ICMP makes highest number of DNA-assisted identifications in the world

Article posted on September 14, 2009
Staff in ICMP Sarajevo Lab

The DNA laboratory system of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has made a total of more than 16,400 DNA matches during its work assisting governments worldwide in dealing with the issue of persons missing from armed conflicts, human rights violations and natural disasters. This is the largest number of DNA-assisted identifications ever made, and is more than four times the total made by the world’s other main DNA laboratories combined.

“The work done by the ICMP is, without doubt, the single most important achievement within the field of human identification with DNA. The work, speed and quality is impressive. The ICMP has committed itself to assisting in catastrophes and human rights cases worldwide, and we are all thankful for the assistance that the ICMP has provided in places such as the Philippines, Chile and the Asian tsunami. The international community needs a centre that can assist with DNA identification in case of large catastrophes, and I could see a way forward, perhaps through a partnership between ICMP and some or all member states of the EU,” said Professor Niels Morling, President of The International Society for Forensic Genetics. ICMP has just signed an agreement with Denmark to provide Disaster Victim Identification assistance.

Dr. Mechthild Prinz, Director of Forensic Biology at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, responsible for The World Trade Center DNA identification effort, agrees: “the number of identifications made by the ICMP is a staggering achievement, and it is an effort that benefits families of the missing and countries worldwide.”

Since ICMP’s DNA identification system went online in November 2001, 15,033 identifications have been made of persons missing from armed conflicts in the Western Balkans, 12,621 of whom were missing from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The additional 1,378 identifications of the 16,411 worldwide total are the result of ICMP’s operations dealing with cases of persons missing from Chile, Norway, Thailand, Cameroon and the Philippines. 821 are cases related to the Asian tsunami, and 456  of those who went missing in 2008 during Typhoon Frank off the Philippines. ICMP also profiled around 250 bone samples in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and is assisting the governments of Iraq and Colombia in dealing with the issue of missing persons.

Work in ICMP Sarajevo lab

“Using DNA to make accurate identifications is vital not only for bringing a sense of closure to relatives of the missing, but it also allows for an accurate accounting of the number of persons who disappeared as a consequence of armed conflict, crimes against humanity and other violations of human rights.  This information makes a powerful contribution to truth, reconciliation and peace in post-conflict or transitional societies,” said ICMP’s Director-General, Ms. Kathryne Bomberger.

ICMP operates and has developed the world’s largest high-throughput DNA identification system.  The ICMP laboratory system is rigorously accredited to ISO 17025 by DACH GmbH, a leading German accreditation body, and ICMP’s Steering Board on Forensic Science gathers together some of the world’s most respected experts in molecular biology, forensic pathology, anthropology and archaeology.