Families of the Missing Give Blood Samples to Trace Relatives

Article posted on November 12, 2004

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has had a positive response to the second round of its outreach campaign to collect blood samples from family members of persons missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Funded by the European Union, ICMP’s “Outreach Campaign to Families of Missing Persons - Assisting the Identification Process in the Former Yugoslavia” targeted family members living in Europe, with phase II covering Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Switzerland. ICMP teams who traveled to the target countries collected a total of 1,771 blood samples from 1 - 10 October 2004.Deputy Director of ICMP’s Forensic Sciences Department Adnan Rizvic said he was extremely happy with the second part of the campaign, “We collected more blood samples that we had expected, which means we actually opened some new cases,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much time has passed, family members are still anxious for information about their missing relatives,” he added.

More than 2,000 new blood samples were collected during the first part of the campaign, which took place in the Balkan region as well as Germany, Austria and Sweden in June. As a result of the campaign publicity, the number of walk-in blood sample donations at ICMP centers in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka, Belgrade and Prishtina increased dramatically. Many were from family members who live in other European countries and who returned to the region during summer holidays.

“We used all the normal channels of communication in our campaign,” said Asta Zinbo, Director of ICMP’s Civil Society Initiatives Program, “but ICMP also made hundreds of calls to family members of the missing throughout Europe to invite them to meet with our teams during their visits. A network of cultural associations of the Balkan Diaspora also made a huge difference in our ability to reach local communities and we really appreciate their assistance.”

The campaign was designed to inform family members of the missing about the work of ICMP and to encourage them to give blood samples, which will help in the identification of missing persons. The DNA profiles obtained from blood samples are compared to those obtained from bone samples of human remains. The matching of large numbers of blood and bone sample DNA profiles, a unique method of identifying the missing that was developed by ICMP, has so far led to matches of more than 6,000 individuals. With 99.95 percent certainty of identity through a DNA match, cases are returned to the official pathologist for final identification before being returned to families for burial.

To date, ICMP has collected nearly 65,000 blood samples from family members of almost 25,000 individuals missing as a result of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The final phase of the current outreach campaign will be launched in Croatia on November 20, 2004.