Displacement, disappearances, and long-standing division have marked Cyprus for decades. ICTJ carried out a two year program to facilitate discussion about the past to help Cyprus work towards a stable, rights-respecting and democratic future.

Black and white image of widows and mothers of the missing in Cyprus.

Widows and mothers of the missing in Cyprus. (George Georgiou/Panos Pictures)



From 1963 to 1974, Cyprus experienced ongoing conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. A 1974 coup d’état by the Greek military and supported by Greek Cypriot paramilitaries spurred a Turkish intervention, which led to ethnic cleansing and population exchange. The result is an effective partition between what is now the Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south.

Thousands of people died or disappeared during the conflict: 502 Turkish Cypriots and 1,493 Greek Cypriots were reported missing by their families. More than two hundred thousand were displaced from their homes over the course of the conflict.

A series of diplomatic initiatives in 1974 established a ceasefire but failed to reconcile the two factions. In 1983 the Turkish Cypriots declared the creation of the politically separate Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.

In 1981, the UN established the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), charged with investigating all cases of missing persons related to the conflict. As of February 2011, the CMP has retrieved the remains of more than 760 individuals and identified and returned remains of 263 persons to their families.

Between 1975 and 2003, movement between the two sides was almost entirely forbidden, and a generation grew up without knowledge of the other community. Since 2003, a limited number of checkpoints opened, allowing people to have access to the whole island and causing a major shift in the context of the conflict.

Communication between the communities is no longer regulated by officials and there is more space for dialogue and relationship-building. This has also influenced the space for truth-seeking and reconciliation initiatives, which have been steadily increasing. At the same time, tension is also growing as the conflict remains unresolved; legal cases for restitution or compensation for internally displaced have increased significantly, and families of missing people continue to press for ways to find out what happened to their loved ones.

Since February 2008 there have been renewed efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, with the launching of peace talks between the leaders of both communities.

ICTJ's Role

ICTJ has worked in in Cyprus from March 2009, with the goal of helping civil society and victims’ groups address the island’s violent past, and connect with communities in other countries who have undergone similar transitions.

Through workshops, discussions, film screenings and working groups, ICTJ has sought to pave the way for reconciliation between the two communities and accountability for the past.

  • Shared experiences: ICTJ connected victims’ groups in Cyprus to other civil society organizations in countries that have had similar experiences, including LebanonSouth Africa and the former Yugoslavia.
  • Truth-telling: ICTJ worked with civil society organizations, local community leaders and politicians. We held several workshops and public talks on truth-telling, memorialization, and documentation, and created a working group to provide a forum in which members of both communities could discuss concrete approaches to implement truth-telling mechanisms.
  • Documentation: ICTJ consulted and provided technical assistance on streamlining documentation and preservation of records for future efforts to address the past.
  • Education: In partnership with The Elders and the Association for Historical Dialogue & Research (AHDR), ICTJ is finalizing development of educational materials on the missing persons issue to accompany the documentary Digging the Past in Search of the Future produced by the Elders.
  • Building capacity: Over the course of the principal two-year project, our local consultants gained expertise on transitional justice and comparative knowledge that will continue to be a resource for Cyprus.

The ICTJ Cyprus Program was made possible through funding from the European Union (EU), March 2009 – April 2011.