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Cyprus: Rights experts call for urgent solutions for missing persons tragedy

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A top UN-appointed human rights panel issued an appeal on Tuesday for faster progress towards finding the remains of those who disappeared during deadly violence that split the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, decades ago.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said it was urgent now to accelerate “excavations and the identification and return of the remains of the missing”.

The call from the delegation of independent experts came at the end of an official visit at the invitation of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Fate of loved ones

“While recognizing the considerable achievements, notably due to the longstanding work of the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, the search progress has slowed down in recent years, and significant challenges still remain,” they observed, in a press release from UN rights office, OHCHR.

The panel also noted that after the events of 1963-64 and 1974, which led to the island’s division into communities of Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north, “too many relatives are passing away without knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones”.

Depoliticise the issue

The Working Group emphasised that “it is essential to depoliticise the issue of missing persons in Cyprus and genuinely treat it as a human rights and humanitarian issue”.

They added that more effective results can only be achieved through “an unconditional commitment among all concerned stakeholders to fully cooperate towards its solution and to give the rights of victims and their relatives top priority. Time is running out.”

Underlining the need to leave mistrust and resentment behind, to “finally put an end to the anguish and pain of all families”, the panel said that bicommunal initiatives aimed at reconciliation and social cohesion, need to be given full and unconditional support.

Truth for the victims

The experts also noted some recent dialogue in Cyprus, especially within the civil society community, on the establishment of a truth-telling mechanism, which could clarify the facts and circumstances of the disappearances.

“Virtually all stakeholders we have met have underlined the importance to establish the truth for the victims, the relatives and the society as a whole”, they said, adding a recommendation to all stakeholders to give due consideration to this idea, which could also be conducive to reconciliation.

Truth and reparations paramount

The experts highlighted that “no progress has been made in relation to criminal investigations and prosecutions for human rights violations resulting in individuals going missing, including possible enforced disappearances”.

The panel pointed out that together with ascertaining the truth, reparations and honouring the memory of those who have disappeared, Cyprus needed to add accountability.

In relation to prevention of enforced disappearances, the Working Group expressed concern over information they had received “on pushbacks both at sea and at the Green Line”, the demilitarized zone dividing the two communities, since 1964.

While noting the challenges posed by an increased number of arrivals on the island, they recalled that “international law clearly prohibits the return of any person where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of enforced disappearance.”

The experts further called for the creation of an adequate legal framework as a measure of prevention of enforced disappearances.

The experts who issued the statement were all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UN Working Group on the issue is composed of Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Aua Baldé (Vice Chair), Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevičius Mr. Tae-Ung Bai. The independent experts are neither UN staff, nor do they receive a salary from the Organization. 

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Dozens missing after migrant boat sinks in Aegean Sea

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Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file) © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Dozens of people are said to be missing after a boat of migrants and refugees sank in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday off the Greek island of Karpathos, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Very sad news from the Aegean: Dozens of people are missing after a boat sank off the island of Rhodes this morning (Wednesday),” UNHCR’s office in Greece said in a tweet.

News media reported that the vessel sank at dawn after setting sail from southern Türkiye yesterday, heading for Italy.

29 rescued

A major search and rescue operation is underway,” said UNHCR.

According to news reports, the Greek Coast Guard said that an air and sea rescue operation saved 29 people, all men, from the waters between Rhodes and Crete.

The media also cited the Greek authorities in reporting that the rescued are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The wrecked boat had sailed from Antalya, located on the southern coast of neighbouring Türkiye.

Still searching

News media quoted a Greek Coast Guard press official who said that those rescued affirmed that the voyage began with 80 people on board – so up to 50 are still missing.  

UNHCR confirmed the number of missing.

Deadly route

Since the beginning of the year, UNHCR has said that more than 60 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean.

Aegean Sea crossings between the Greek islands and Turkish coasts are often perilous – taking the lives of many migrants and refugees who travel on makeshift boats with hopes of arriving in Europe.

Since January, 64 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean, and 111 in 2021, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The last shipwreck in the Aegean Sea, which took place on 19 June, took the lives of eight people off the island of Mykonos, according to the IOM.

Every more deadly crossing

While the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe is lower than in 2015, the journeys have become increasingly more deadly.

Throughout last year, the UN counted 3,231 migrants and refugees dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea, and 945 people so far this year.

