Interpol Visits ICMP to Discuss Disaster Victim Identification

A delegation of officials from Interpol, the international police organization based in Lyon, France, visited ICMP on Friday May 13, 2005, to discuss possible cooperation with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) on Disaster Victim Identification around the world. Interpol is helping to coordinate international police efforts to identify the victims of the South East Asian tsunami disaster of last December.During their one-day visit to ICMP Sarajevo Headquarters on Friday, the Interpol officials met with ICMP Directors and DNA analysis and database experts to discuss coordination between ICMP and Interpol on tsunami victim identification.

After meeting with the Interpol officials, Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP Chief of Staff, emphasized that ICMP was ready to help identify victims however it could, “Although our mandate is to assist in the identification of persons missing as a result of conflict or human rights abuses,” she said, “We have the capability and the capacity to help in the identification of tsunami victims and as a humanitarian measure we are all willing to help.”

On May 5, 2005, ICMP agreed with the Government of Thailand to assist in the identification efforts of victims of the tsunami in Thailand by analyzing 750 bone samples in order to obtain DNA profiles. DNA is now virtually the only tool that will help to identify the thousands of remains of victims of the tsunami.

Through its work in helping to resolve the fate of thousands of persons missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, ICMP pioneered the use of DNA as a tool in identifying large numbers of missing persons. Whereas previously DNA had been used to confirm a presumptive identification, ICMP scientists turned around the use of DNA so that it could be used as an initial indication of identity.

In its work related to the former Yugoslavia, ICMP developed specialized complex databases of DNA profiles from bones of mortal remains exhumed from grave sites across the region and of DNA profiles from blood samples taken from family members searching for missing loved ones. ICMP matching software compares the databases to find DNA matches between the missing and family members.

ICMP was asked to assist with DNA profiling of bone samples because of its consistent success in obtaining DNA profiles from hard tissue such as bones and teeth, which are more difficult to analyze for DNA than soft tissue.

ICMP and Interpol will continue their discussion on cooperation in Lyon.