.
As Aguilar said, access to military sites is essential while access to archives would be extremely useful and relevant. “We support every diplomatic effort in order to complete that job” he noted.
When asked about relocations of remains, the Spanish MEP said that this should never happen again.
One case that was recently reported in the press involves the remains of missing persons from the Turkish-occupied village of Assia, that were transferred to a landfill in Dikomo during the 1990’s. A decade ago, trees were planted in the area, as part of a project using EU funds.
Aguilar referred to the 2015 European Parliament resolution expressing concern about the relocations and said that the EU would financially support excavations in the area to recover the remains. “This is precisely the purpose of the EU budgeting” he said.
Asked about Turkey’s accession to the EU, the European parliamentarian said that although he has his own opinion on the matter, he is representing all members of the delegation. The work of the EP delegation is to see whether EU budget allocations are properly used and are serving the purpose and to report back, he said, adding that “we are interested at the exact timeframe the work will be completed”.
The LIBE delegation met earlier on Wednesday with UNSG Special Representative to Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar. More meetings are scheduled with the House President, the Foreign Minister, the members of the House Refugee Committee, the Presidential Commissioner and relatives of the missing persons.
In addition to Aguilar, other MEPs in the delegation include Ana Gomez (S&D, Portugal), Asim Ademov (EPP, Bulgaria), Thomas Zdechovsky (EPP, Czech Republic).
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third. Since then, 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 the remains of missing persons to their relatives.