DNA Results of the International Commission on Missing Persons Reveal the Identity of 6,481 Srebrenica Victims

Article posted on July 9, 2010
ICMP staff works in Sarajevo lab.

By analyzing DNA profiles extracted from bone samples of exhumed mortal remains and matching them to the DNA profiles obtained from blood samples donated by relatives of the missing, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has revealed the identity of 6,481 persons missing from the July 1995 fall of Srebrenica. Of this, 775 DNA-identified victims will be buried on July 11th in the Potočari Memorial Center, Srebrenica.

The number of reported missing for whom ICMP has blood samples as well as the matching rate between DNA profiles extracted from these bone and blood samples leads ICMP to support an estimate of around 8,100 individuals missing from the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

In all of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the ICMP has made a total of 13,124 accurate, DNA-led identifications of individuals since ICMP’s DNA system went online in November 2001. To make these DNA identifications, ICMP has collected 69,838 blood samples from relatives of the victims and has received from BiH institutions 32.295 bone samples taken from exhumed human mortal remains.

The most difficult case load in BiH is the identification of Srebrenica remains. As a result of attempts by perpetrators to conceal evidence of this major atrocity, many bodies were removed from their initial mass graves and reburied in other locations. As a consequence, body parts are found disarticulated in numerous primary and secondary mass grave sites. ICMP forensic anthropologists use DNA analysis as a tool in re-associating disarticulated parts of the same body. In one case, ICMP identified a Srebrenica victim whose body parts were found in four different mass graves two of which were 20 km from the other two locations.

“On July 11th, the ICMP and its staff mourn together with the families who give burial to their identified relatives in Potočari.” said ICMP’s Director-General Ms. Kathryne Bomberger on the occasion of this year’s Srebrenica burial. “ICMP will remain dedicated to identification of all Srebrenica victims and other victims of the armed conflicts in the Western Balkans. Indeed, in addition to those buried so far, ICMP has DNA-identified body parts of another 1,844 Srebrenica victims. However, many of the families have decided to wait to bury them until more body parts are found. The lack of information on clandestine mass graves hence remains a huge problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On this occasion, I am calling on BiH authorities to make more efforts to locate these sites so that more families could be able to give their missing loved ones a dignified burial. I also appeal to the conscience of all people who have information on mass grave locations to submit it to the BiH Missing Persons Institute.”

“ICMP’s identification techniques directly undermine revisionist attempts to deny mass atrocities. By providing irrefutable evidence on victims’ identities, the ICMP helps judicial institutions bring war crime perpetrators to justice, restores victims’ humanity and dignity and brings a sense of closure for their surviving family members. These family members have a right to information concerning the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones”, Bomberger added.

The introduction of DNA by the ICMP as the basis for identifying large numbers of missing persons from the 1990’s conflicts in the Western Balkans enabled accurate identifications of persons that would never otherwise have been identified. The first DNA match, for a 15 year-old boy from Srebrenica, was made on November 16, 2001. ICMP has since provided identification assistance to governments around the globe.