Missing Persons: from Trauma to Effective Action

Queen Noor

By Her Majesty Queen Noor

Across the world from central America to southeast Asia people are on the move, desperately seeking to escape violence and poverty, while in large parts of the Middle East and Central Africa full-scale conflict is causing untold misery to millions.

We are all too familiar, now, with images of mass graves and of desperate families struggling to cross dangerous seas and inhospitable terrain. This is what we can see. There are tens of thousands who perish, whose bodies are never identified, whose deaths are never recorded – multiple tragedies that are not seen. Aid agencies have been warning for months, for example, that fatality rates among those trying to cross the Mediterranean may be just a fraction of the overall death rate, since thousands disappear in the Sahara desert before they reach the Libyan transit ports.

The total number…

Regional Coordination of Families of the Missing from the Former Yugoslavia and ICMP agree that the Search for the Missing Must Continue

 

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Regional Coordination of Families of the Missing from the Former Yugoslavia (RCC) and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) hosted a two day conference in Sarajevo, BIH, on 14 and 15 June to mark ICMP’s 20 year anniversary. The participants included representatives from the Regional Coordination of Families of the Missing from the Former Yugoslavia, members of Family Associations from the region, the EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, representatives from the Prosecutor’s Office, the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, presidents and chairpersons of Government Commissions on Missing persons from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, representatives of NGOs and other individuals involved in the process of transitional justice and the issue of missing persons, and ICMP Director General and the Head of ICMP’s Western Balkans Program. The conference included panel and roundtable discussions and Questions and Answers sessions…

DNA-Led Human Identification

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ICMP Science and Technology Director Dr Thomas Parsons reviews the evolution of DNA-led human identification techniques in the course of the last 20 years.

DNA testing for human identification is today used in forensic laboratories around the world, and may be familiar to many people through popular TV detective shows.  However, there was nothing routine about the situation in 1999  when ICMP began to consider the use of DNA identification to help identify some of the 40,000 people missing as a result of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. At that time, it was not known if DNA testing could be applied on a massive scale in such a context.

When ICMP decided to attempt a DNA approach, DNA testing from degraded human bones was almost exclusively the domain of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing.  mtDNA is present in thousands of copies per cell, so…

Ten Lessons from 20 Years Of Searching for the Missing

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ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger sums up essential elements of a successful missing persons process, gleaned from ICMP’s unique mandate and experience.

Twenty years ago at the end of June, the G-7 leaders meeting in Lyon discussed the issue of more than 40,000 people who were missing from the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. The leaders understood that such a large number of missing persons undermined prospects for lasting peace.

They also understood that accounting for the missing isn’t in the first instance a humanitarian exercise, but an exercise in upholding the rule of law.

US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, proposed the creation of an international blue ribbon commission. On 29 June 1996, the White House released a statement by President Clinton announcing the establishment of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Today, more than 70 percent of the 40,000 persons missing in the Western Balkans…

ICMP’s Archaeology and Anthropology Division team efforts over the last two decades in the Western Balkans and Iraq

A forensic expert of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) works on trying to identify the remains of a victim of the Srebrenica massacre, at the ICMP centre near Tuzla

Ian Hanson describes the role of ICMP’s archaeology and anthropology teams in locating and excavating clandestine graves.

Since 1996, ICMP has helped Bosnia and Herzegovina develop institutional and technical capacity to address the issue of missing persons in a non-discriminatory manner, incorporating international standards. The BIH Law on Missing Persons, enacted in 2004, was the first such piece of legislation in a post-conflict country related to missing persons anywhere in the world. It codifies the “right to the truth regarding the fate of missing relatives,” as well as a right to be informed about investigation efforts. It established the Missing Persons Institute (MPI) as an institution of the State and with a…

127 Srebrenica Victims Buried at the Memorial in Potočari

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After 21 years, the remains of an additional 127 victims of the Srebrenica massacre were laid to rest in Potočari today. Victims’ family members and friends gathered to pay their respects and bury their loved ones whose remains have been found in mass graves and were identified with the help of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

The estimated number of persons missing as a result of the fall of the Srebrenica and Žepa UN Safe Areas in July 1995 is approximately 8,000. By analyzing DNA profiles extracted from prost-mortem samples of exhumed remains and matching them to the DNA profiles obtained from ante-mortem samples, voluntarily provided by relatives of the missing, ICMP has so far assisted in revealing the identity of 6,925 persons missing from the July 1995 fall of Srebrenica. The total number of those accounted for (by traditional, as…

Profiles of the Missing

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At an event organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons in The Hague today, family members of missing persons from around the world described how they joined forces with others who had suffered the same trauma, in order to seek the truth about the fate of their loved ones.

“It is complex to live with ambiguous loss,” said Ram Kumar Bhandari from Nepal, whose father was arrested by police in December 2001 and has not been seen since. “It’s now been 15 years: this is a long, long wait.”

Ram, who has taken the case of his father’s disappearance through the courts, described how he suffered harassment when he sought legal redress. “We are fighting against injustice, to repair society: we are not following a path to revenge. We see the perpetrators posing in the media and leading the issues form the government…

ICMP Opens Headquarters in The Hague

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The ICMP Board of Commissioners held its 18th meeting today, in The Hague. The Commissioners, together with ICMP’s directors, discussed ICMP’s evolving role in addressing the global challenge of missing persons and examined ways of securing sustainable funding that will allow ICMP to carry out its mandate wherever it is needed in the world.

The ICMP Board of Commissioners consists of Ambassador (Ret) Miller, Her Majesty Queen Noor, Former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk, former OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, UK Minister of State for Care and Support Alistair Burt, and former Thai Foreign Minister and Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Surin Pitsuwan. Dr Surin, who joined the ICMP Board of Commissioners in June, was not present at today’s meeting.

On Thursday evening, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, Mayor of The…

ICC Office of the Prosecutor and the International Commission on Missing Persons Sign Memorandum of Understanding

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Today, 7 July 2016, at the conclusion of a visit by the Commissioners of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms Fatou Bensouda, and ICMP Chairman Thomas Miller signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen cooperation.

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Ambassador Miller was accompanied by ICMP Commissioners Her Majesty Queen Noor; former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, Former Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, and UK Minister of State for Care and Support Alistair Burt, as well as ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger.  The meeting took place at the Seat of the Court in The Hague.

“We have a shared commitment to give a voice to the victims of mass atrocities through our respective work and this MoU marks an important step forward in the long-standing partnership between the ICC and ICMP,” said…

ICMP Ready to Help Iraqi Authorities Identify Victims of Baghdad Bombing

The death of 250 people in Sunday’s bomb attack in Baghdad brings yet more grief to a population already traumatized by atrocity and inhumanity, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today. She expressed solidarity with the survivors of this attack and their families.

Taking appropriate steps to identify the dead and the missing is a legal responsibility of governments around the world, including the Government of Iraq, Bomberger said. Since ICMP began working in Iraq in 2003, it has trained more than 550 Iraqi professionals in locating, securing, excavating and documenting mass graves and in DNA extraction. It has also worked with families of the missing to help them assert their right to the truth, to justice and to reparation.

“The key task today is to ensure that the chain of responsibility is operating in what are clearly very challenging circumstances,” Bomberger said. “This awful…