Statement delivered by the three CMP Members
at the 18 February 2015 Press Conference
1. Introduction: [Mr. Nestoras Nestoros]
Over recent days, many press items have been published about the alleged
mis-identification of remains that had been returned to a Greek Cypriot family by the CMP. In this context a number issues have become entangled in public discussion. Through today’s press conference we would like to separate these issues and explain what is relevant and what is not.
2. CMP’s scientific standards: [Ms. Gülden Plümer Küçük]
When the Project on the Exhumation, Identification and Return of Remains launched in 2006, both communities and the United Nations wanted to ensure that the CMP’s work was in line with the highest international standards. For this reason, the CMP Members asked the world’s leading forensic organization specialized in the search and identification of missing persons, the Argentine Forensic Anthropological Team (EAAF) to help set up the CMP’s operations. Over the next 3 years EAAF scientists established the CMP’s archaeological teams and set up the anthropological laboratory that is the site of our press conference today. At the same time, more than 40 young Cypriot archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists were hired and trained by the EAAF in the highly specialized area of identification of missing persons. Leading experts from all over the world were brought to Cyprus to provide training in specific areas. By 2010, it had become apparent that the CMPs Cypriot scientists were well positioned to operate the CMP laboratory without the presence of EAAF. Since then, the EAAF conducts yearly scientific audits of the CMP laboratory in order to confirm compliance with international standards. In its last review, in March 2014, the EAAF assessed, that (I quote):
a. “The CMP project on exhumation and identification of cases involving missing persons has been extremely successful after nine years of implementation, mainly when it is compared with other similar processes worldwide.”
b. “The analyses, conducted following international standards, are of good quality and the reconciliation of the identifications made has proved to be reliable.”
Today, the CMP is widely regarded as one of the best laboratories specialized in the identification of missing persons. For the past two years the CMP has been training 17 forensic scientists at the request of the Government of Iraq. Other countries from the regions have recently approached the CMP to study our procedures.
3. Genetic laboratories: [Ms. Gülden Plümer Küçük]
At the same time, the CMP has worked with different genetic laboratories to extract DNA from the remains found by our archaeological teams and to match this against the profiles of thousands of relatives of missing persons. Initially, this was done here in Cyprus but in 2012 the CMP decided to contract an American laboratory based in Bosnia run by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). At the time, no other laboratory in the world had successfully handled a higher number of missing persons cases. This change of laboratory was key in enabling the CMP to increase the amount of identifications from 21 in 2012 to 124 in 2013. Since August 2014, following a tender process conducted by the UNDP based on strict scientific and financial criteria, the CMP has been working with BODE technologies of Virginia, USA. BODE is one of the leading forensic laboratories in the world, meets FBI quality standards and has very considerable experience in the identification of remains.
4. The case at hand: [Mr. Paul-Henri Arni]
I would like to begin by expressing our sympathy to the Phori family and assure them of our full support.
The case that has been at the center of discussion over recent days is among the CMP’s most complex cases. It concerns the remains of an individual that were found among those of 37 others found in one well. Our archaeologists determined that most of the remains originally buried at the site had been removed, as has been the case in other locations. What was left was a large number of small, isolated comingled remains - that is mixed up remains - which our scientists have tried to associate to separate individuals in painstaking work over the past four years. In the case at hand, several larger bones, most notably a skull, were associated with a number of very small bones. Following well established international practice in the identification of human remains, the CMP tested the larger skeletal elements, 9 in total, for DNA. The smaller ones were associated based on anthropological analysis. Testing all bones for DNA would exceed the CMP’s financial means, and, more importantly, in the case of small bones, would require their destruction, leaving nothing or only small fragments that could be returned to families.
The family of the missing person identified by us challenged our identification, based on characteristics of the teeth, and opted to seek a retesting of the remains using DNA. While we have not received any of the results, it appears that the analysis undertaken on behalf of the family, confirmed that all nine larger bones that the CMP had identified on the basis of DNA, had been identified correctly. This allows us to draw two very important conclusions:
Firstly, the CMP identified the right person. In this case, as in the 567 other cases of missing persons identified by the CMP, we can certify that the right person was identified.
Secondly, the work of the DNA laboratory is not an issue in this case. If anything, the family’s retesting has confirmed that our laboratory, in this case the ICMP in Sarajevo, worked well. We therefore would like to stress that the discussion about bringing the CMP’s genetic work back to Cyprus has no place in the context of this case. Those who pretend otherwise are misleading the public.
The relevant question in this case is whether our anthropologists, outside of the DNA process, correctly associated a number of very small bones to the individual in question. To assess this, we need access to the results obtained by the family. Only by comparing their and our scientific results will we be able to determine what happened. Therefore, we have formally written to the family yesterday to ask them to authorise the laboratory that carried out testing on their behalf to share their full analyses and results with us.
5. Independent Review: [Mr. Paul-Henri Arni]
All of us, the three Members and the more than 60 scientists working for the CMP, know that nothing is more critical to our work than the trust of the more than 2000 families of missing persons that our results reflect the very best in international scientific practice. For this reason, we have approached the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide us with a leading independent expert. This expert will participate in the review of the case and will formulate independent conclusions that will be made public. The expert will also be asked to formulate suggestions to strengthen the CMP’s processes if and where appropriate.
6. Conclusion: [Mr. Nestoras Nestoros]
In closing, I would like to reiterate the importance of the CMP as the only mechanism that can bring closure to the many families of missing persons on both sides of the Island. The CMP has made remarkable progress in alleviating the suffering of hundreds of families over the past eight years and it is critical that it continues to do so as the remains of more than 1000 persons have yet to be found.