Resolving “No-Name” cases In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo

Western Balkans

In Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo efforts are underway to resolve the issue of unidentified remains stored in mortuaries, for which there is no genetic match with blood samples provided by families of the missing.

In 2000, when ICMP began using mass database technology to facilitate DNA-led identification of human remains, it was not clear how effective the radical new technique would be. Nothing like it had been tried anywhere in the world.  The results were astonishing – an exponential rise in the number of identifications – and unlike non-DNA identifications, those achieved using DNA sampling are more than 99.95 percent certain. The DNA method is more effective, more economical and more secure than the traditional method that had been used until then.

However, when ICMP launched its DNA-led program many thousands of identifications had already been made in the Western Balkans…

Srebrenica 21 years on: another 127 victims buried


On 11 July, family members and friends gathered at the Memorial Center in Potocari to pay their respects and bury 127 of their loved ones whose remains were found in mass graves and identified with the assistance of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Since its inception in 1996, ICMP has been actively involved in the identification of the missing from Srebrenica; it played a key role in setting up the Potocari Memorial Center and it has worked continuously with families to help them find their loved ones and to ensure that they are able to assert their rights under the law.

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 post-mortem samples of exhumed remains and matching them to…

Profiles of the Missing

ICMP Studio Dijkgraaf-170

On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) hosted a panel discussion with speakers from around the world who have lost loved ones as a result of conflict, human rights abuses, disasters and organized crime. Profiles of the Missing, which was opened by Deputy Mayor of The Hague Ingrid van Engelshoven and moderated by award-winning war correspondent Janine di Giovanni, was held on 8 July in The Hague.

The panel discussion addressed the multitude of reasons that persons go missing and explored strategies that families of the missing have developed in order to ensure that the authorities take all necessary steps to locate and identify their loved ones. Examining the emotional, social and political aspects of seeking truth, justice and reparation, the speakers were Ali Alillele from Syria, Ram Kumar Bhandari from Nepal, Norah Fuathum…

ICMP Opens Headquarters in The Hague


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On 7 July, as part of a series of events to mark the organization’s 20th anniversary, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) formally opened its new headquarters at Koninginnegracht 12 in The Hague. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, Mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen, Her Majesty Queen Noor, ICMP Commission Chair Thomas Miller, , and Norah Fuatham from Uganda and Ram Kumar Bhandari from Nepal, representing associations of families of missing persons from around the world, spoke at the  opening ceremony.

The decision to establish headquarters in The Hague is part of ICMP’s long-term evolution, from an ad hoc, blue-ribbon commission established to address a specific component of post-war recovery in the Western Balkans to a treaty-based intergovernmental organization that works throughout the world.

ICMP was founded on 29 June 1996, at the initiative of US President Bill Clinton, to…

ICC and ICMP Sign MoU


On 7 July 2016, ICMP Chairman Thomas Miller and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on strengthening cooperation between the two organizations.

This is the latest in a series of agreements ICMP has reached with international organizations since its global mandate was established by Treaty in December 2014. In line with that mandate, ICMP is working with governments and other entities throughout the world to address the issue of missing persons, bringing its own expertise to bear in conjunction with the expertise of partner organizations.

Ms. Bensouda noted that ICC and ICMP “have a shared commitment to give a voice to the victims of mass atrocities” through their respective work. She said the MoU “marks an important step forward in the long-standing partnership between the ICC and ICMP.”

Ambassador Miller said “the MoU…

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



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


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


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…