ICMP to Help Identify Tsunami Victims as a Humanitarian Measure

Article posted on May 9, 2005

In response to the overwhelming problem of identification of victims of the December 2004 Asian tsunami, police from Thailand, the United Kingdom and Germany have asked the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) for assistance in the identification process using DNA.Thai Police, Scotland Yard and German Federal Police representatives brought 750 bone samples to ICMP’s Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, headquarters on Thursday (May 5, 2005). The bone samples will be analyzed within 60 days in ICMP’s DNA laboratories in Sarajevo and Tuzla, eastern Bosnia, to obtain DNA profiles. The joint delegation brought the bone samples to ICMP as prior testing performed by private DNA laboratories was not sufficiently successful.

Obtaining DNA profiles from hard tissue such as bone or teeth is more complicated than from soft tissue and as a result of its work in the identification of victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, ICMP has developed successful methods of bone DNA extraction. ICMP DNA scientists have obtained more DNA profiles from bone samples than any other laboratory in the world.

The joint delegation toured ICMP facilities to learn more about the organization’s sophisticated DNA extraction methodologies, databases and specialized software to compare large numbers of DNA profiles from bone samples and DNA profiles from the blood of living relatives. The delegation also discussed further ways in which ICMP can help to identify persons missing as a result of the tsunami.

“There are several ways we can assist in the identification of tsunami victims. Our Forensic Sciences Department has the capability to identify every body for which there are living relatives who come forward and give DNA samples for comparison,” said Andreas Kleiser, ICMP’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “Our experts are able to extract DNA profiles from bone samples, even if they are highly deteriorated.”

With its DNA expertise, ICMP has helped in resolving the fate of more than 7,000 missing persons in the former Yugoslavia. ICMP, which is funded by 14 donor governments, combines sophisticated forensic science capabilities with experience in working with family members of the missing, and it assists governments in formulating policies on missing persons issues.

ICMP’s DNA matching software was used to assist in the identification of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. ICMP also recently began to work with the authorities in Iraq in addressing the missing persons issue in that country. The mandate of ICMP is to assist in the identification of persons missing as a result of conflicts or human rights abuses, but as a humanitarian measure, it has offered assistance in other situations, such as the identification of tsunami victims.