ICMP Assists South African Authorities to Identify Missing Persons

Article posted on December 2, 2010
During the special ceremony of mortal remains handover

The Missing Persons Task Team of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) have successfully collaborated in resolving cases of political disappearances from the period 1960 to 1994.

As a consequence of their joint efforts, several long-pending cases were resolved, including the identification of three members of the African National Congress (ANC) who disappeared in 1983, a Soweto Student Congress Member who was killed with two fellow activists in Soweto 1989, an Alexandra Township activist who was killed in 1986 and a man killed in 1982 during armed raids in Maseru, Lesotho. ICMP was also able to exclude the possibility that one man who disappeared in Pretoria in 1976 during a nationwide student protest, where over 800 persons had been killed, had been found.

“The identified remains are handed over to the affected families in a special ceremony,” said Madeleine Fullard, Head of the Missing Persons Task Team in the NPA. “It’s been a long journey lasting over two decades for these families and we are delighted that the ICMP was able to resolve these cases. It is extremely important that victims of political violence in Africa are also able to benefit from DNA identifications, which has become standard practice in other parts of the world.”

“ICMP is pleased to have been of assistance in helping South Africa address an issue that is of continuing political and legal concern and to the families of those who have suffered for so long from not knowing the fate of a missing relative,” said Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the ICMP. “We hope that we can be of continued assistance to the South African authorities, should they need our help,” she added.

The Missing Persons Task Team in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa was established following the recommendations of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Its mandate is to continue to trace the fate and whereabouts of those who disappeared in political circumstances during the period from 1960 to 1994. While the main goal is the recovery of remains as a form of reparations to the affected families, prosecutions are also possible where sufficient evidence exists.

In 2009, the Missing Persons Task Team requested the assistance of the ICMP to assist in conducting DNA analysis on bone samples from several individuals whose skeletal remains had been exhumed.

Coffins being carried out with guard of honour

The ICMP is an independent international organization whose mandate is to ensure the cooperation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying persons missing as a result of armed conflicts, other hostilities or violations of human rights and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing. One important component of ICMP’s work is the provision of technical assistance in locating, recovering and identifying missing persons. ICMP operates the world’s highest throughput DNA identification laboratory system dedicated to addressing missing persons cases.