Successful voyages

At the same time, 70,325 migrants did manage to reach Europe, of which 65,548 individual crossings were reported in the Mediterranean, according to UNHCR.

Since the beginning of the year, Italy received the largest number of arrivals – 43,740, followed by Spain – nearly 17,000, Greece – 7,261, and Cyprus – 2,268.

Last year there were 123,300 arrivals, and in 2020, 95,800. Previously, 123,700 crossed the Mediterranean in 2019, and 141,500 in 2018.

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Nuclear-free Mongolia a ‘symbol of peace in a troubled world’

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Secretary-General António Guterres greets Mongolian peacekeepers which has the largest per capita contribution to peacekeeping operations. UN Mongolia/Rentsendorj Bazarsuk

In a visit to Mongolia on Tuesday, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the UN’s full solidarity for the country, which he described as “a symbol of peace in a troubled world”. 

Mr. Guterres was speaking to journalists at a press conference in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, following a meeting with the Foreign Minister, Battsetseg Batmunkh. 

He stated that in a world with dramatic geopolitical divides, and where conflicts proliferate everywhere, Mongolia – as an area free of nuclear weapons – is an example for other countries to follow.   

No more nuclear weapons 

“We live in a world where for the first time in decades people are thinking that a nuclear war might be possible again,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“There is only one way to be absolutely sure that a nuclear war is impossible, and that way is if there are no nuclear weapons.”

Mongolia is the latest stop on the Secretary-General’s visit to Asia, which began in Japan on Friday. 

Tribute to peacekeepers 

Over the past six decades, the country has become an increasingly important contributor to the UN’s work, he said. 

Mr. Guterres expressed gratitude to Mongolian peacekeepers serving at UN peace operations, “often in the most challenging settings and with courage in the way they protect civilians where unfortunately, there’s sometimes no peace to keep”.  

The Secretary-General had met with Mongolia’s President, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, and other senior officials, earlier on Tuesday. 

They discussed the geopolitical situation in the region, the challenges Mongolia faces as a landlocked country, and national efforts to tackle climate change.  

‘Make peace with nature’ 

Relatedly, Mr. Guterres also joined young people and peacekeepers at a tree-planting ceremony, part of Mongolia’s One Billion Trees campaign to address climate change and desertification. 

“My generation was very stupid. My generation declared war on nature – with climate change with the loss of biodiversity, with pollution,” he said

Mr. Guterres stressed how “nature is striking back” with storms, desertification, floods and disasters, which are making life very difficult for many people around the world and causing many victims.   

“Your generation has an important task to make peace with nature,” he said.  “And what we are going to do today, must be a gesture of that new attitude to make peace with nature.” 

The Secretary-General also visited a nomadic family in Mongolia and learned about their way of life. 

He also met a group of beneficiaries from UN projects, including women entrepreneurs and youth activists.   

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Substantial progress made in Vienna; sides focusing on Safeguards

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image source: Tehran Times

The third day of talks between experts from Iran and the EU centered around technical and legal matters regarding the Safeguards agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Delegates from Iran, the EU and the U.S. resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday after nearly a five-month hiatus. This round of talks started on Thursday without the presence of nuclear negotiators from the European trio – Germany, France and Britain. Only experts from these three countries have attended the negotiations.  

Iran believes that any agreement on restoring the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is dependent on putting an end to unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s past nuclear program. Iran insists that these questions had already been resolved within the PMD, when the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.

According to reports, substantial progress has been made in bringing the views of Iran and the U.S. closer together during the last three days. However, in Tehran’s view nothing is resolved until everything is settled.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), also confirmed on Saturday that talks are mainly focused on Safeguards issues.

“We are now negotiating,” Kamalvandi said of the talks between Iran’s nuclear experts with Mora.

On the atmosphere of the talks, he said, “It is not bad.”

Mohammad Marandi, a senior expert on nuclear issues, also told Al-Mayadeen TV that “progresses” have been made in Vienna, but one should be “cautious”. He argued the success of talks is 50 percent. Marandi said the differences remain only between Iran and the United States.

He added, “We have heard from certain European sources that the Americans have revived their views on certain issues.”

The Russian chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, also tweeted that there is “no unresolvable issue” on the table in the Vienna talks.

Source: Tehran Times

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