Archive for December, 2005

1,345 Family Members Donate Blood Samples in US Campaign

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

In hotel conference rooms in Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, late Wednesday evening, blood collection teams from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) completed their North American drive to collect samples from family members of persons missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.The blood samples - just four small drops of blood collected on absorbent cards - will be analyzed to find the DNA profiles of the relatives for comparison with DNA profiles of remains found in mass graves across the former Yugoslavia in order to identify the missing. A DNA match within the ICMP system indicates identity with a certainty of at least 99.95 per cent.

During their two-week blood collection drive, ICMP teams visited 12 states in the eastern United States and the mid-west, states selected because the highest concentrations of families of persons missing from the former Yugoslavia are currently living there. Many family members traveled for hours to reach the collection points, and family members living in Canada also traveled south to donate blood samples. A total of 1,345 family members donated blood samples during the campaign. The first results are expected by early in the New Year.

“For a variety of reasons, there are many family members of the missing who are not able to travel back to the former Yugoslavia, where we would normally collect blood samples from them,” said Edin Jasaragic, Head of ICMP’s Identification Coordination Division and blood collection team-leader, speaking from Dallas. “We had an extremely positive response to this drive. Although family members living here have in many cases started new lives, it is still very important for them to know what happened to their missing loved-ones,” he said.

ICMP was established in 1996 to help to address the missing persons issue in the former Yugoslavia following the recent conflicts there. In the late 1990s, faced with the task of identifying thousands of remains, ICMP scientists developed a system to identify large numbers of persons using DNA as the first tool in the identification process, rather than to confirm or exclude a “presumptive” identification that had been made using more traditional means. This revolutionary step has led to DNA matches for 8,723 individuals in the former Yugoslavia, to date, with new DNA matches being found daily. Approximately 20,000 persons are still unaccounted for in the region. Some of those have already been exhumed from grave sites and await DNA matches with family members and many more remain in mass graves, which are still being discovered and exhumed.

The ICMP blood collection teams visited Syracuse, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Erie, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Des Moines, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and St. Louis, Missouri, as well as Dallas and Atlanta.

ICMP’s unique expertise in extracting DNA profiles from bones and teeth, many of which have been buried for more than ten years, and in matching those profiles to reference DNA samples from family members, has also led to its participation in the identification of victims of last December’s Asian tsunami.

Participation of Survivors and Families of Victims is Key for Justice

Saturday, December 10th, 2005

Experts on transitional justice and representatives of victims of gross human rights violations from the former Yugoslavia and across the world agreed conclusively today that civil society groups play an indispensable role providing justice for victims.The conclusions came on the final day of a three-day conference on International Models of Transitional Justice in Sarajevo, from December 8 - 10, organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and brining together experts and victims representatives from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The conference was timed so that the concluding day would take place on December 10, the International Day of Human Rights.

While conflicts and gross violations of human rights around the world differed in many ways, participants at the conference shared their experiences and found much in common. “The pain of all the victims is something they share, suffering is a common experience, and the pain of family members is the same,” said Tajib Pasic of the Union of Bosniak Associations of Captured and Missing Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the conclusion of the conference.

“It is clear that victims and their families have so much in common,” said Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP Chief of Staff, “And although there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to providing justice for victims, the sharing of experiences here has given everyone food for thought in considering mechanisms for transitional justice. Solidarity between representatives of victims is a key for moving forward the process of justice.”

Participants agreed it was important to establish mechanisms to find the truth about conflicts and gross violations of human rights, but insisted that victims’ groups and representatives of families of victims must be consulted in all aspects of the establishment and composition of any truth-seeking body.

Among other conclusions agreed to at the conference was a recommendation that reparations, including financial compensation, should be paid to victims and their families for violations of rights, and that governments should be responsible for finding the means to compensate victims. Participants also called for measures to ensure that persons who had been implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights should be prevented from holding public positions. They also supported the proposed United Nations International Convention For the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearances.

“We must work towards transforming situations of impunity, cruelty and inhumanity to justice, truth and tolerance,” said Patricio Rice of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared. “We have learned so much from the family members here and we have seen their dignity, their tremendous efforts to overcome all obstacles, their soul searching, and their courage in working together. All of these efforts contribute to achieving the goal that such crimes must never happen again.”

All elements of transitional justice must be included

Friday, December 9th, 2005

There must be a combination of approaches to providing the justice that is essential for societies in transition from periods of conflict, violence or human rights abuses, agreed participants at a conference on International Models of Transitional Justice organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) today in Sarajevo. The second day of the three-day conference focused on key elements of transitional justice - criminal justice, truth seeking, reparation and institutional reform - and the application of these justice mechanisms in the former Yugoslavia.

“Criminal justice has not to date fulfilled all the requisite needs of societies in transitions,” said ICMP Government Relations Director Jeffrey Buenger at the conference. “Victims have a right to know the truth, a right to justice and right to reparations.”

Criminal justice in the form of prosecutions of indicted war criminals was an important part of the overall process, agreed conference participants, but it must be accompanied by other forms of transitional justice. Because of the large number of war crimes cases, judicial institutions at all levels, from international tribunals to State and local courts must be involved in prosecuting them, experts said. Other problems highlighted in the criminal justice system, especially in cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), were the capacity of local courts, the length of time it took to arrest and prosecute indicted war criminals and the lack of witness protection. Many participants pointed to the fact that these problems often deprived victims of justice.

“Criminal justice is a pre-requisite for the rehabilitation of a society that operates on respecting the human rights of all individuals,” said Beriz Belkic, member of the BiH Parliament and the only politician present at the conference. He noted that an important obstacle to progress is distrust among ethnic groups where persons accused of war crimes were often perceived as war heroes by members of their own ethnic groups.

Non-judicial truth seeking mechanisms, or truth commissions, have been successful in some transitional societies and the idea of such commissions was generally accepted by conference participants. “Truth-seeking is also liberty-seeking,” said Mirsad Tokaca of the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo, “The worst thing is to be a hostage of our own tragedy, because then we cannot see the tragedy suffered by those around us. We have to be able to see beyond all the myths.” All participants agreed that it was essential in any truth-seeking process to include all levels of society, especially non-governmental organizations and victims’ groups.Some participants said that although in many cases establishing the truth was more important to them than financial reparations, they all agreed on the need to enable victims to access their rights. The State must fulfill their responsibility for addressing social and economic rights of victims, many of whom were in desperate circumstances, in order to restore their dignity.

The International Models of Transitional Justice Conference is part of a series of events in ICMP’s Paths to Transitional Justice project, which is supported by the Swiss Embassy in BiH.