Iraqi Experts Visit ICMP to Explore use of DNA-based Identifications of Missing Persons

Article posted on December 13, 2010
Iraqi delegation during a working meeting in ICMP's HQ in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A delegation of six Iraqi experts engaged in efforts to address the issue of missing persons from the regime of Saddam Hussein, as well as armed conflicts, visited the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) at its headquarters in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The purpose of the visit was to explore ways to implement a DNA-led identification project that would adhere to best practice and proper rule of law procedures.

The meeting brought together experts from the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, the Medico Legal Institute of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Ministry of Human Rights and the Medico Legal Institute in Baghdad. The participants discussed the challenges of mounting a coordinated, country-wide effort to locate, recover and identify the reported quarter of a million to one million missing persons.

“It is our goal to ensure that Iraq has the best possible procedures in place to locate, recover and identify missing persons, and that this process is sustainable, accurate and transparent. In addition, it is critical that the process meets the needs of the families of the missing,” said Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP Director-General, adding, “Iraq has demonstrated not only a strong desire to engage in this process, but it also has a robust capacity to do so. The key to moving forward now is coordination between the various institutions engaged in the process. ICMP is already using its capacity and expertise to help Iraq in solving this important issue and we are looking forward to continuing this cooperation.”

“Ensuring that Iraq has a sustainable, long-term system in place to find and identify missing persons is critical to our collective memory and history, much of which is marred by a painful past. We believe that engaging in the search for missing persons, as difficult as it is, is an important aspect of building a democratic Iraq,” said, one of the members of the delegation.

This was the seventh visit of an Iraqi delegation to the ICMP in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2004. The ICMP is working with these four institutions and others to develop a national strategy to allow the ministries and the institutions to work together as a unified team to conduct simultaneous excavations in regions all over the country.

The number of missing persons in Iraq ranges from 250,000 to over one million, according to different public sources in Iraq and includes persons missing as a consequence of human rights violations and other atrocities committed during the regime of Saddam Hussein, as well as years of armed conflict.

Despite on-going problems and security concerns, the Iraqi Government has taken important steps to address the issue of missing persons. These include passing a Law on the Protection of Mass Graves and taking steps to develop a national strategy for the issue. ICMP has provided assistance to the Iraqi Government through the Ministry for Human Rights since 2004 to address the problem of missing persons.

ICMP opened a full-time office in Baghdad in November, 2008, and a second office in Erbil in August, 2010.

ICMP seeks to secure the co-operation 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 pioneered the use of DNA technology to identify large numbers of missing persons, maintains the highest throughput capability for DNA-based identifications in the world and as such it has become a centre for global assistance, not only in cases of human rights violations, but also in disaster situations. It has also developed a unique software platform called the fDMS to manage the complex data, which it makes available to governments.