ICMP Marks Ten Year Anniversary

Article posted on June 29, 2006

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) marks its tenth anniversary today. During its first ten years, ICMP has developed a unique, comprehensive and effective system to address missing persons issues around the world, combining political experience with cutting edge scientific expertise and proficiency in building civil society structures.

To commemorate the ten-year anniversary, a special event was held in Washington D.C. on June 27th and was hosted by ICMP’s Commissioners, James Kimsey (ICMP Chairman and founder of AOL), Her Majesty Queen Noor, Michael Portillo (former UK Secretary of Defence), Willem Kok (former Prime Minister of The Netherlands) and Rolf Ekeus (OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities). ICMP began events to mark the anniversary in April, with a roundtable on mechanisms for pursuing justice and human rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina and will continue with conferences, meetings, exhibitions and receptions during the coming months.

“ICMP’s work embodies the efforts of society to address the issue of persons missing as a consequence of conflicts and crimes against humanity, for the sake of truth and justice. Society has understood that mass graves are like political minefields, whether they exist in the Former Yugoslavia, South America, Iraq, or South East Asia. For post conflict societies the ability to move forward depends on overcoming the fears of the past,” said the Chairman of the ICMP, Mr. Kimsey. “During our first ten years, we have resolved the fate of more than ten thousand missing persons, helping to bring a sense of closure for their families.”

ICMP was established in the aftermath of the brutal conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the mid-1990s, where an estimated 40,000 persons had gone missing. World leaders at the G7 Summit in Lyon, France, in 1996, determined that an international commission should be set up to address the issue and ICMP was formally established on June 29, 1996. “We are establishing an international commission on the missing… to resolve the cases of missing persons, to reduce the anguish of their families, and lessen the tension between parties”, noted former US President Bill Clinton at the time.

In the late 1990’s, faced with the monumental task of identifying thousands of remains from mass graves, ICMP pioneered the use of DNA as a primary tool of identification. ICMP developed databases of DNA profiles of victims, from bones found in mass graves, and of family members, from donated blood samples; sophisticated software was also developed to compare the two databases.

Although experts at the time said using DNA to identify large numbers of persons was impossible, the ICMP system has proved enormously successful. Since the first “blind” DNA match was achieved on the ICMP system, identifying a 15 year-old boy missing from Srebrenica, ICMP has found DNA matches for almost 10,000 missing persons from the former Yugoslavia, and for nearly 1,000 victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

In the former Yugoslavia, ICMP has collected blood samples from more than 80,000 family members of the missing, related to 27,000 missing individuals.

ICMP has also successfully engaged governments in the process of resolving the fate of the missing, and helped them to develop effective policies to address the issue. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, ICMP has assisted in the drafting of the world’s first Law on Missing Persons, which obliges the Government to release information on the locations of mass graves. The Law safeguards the right of families to know the fate of a missing loved one and asserts their right to effective domestic remedies.

ICMP encourages civil society initiatives for effective engagement of family members of the missing in the representation of their interests. ICMP helps more than 100 associations of families of the missing to build organizational capacity to raise awareness, disseminate results and to articulate their concerns effectively.