Citizens in Action: The Search for Missing Persons – and the truth – in Cyprus

Citizens in Action: The Search for Missing Persons – and the truth – in Cyprus

missing persons

One of many scars caused by conflict is that of missing persons, whose enduring impact can leave a painful legacy for societies that can take generations to heal.

In search of a clear definition of a missing person, the International Committee of the Red Cross has set out some two key parameters: a person whose whereabouts are unknown to his/her relatives; and who has been reported missing in accordance with the national legislation in connection to international or non-international armed conflict, internal violence or disturbances, natural catastrophes or any other situation that requires the intervention the State.

The missing persons issue is one of the most difficult consequences of the Cyprus conflict. Over the course of the period 1963 to 1974. The Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), established in 1981 to ‘establish the fate of missing persons’, sets the total number at 1.958 – 1.464 Greek Cypriots and 494 Turkish Cypriots.

However, as the CMP lay dormant for many years, it was left to civil society to fill the void, advocating for common action on what was, after all, a humanitarian issue of relevance to all Cypriots. Thus, in 2005, a new organisation was established, representing families of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot missing persons, emphasising the link between exposing stories of violence and loss, and preventing conflict in the future.

In this, second part of this edition of the Resources for Democracy podcast on Transitional Justice, we hear from Erbay Akansoy and Christos Efhymiou, two members of the Bi-communal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons, Victims of Massacres and other Victims of the 1963-74 Events, about their experiences, their work, and their hopes for the future.

Supplementary Resources:

Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus

Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) – Digging for a Future (vid)

Cyprus: Digging the Past in Search of the Future (documentary) (vid)

Thinking Historically about Missing Persons: A Guide for Teachers, 4. Missing Persons in Cyprus

Transitional Justice in the 21st Century

New Research on Transitional Justice (vid)

Does Transitional Justice Work? (vid)

Transitional Justice & Citizens’ contribution to Dealing with the Past

Transitional Justice & Citizens’ contribution to Dealing with the Past


Since the turn of the century, the practice and discipline of transitional justice has spread as an effort to apportion justice in times of transition from conflict or state repression. According to the International Centre for Transitional Justice – a global non-governmental organisation based in New York – the term refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. They all aim to bring perpetrators to account, while at the same time provide recognition of the rights of, and redress through reparations for, the victims. Transitional justice also seeks to promote trust across societies, and the strengthening of the democratic rule of law so as to avoid repeats in the future.

Moreover, the evolution of transitional justice as a social science discipline has enabled research to shed light on some of the previously under-explored impact of legacies of conflict and violence.

What scholars have identified however is that in post-conflict situations there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The transition from conflict is always a unique experience, and the challenges faced by each country are always greater than expected. Transitions provide an opportunity for change i.e. for the establishment of modern democratic structures, however there is also the potential for the consolidation of old power structures.

Civil society has a very important role to play in transitional justice processes. Indeed, it is from civil society that much of the input towards transitional justice comes from. The International Day of the Disappeared, celebrated every year on August 30, was the result of efforts by the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of Detained-Disappeared, a non-governmental organisation founded in 1981 in Costa Rica that brought together local and regional groups working against state practices such as arbitrary imprisonment and enforced disappearances in Latin America.


Supplementary Resources:

Coming to Terms with the Past

The Disappeared and Invisible: Revealing the Enduring Impact of Enforced Disappearance on Women

United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice

Whose Justice: Rethinking transitional Justice from the Bottom-up