Archive for December, 2005



2005 Successful Year for ICMP

Friday, December 30th, 2005

The recent request by the State of Louisiana for the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to assist in the identification of Hurricane Katrina victims is the latest of many major developments for the organization in 2005. ICMP is now analyzing bone samples sent from the United States to obtain DNA profiles that will help to identify missing hurricane victims.This humanitarian assistance follows ICMP’s participation in the identification of victims of last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami. In May, ICMP was asked by the Government of Thailand to analyze bone samples of victims and to match the bone DNA profiles with profiles of family members of the missing. So far, ICMP has obtained DNA profiles for 1,634 of the 1,779 bone samples sent from Thailand and has found 691 DNA matches between victims of the tsunami and their family members.

Yet despite these developments in the area of humanitarian identification of disaster victims, ICMP has still produced record numbers of DNA identifications of victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. In just one day this month, ICMP achieved a record 60 DNA matches between the bones of victims and family members of the missing. In the months leading up to the tenth anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica, ICMP made record numbers of identifications so that some 600 Srebrenica victims could be buried at the memorial ceremony in July.

So far, ICMP has collected more than 77,400 blood samples of family members of missing persons in the former Yugoslavia, relating to more than 26,600 missing individuals. Of those, ICMP has found DNA matches for more than 8,800.

ICMP also established a new center in Lukavac, near Tuzla, this year. The Lukavac Re-association center, where separated and commingled skeletal remains are put back together using a streamlined DNA technique, started work in February and has made the process of identifying bodies and returning them to their families much more efficient.

One of the greatest political achievements this year at ICMP was the August inauguration of the Missing Persons Institute (MPI) at the State-level in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The MPI was originally founded by ICMP in 2000, and the August event saw the BiH Council of Ministers become co-founders of the new State-level organization. The MPI is now in the process of taking over the work, responsibilities and staff of the two entity missing persons organizations. No longer will the search for the missing in Bosnia-Herzegovina be divided along ethnic lines.

ICMP brought together more than 100 representatives of associations of missing persons from across the region with Government representatives at its 8th Regional Networking Conference in Novi Sad in November. In Sarajevo in December, ICMP held a powerful International Conference on Models of Transitional Justice, where victim association representatives and experts from around the world compared notes on different approaches to achieving justice following conflict or widespread human rights abuses.

ICMP has also been helping the Government of Iraq to develop ways to address its enormous missing persons problem and has provided training this year at its facilities in BiH to many Iraqi professionals involved in the missing persons issue.

ICMP Helping to Identify Katrina Victims

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is assisting in efforts to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina, analyzing bone samples in order to obtain DNA profiles for identification of the bodies.Under an agreement between ICMP and the State of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, ICMP will test an estimated 260 to 350 bone samples to assist in identification of victims of the August hurricane, which swept across the south eastern United States, severely damaging the New Orleans area and leaving some 1,400 persons confirmed dead.

The DNA analysis is being carried out at the ICMP DNA laboratories in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ICMP was originally established in 1996 to assist in the identification of persons missing as a result of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. It is now also working with the authorities in Iraq on finding ways to address the missing persons issue there and, as a humanitarian measure, is helping to identify victims of last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami.

ICMP developed the system of DNA-led identifications on a mass scale in order to identify thousands of missing in the former Yugoslavia. ICMP was asked to assist in identification of tsunami victims because of its expertise in analyzing bones to obtain DNA profiles.

Obtaining DNA profiles from hard tissue samples - bones and teeth - is technically much more challenging than from sources such as blood and saliva. During its more than five years of working with skeletal remains found in mass graves across the former Yugoslavia, ICMP has developed specialized methods of obtaining DNA profiles from hard tissue samples. When the State of Louisiana sent test bone samples from Katrina victims to DNA laboratories in November, ICMP achieved a 100 per cent success rate in obtaining DNA profiles from them.

ICMP Chairman James Kimsey, speaking from Washington D.C., points out that the ICMP DNA scientists “Normally work with bones from victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, many of which have been buried in grave sites for more than ten years, making it even more complicated to obtain DNA profiles from them. Hurricane Katrina is a relatively recent disaster, and in this case the quantity of DNA is much higher than in older bones, so we are expecting to have a success rate of 100 per cent or close to that with the Katrina victim samples.”

Unlike tsunami cases and those in the former Yugoslavia, where ICMP also matches bone DNA profiles with family members of the missing, ICMP’s involvement in Katrina victim identification efforts will be limited to the profiling of bone samples for DNA. The DNA profiles will be returned to the Louisiana authorities for matching with family members’ DNA profiles there.

ICMP Marks Daily Record of DNA Matches

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) yesterday achieved a daily record of 60 DNA matches between DNA profiles of bone samples taken from remains found in grave sites across the former Yugoslavia and blood samples given by family members of the missing. The previous daily record of matches between ICMP’s victim and family member DNA databases was 54.Yesterday’s record was due in part to a large number of bone samples delivered to ICMP from grave sites in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bone samples were analyzed at the ICMP DNA laboratory in Sarajevo and their DNA profiles were entered into ICMP’s database in Tuzla, in eastern Bosnia, where the matches were found.

DNA experts at ICMP’s Identification Coordination Division in Tuzla hope that today will bring a new record number of matches: by noon today, 41 DNA matches had already been found. A DNA match on the ICMP system indicates the identity of a missing person with a certainty of at least 99.95 per cent.

ICMP has more than 26,500 missing persons recorded on its database of the missing for the former Yugoslavia. That database is built on the basis of family members who come forward and donate blood samples to help identify their missing relatives through DNA. Of those 26,500 missing persons, yesterday’s matches bring the total number of DNA matches found by ICMP to 8,826.

ICMP developed the system of using DNA as the primary tool of identification of large numbers of persons in order to identify the thousands of victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The victims’ remains, in many cases, had been dispersed between several mass graves and were impossible to identify using conventional methods. ICMP’s unique expertise in analyzing bone samples to obtain DNA profiles and in matching victims’ and family members’ DNA profiles has led to its being asked to assist in the identification of victims of last December’s Asian tsunami.

“This record number of matches is more than just a number; to the family members of those missing persons, each match will bring an end to their uncertainty over the fate of their relatives,” said Adnan Rizvic, ICMP’s Deputy Director of Forensic Sciences. “This record also underlines to family members of the missing in the former Yugoslavia that our work on victims from other parts of the world is in no way diminishing our efforts to identify victims from here,” he added.

ICMP recently completed a campaign to collect blood samples from family members of the missing from the former Yugoslavia who are currently living in the United States. More than 1,300 blood samples were collected, and when DNA profiles of those samples are entered into its DNA database, ICMP expects large numbers of matches will also be found early in the New Year.