The International Commission on Missing Persons was established at the initiative of U.S. President Clinton in 1996 at the G-7 Summit in Lyon, France. Its primary role is to ensure the cooperation of governments in locating and identifying those who have disappeared during armed conflict or as a result of human rights violations. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.
The organization was established to support the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ICMP is currently headquartered in Sarajevo. In addition to its work in the countries of former Yugoslavia, ICMP is now actively involved in helping governments and other institutions in various parts of the world address social and political issues related to missing persons and establish effective identification systems in the wake of conflict or natural disaster.
Since November 2001, ICMP has led the way in using DNA as a first step in the identification of large numbers of persons missing from armed conflict. ICMP has developed a database of 89,086 relatives of 29,109 missing people, and more than 36,000 bone samples taken from mortal remains exhumed from clandestine graves in the countries of former Yugoslavia. By matching DNA from blood and bone samples, ICMP has been able to identify 16,289 people who were missing from the conflicts and whose mortal remains were found in hidden graves.
The effective use of DNA as a means of mass identification has transformed ICMP from a small organization operating on an essentially political level into the biggest identification program in the world. ICMP currently operates the world’s largest high-throughput DNA human identification facility.
After the Asian tsunami in December 2004, ICMP played a leading role in efforts to identify thousands of victims in Thailand and the Maldives. ICMP has also assisted in identifying the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States. ICMP is currently assisting the Government of Iraq in exploring ways to address the issue of decades of large-scale disappearances and has assisted Kuwait in identifying victims of Iraq’s 1990’s occupation. Additionally, ICMP is a participant in a Government-sponsored initiative in Chile aimed at establishing a legal and technical process to identify the remains of people who went missing during the Pinochet regime.
ICMP was first chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance from 1996 to 1997, then by U.S. Senator Bob Dole from 1997 to 2001, and by James V. Kimsey, philanthropist and Founding CEO and Chairman Emeritus of America Online, from 2001 to 2011. ICMP’s current Chairman is Ambassador Thomas Miller.