As he completed a tour of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) forensic facilities in Tuzla today, US Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Douglas McElhaney said it was “Difficult to imagine a project more worthy of our attention.” Ambassador McElhaney toured the ICMP morgue and Identification Coordination Division (ICD) in Tuzla, and the ICMP Re-association Center in nearby Lukavac, where skeletal remains of the missing are put back together; skeletal remains were frequently separated and “commingled” when victims were reburied in secondary mass graves as the perpetrators of killings tried to hide evidence of their crimes.Using a combination of traditional anthropological work and a method whereby a limited DNA profile is generated to allow for re-association of separated body parts, the newly-established ICMP Re-association Center in Lukavac helps to ensure that more individuals are accounted for and that the process of re-association does not further delay the process of returning remains to families.
The ICMP Identification Coordination Division is the center where collection teams bring together blood samples from family members to obtain DNA profiles. The ICD also maintains ICMP’s Forensic Database Management System and DNA Matching Software that is used to match DNA extracted from the blood samples of family members of the missing and DNA profiles from bone samples exhumed from grave sites. All blood and bone samples received are bar coded at ICD prior to examination in order to preserve the confidentiality of each case.
At the ICMP’s Podrinje Identification Project, also in Tuzla, forensic anthropologists and pathologists examine, store and make final identifications of mortal remains of thousands of missing persons, all of which are cases related to the fall of Srebrenica in 1995, finally returning the remains to their families.
Ambassador McElhaney was accompanied by the Director of ICMP’s Forensic Sciences Department, Dr. Mark Skinner, who told journalists following the tour that the scientific methods employed by ICMP provide empirical evidence of identity, proving the actual number of persons killed. “This fact is important,” he said, “Because in the past, governments have abused numbers and distorted reality for political gain.” Dr. Skinner also thanked Ambassador McElhaney for the continued support of the United States Government, which is ICMP’s single largest financial contributor.
The Ambassador, who was visiting the facilities for the first time, praised the work of the ICMP staff. “It is the responsibility of my Government to continue to participate as a major donor to ICMP,” he said. “I have worked for 33 years in issues of conflict and conflict prevention in many different parts of the world,” he added, “But this brings it all together, emotionally and professionally, for anyone who visits these facilities.”