Bosnia and Herzegovina Must Strengthen its Institutions to find the Missing

The Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sulejman Tihic, visited the “Cancari Road 10” exhumation site in Kamenica, eastern Bosnia, today, where the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is providing assistance to the excavation teams representing the Missing Persons Institute.In an effort to identify the missing from conflicts or human rights abuses, one of the most difficult hurdles is often finding the physical location of mass graves. Perpetrators of the crimes have often gone to great lengths to hide the bodies of the dead and many of the mass graves associated with the 1995 fall of Srebrenica were moved to secondary sites. The perpetrators used heavy machinery to move the bodies, which resulted in body parts becoming fragmented and commingled.

The “Cancari Road 10” site is one of 13 related secondary mass graves containing mortal remains of victims from Srebrenica. To date, the excavation teams have recovered more than 100 relatively complete bodies from this mass grave as well as body parts and related forensic evidence, including blindfolds, ligatures and cartridge casings. ICMP teams will attempt to re-associate the partial remains that were found using a unique system that combines DNA testing with forensic anthropology. A more precise number of individuals buried in the grave will not be known until the bodies are put back together. The excavation began in early June and is expected to be completed within the next two weeks.

“I am here to express support to the people who work on excavations of the grave”, said President Tihic during his visit. He also called on the “Institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina to open archives about war crimes and provide answers about those responsible.”

ICMP's forensic archeologists and anthropologists apply excavation techniques at the site that will ensure as much information as possible is fully documented. Proper mapping of a mass grave, particularly where commingling is evident, can aid tremendously in the eventual re-association of the body parts.

“Putting fragmented body parts together represents a major forensic challenge”, said Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP's Chief of Staff, who accompanied Mr. Tihic to the site. “Of the estimated 30,000 who were missing following the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15,000 are still estimated to be missing. We are now half-way there in terms of the recovery and identification process,” she said. She also stressed that “It is incumbent upon Bosnia and Herzegovina to strengthen its institutions, such as the Missing Persons Institute to continue the search for the missing in order to enable their families to find a sense of closure.”