In a region where political manipulation of numbers of killed and missing from previous wars fanned the flames of further conflicts, ICMP Chairman James Kimsey told reporters on Tuesday that accurate accounting of the missing is essential.Speaking after a tour of ICMP’s Identification Coordination Division (ICD) in Tuzla, eastern Bosnia, which houses the ICMP databases storing DNA information obtained from bones exhumed from grave sites and from blood samples of family members searching for missing relatives, Mr. Kimsey said the work of ICMP represented the first attempt in the world to accurately account for persons missing as a result of conflict. Since it made its first DNA match in November 2001, ICMP has found DNA matches with family members for more than 7,300 missing individuals at the ICD and every day brings more matches.
“DNA technology can now provide empirical evidence of a person’s identity and it can provide hard statistics regarding the real number of people missing,” said Mr. Kimsey, “This fact is important, because governments have in the past abused numbers and distorted reality for political gain.”
Disagreement about the numbers of dead and missing continues to exacerbate tensions, but according to the ICMP database, approximately 20,000 persons remain missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990′s. ICMP has collected blood samples from more than 69,000 family members of the missing. For each missing person, in order to find an accurate DNA match, DNA profiles of several family members are necessary and it is from its blood sample database that ICMP calculates the number of missing individuals.
The families of the missing are unable to mourn properly as they still do not know the fate of their loved ones, but the stability of the peace after a conflict also suffers as long as the fate of the missing remains unresolved.
“A lot of people often think that the work of ICMP is focused on the past and that the issue of the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be put behind us,” noted Mr. Kimsey, “Actually, the work of ICMP is focused on the future, for if you deny the past; you risk repeating the same mistakes.”