Search Not Over for Kosovo Missing

Article posted on June 2, 2006

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, and Chief of Staff of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) Kathryne Bomberger met yesterday in Pristina to discuss the issue of the missing from the Kosovo conflict. During the meeting, Ms. Bomberger said that through the use of ICMP’s DNA-assisted identification process, ICMP estimated that at least 1,500 mortal remains are still unaccounted for from the conflict.“Given that the issue of missing persons in Kosovo is a politically charged one, the fact there are over 1,500 persons that cannot be accounted for in 2006, as the final status talks are underway, is a serious issue,” said Ms. Bomberger. She added “It is a serious human rights problem that must be honestly addressed with the families of the victims and with society.”

The Prime Minister underlined the importance in which his Government holds the issue.

Part of ICMP’s assistance to governments includes the collection of blood samples from family members of the missing in order to obtain DNA profiles to be used in DNA-led identification. Those DNA profiles are compared to the DNA profiles that ICMP obtains from exhumed mortal remains. In the context of the Kosovo conflict, based on the DNA work it has conducted, ICMP estimates that there are over 1,500 persons in Kosovo still unaccounted for out of a total of 4,400 persons that were originally estimated to be missing. In addition, ICMP has full sets of blood samples for 1,800 cases that do not match any bone specimens, including the 800 mortal remains currently in the Orhovac Morgue.

“This is an important concern that needs to be credibly addressed by the government institutions in the region,” said Ms. Bomberger.

Prime Minister Ceku and ICMP’s Ms. Bomberger agreed that the work ICMP does in this region will contribute to the process of truth, justice and reconciliation. Using science as a human rights tool to resolve cases of disappearances has been successful not only in bringing individual closure to families of the missing, but in accurately documenting crimes against humanity.

“Our hope is that by using DNA technology we are providing empirical evidence of a person’s identity, so that governments can be held to account for atrocities committed”, said Ms. Bomberger.

Some practical solutions discussed with the Prime Minister included the strengthening of Kosovar institutions tasked with addressing this issue, such as the Commission on Missing Persons and ensuring that such institutions address missing persons cases regardless of the ethnic, religious or national origin of the missing person. In addition, they explored the possibility of using satellite imagery and ground penetrating radar, which ICMP has used successfully in other areas. Another positive suggestion by the Prime Minister was the establishment of a “hot line” where persons with information regarding missing persons could call.

The Prime Minister agreed to continue to work with ICMP in order to resolve this issue.