Archive for ????, 2005

ICMP Exploring Improved Methods for Locating Mass Graves

????????, ???? 31st, 2005

Joint teams of satellite imagery experts, geology experts and forensic archaeologists from the United Kingdom and the United States have completed a research visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina to investigate new methods of locating and mapping mass graves. The experts from Britain’s University of Birmingham and Applied Analysis Incorporated (AAI), a US private company specializing in processing satellite images, were part of a multi-disciplinary project organized and implemented by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). The initial research phase of the project was completed on Monday, while further analyses and cost-benefit estimates will be forthcoming.One of the most difficult aspects of finding and identifying victims of conflict or human rights abuses is often locating the graves, which have frequently been hidden by the perpetrators. In many cases in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the bodies have also been moved from one location to another in order to cover-up evidence of the crime. Most mass graves found in Bosnia-Herzegovina so far have been located based on information supplied by survivors or other witnesses.

Satellite imagery and spectral analysis, which measures changes in the composition of the surface of the ground, have recently been used to locate mass graves in Iraq. This multi-disciplinary ICMP project seeks to improve and expand upon such techniques through means such as plant and vegetation analysis, testing of the conductivity of soil and computer mapping analysis. Although spectral analysis is more effective in the desert environment of Iraq, in countries with more vegetation, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, satellite imagery techniques will be more useful if patterns of plant growth associated with mass graves are better understood.

Computer mapping analysis, where, for example, patterns such as maximum distance of mass graves from a road, or maximum steepness of terrain in which mass graves are located, can also help to make the search more efficient.

Testing the conductivity of the earth can pinpoint a mass grave where an approximate site is already known. Mass graves tend to be more moist than the surrounding earth, and therefore more able to conduct electricity. This technique is also useful for mapping the depth and composition of a mass grave before exhumation.

The joint team used some already documented sites near Zvornik, in eastern Bosnia, for their research. All the methods being investigated in this project are non-invasive; the earth does not have to be moved in order to carry out the research, which means no remains are disturbed before exhumation.

“We are not looking to replace the intelligence-based method of finding mass graves,” said Dr. Mark Skinner, ICMP Director of Forensic Sciences, “But we are seeking techniques that can add to the information we have. The perpetrators of these crimes went to great efforts to hide what they did and we need to do everything we can to find the graves.”

ICMP to Identify Tsunami Victims

????????, ???? 24th, 2005

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) finalized agreements today with authorities in Thailand on the identification of victims of the December 2004 South East Asian tsunami. ICMP is already analyzing bone samples sent to its headquarters in Sarajevo to obtain DNA profiles; today’s agreement means ICMP will also match the bone DNA profiles with DNA profiles of the missing.ICMP’s specialized DNA STR (short tandem repeat) Matching Software, which will be used in the identification of tsunami victims, was developed initially to assist in the identification of thousands of persons missing as a result of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Short tandem repeat DNA analysis is the most accurate method for identification of missing persons. Each person inherits a set of short tandem repeats, or DNA patterns, from their parents, with one copy coming from their mother and their other from the father.

Three weeks ago, ICMP agreed with the Government of Thailand to assist in the identification efforts by analyzing an initial 750 bone samples in order to obtain DNA profiles. ICMP experts are able to extract DNA profiles from bone samples, even if they are highly deteriorated, because of the extensive experience they have had and techniques they have developed working in the former Yugoslavia.

ICMP will deploy staff to Phuket, Thailand, to establish and maintain a database of DNA profiles of the missing. The bone sample DNA profiles obtained by ICMP will then be compared with DNA profiles of the missing persons, which were collected by the Thai authorities and by the authorities of the countries whose citizens were lost in Thailand during the tsunami.

ICMP’s DNA Matching Software was used to assist in the identification of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. ICMP also recently began to work with the authorities in Iraq in addressing the missing persons issue in that country.

Although ICMP’s mandate is to help to identify victims of conflicts and human rights abuses, the organization has undertaken tsunami victim identification as a humanitarian measure. “We are pleased that we will be able to help in this humanitarian effort,” said Andreas Kleiser, ICMP Deputy Chief of Staff, when today’s agreement was signed, “We understand how important it is for family members to know what happened to their loved ones and, if possible, to be able to bury their bodies.” Kleiser added that the ICMP, which is funded by 14 donor governments, would be happy to assist in the identification of tsunami victims from other countries as well.

US Ambassador Douglas McElhaney Tours ICMP Facilities in Tuzla

??????, ???? 19th, 2005

As he completed a tour of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) forensic facilities in Tuzla today, US Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Douglas McElhaney said it was “Difficult to imagine a project more worthy of our attention.” Ambassador McElhaney toured the ICMP morgue and Identification Coordination Division (ICD) in Tuzla, and the ICMP Re-association Center in nearby Lukavac, where skeletal remains of the missing are put back together; skeletal remains were frequently separated and “commingled” when victims were reburied in secondary mass graves as the perpetrators of killings tried to hide evidence of their crimes.Using a combination of traditional anthropological work and a method whereby a limited DNA profile is generated to allow for re-association of separated body parts, the newly-established ICMP Re-association Center in Lukavac helps to ensure that more individuals are accounted for and that the process of re-association does not further delay the process of returning remains to families.

The ICMP Identification Coordination Division is the center where collection teams bring together blood samples from family members to obtain DNA profiles. The ICD also maintains ICMP’s Forensic Database Management System and DNA Matching Software that is used to match DNA extracted from the blood samples of family members of the missing and DNA profiles from bone samples exhumed from grave sites. All blood and bone samples received are bar coded at ICD prior to examination in order to preserve the confidentiality of each case.

At the ICMP’s Podrinje Identification Project, also in Tuzla, forensic anthropologists and pathologists examine, store and make final identifications of mortal remains of thousands of missing persons, all of which are cases related to the fall of Srebrenica in 1995, finally returning the remains to their families.

Ambassador McElhaney was accompanied by the Director of ICMP’s Forensic Sciences Department, Dr. Mark Skinner, who told journalists following the tour that the scientific methods employed by ICMP provide empirical evidence of identity, proving the actual number of persons killed. “This fact is important,” he said, “Because in the past, governments have abused numbers and distorted reality for political gain.” Dr. Skinner also thanked Ambassador McElhaney for the continued support of the United States Government, which is ICMP’s single largest financial contributor.

The Ambassador, who was visiting the facilities for the first time, praised the work of the ICMP staff. “It is the responsibility of my Government to continue to participate as a major donor to ICMP,” he said. “I have worked for 33 years in issues of conflict and conflict prevention in many different parts of the world,” he added, “But this brings it all together, emotionally and professionally, for anyone who visits these facilities.”