At the end of November the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) provided a final report to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), detailing the outcome of their two-year partnership to establish an effective DNA identification system to resolve the fate of persons who went missing during the conflicts in the years 1963-1964 and 1974 in Cyprus.
The collaboration between ICMP and the Cyprus CMP was established to provide for DNA testing from unidentified skeletal remains, and to perform advanced DNA matching between the resulting new DNA profiles and the DNA profiles of family members of the missing. The family reference DNA database to be used for comparison was provided in anonymous form from samples that had previously been collected and tested in Cyprus. The computerized DNA family matching procedure was done at ICMP in a blind manner, fostering both objectivity and the principle of personal data protection.
ICMP has developed the world’s largest missing persons DNA identification system, based on an internationally accredited DNA laboratory and a forensic quality assurance program that has supported the identification of over 19,000 missing persons globally. Guided by that experience, the Cyprus CMP and ICMP worked together to define the operating mechanisms for the integration of high-certainty DNA Match Reports into the overall identification process that spans multiple forensic disciplines. Secure data exchange mechanisms were established, and, most importantly, effective communication channels were established between ICMP and the Cyprus CMP scientists and case managers to permit the investigatory and quality assurance exchanges required to resolve numerous cases under a wide variety of circumstances.
Cyprus CMP anthropologists carefully examine cases of unidentified human remains that their archaeology teams have recovered, and, aided by ICMP’s bone sampling protocols that reflect the types of samples most likely to give good DNA results, systematically select samples for DNA testing. The goal is to identify the individuals, and to separate and/or re-associate different individuals in sometimes extremely complex assemblages of commingled and fragmented mortal remains. Through these submissions, ICMP was able to obtain highly discriminating nuclear DNA profiles from over 1,500 samples. From these, ICMP generated more than 1,300 DNA Match Reports indicating identity and/or individual re-association between different human remains cases. To date, the Cyprus CMP identification authorities have used ICMP’s DNA match reports to officially identify 292 individuals, representing almost half of the total number of identifications since the process began in 2007 in Cyprus.
Now with the conclusion of the cooperation agreement between Cyprus CMP and ICMP, ICMP has returned to the CMP the complete database of DNA profiles, including a revised family reference DNA database that has been updated and enhanced in the course of database review and DNA matching.
The effective identification system and high quality DNA databases now set in place for Cyprus reflect thousands of person-hours of inter-institutional coordination and evaluation of individual cases, beyond those required for the simple generation of DNA profiles. The result is a greatly enhanced DNA database and overall identification system whose utility will carry forward in the ongoing efforts of the CMP to resolve cases of the missing, enabling the use of commercial or other DNA laboratories to provide profiles and conduct matching.
“ICMP’s cooperation with the CMP has been based on complementary sets of expertise, and the capacity to develop and move forward with an operating method tailored to the particular requirements of the search for the missing in Cyprus,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today, as ICMP’s Final Report on the joint exercise was presented to the CMP.
“Over the past two years, ICMP’s expertise and provision of DNA extraction and matching assistance have been an important factor in enabling the CMP to achieve its best ever results,” said Paul-Henri Arni, the UN member of the tripartite CMP.
The CMP was established in 1981 by an agreement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities with the backing of the United Nations to determine the fate of persons reported missing in inter-communal fighting in the 1960s, and as a result of the events of 1974. A total of 493 Turkish Cypriots and 1,508 Greek Cypriots were officially reported as missing to the CMP by both communities.
The CMP has created a comprehensive, agreed list of missing persons, and works to recover and identify the missing and return mortal remains to the relatives of the missing.
ICMP was created at the initiative of US President Bill Clinton in 1996 at the G-7 Summit in Lyon, France. The mandate of the organization is to secure the co-operation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, human rights abuses, disasters, organized violence and other causes and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.