Archive for October, 2004

DNA Profiles Generated on Over 10,000 Missing Individuals

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) announced Wednesday it had passed a major milestone in identifying persons missing from the wars in the former Yugoslavia. ICMP has generated DNA profiles from bone samples for over 10,000 individuals, representing about one third of all the war missing across the region.”This is a major achievement, and unique in the history of identification of missing persons and of forensic science,” explained Adnan Rizvić, Deputy Director of ICMP’s Forensic Sciences Department. ” When we started working with DNA - just two years ago - to identify missing persons from the war, people told us it would never be feasible to use DNA on such a large scale, or that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to do what we have now done - for a fraction of that cost,” he said.

The ICMP has obtained DNA profiles on some 12,000 bone samples, but the organization found that often more than one bone sample had come from the same individual. “This is a major problem in trying to identify remains from mass graves, especially from secondary mass graves, where bodies were buried and then reburied as the perpetrators tried to hide evidence of massacres,” said Mark Skinner, Director of the Forensic Sciences Department. “Unfortunately, as a result, the remains have become commingled,” he added.

Identifying the DNA profiles of bone samples is only half of the equation. ICMP has collected nearly 64,000 blood samples from family members, whose DNA profiles are matched against those from the bone samples. Because only identical twins have identical DNA profiles, blood samples from several family members make it easier to find positive DNA matches. The 64,000 blood samples that ICMP has collected so far represent nearly 25,000 missing persons, and ICMP encourages more family members to give blood samples so more individuals can be identified.

ICMP has so far issued DNA “matching reports” for almost 6,000 missing individuals. A DNA matching report means the probability of a bone sample belonging to a missing family member is at least 99.95 per cent. ICMP forwards these matching reports to pathologists who make final, official, identifications. Court pathologists combine the DNA matches with ante-mortem information, such as dental records, medical history and clothing to make their final identifications.

“DNA matching reports make it so much easier for the pathologists to identify remains,” said Mark Skinner. “For Srebrenica cases, for example,” he added, “during the first five years of investigations using traditional pathology identification techniques, just 151 final identifications were made. Now, for the Srebrenica cases alone, there are 500 DNA-led identifications every year.”

ICMP is the only organization in the world that uses DNA profiles on a mass scale to help identify missing persons.

Family Members Feel They Are Not Being Heard In Truth and Reconciliation Process

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

Family members of the missing and victims’ groups feel it is still too early to convene a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia Herzegovina, they told participants at a two-day conference on “Mechanisms for Truth Seeking and Documentation,” organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to encourage an exchange of views on possible steps towards reconciliation.”The family members and other participants at the conference clearly agreed that the first priority should be to clarify the fate of the missing, to exhume the remains and to identify them and give them a decent burial,” said Asta Zinbo, ICMP’s Director of Civil Society Initiatives Program.

ICMP organized the conference so that families associations and victims groups could be better informed about the truth and reconciliation process and so they could share their views and opinions. “Our goal was to create an opportunity for these groups talk to each other and for them to be able to form their own conclusions about what they think is needed,” Zinbo added.

Representatives of victims groups and Associations of Families of Missing Persons said the ICMP conference had given them an important opportunity and that they should have more input in the truth and reconciliation process. Agreeing that such a process was important and that to have a healthy future a society must face up to the past, participants noted that there should be more community-level efforts.

Also addressing the conference, Jakob Finci of the Association of Citizens for Truth and Reconciliation in BiH said he hoped a law to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would soon be adopted, but that it should be “An expression of citizens and the parliamentary assembly about what should be done to prevent these conflicts from happening again. To learn how to swim we must jump into the water.”

Other participants included members of the Republika Srpska Government Commission For Investigation of the Events in and Around Srebrenica Between 10th and 19th July 1995; Natask Kandic of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade; and Suzanne Bardgett, project Director of the British Imperial War Museum’s Potocari “Memorial Room” project.

The Conference was organized as part of the ICMP project “Approaches to Transitional Justice in the former Yugoslavia: Creating Links with Associations of Families of Missing Persons.” With financial support from the Swiss Government, the project aims to promote dialogue between survivors groups and other NGOs, decision makers and the public. It also aims to help groups work together to make policy recommendations to state institutions and other decision makers.