20 Years Ago Today ICMP Issued First DNA Match to Support Identifying Tens of Thousands Missing from the Former-Yugoslav Conflicts

The Hague, 16 November 2021: – On this day, 20 years ago, ICMP issued its first DNA match report. As a result of this report, the body of a 15-year old boy who had disappeared at Srebrenica was identified. This marked the start of a revolutionary new process using advanced database and DNA technology to identify large numbers of persons missing from armed conflict and human rights abuses.

“Working with families of the missing and governments in the Western Balkans, ICMP became the first organization to successfully implement a population-based, DNA-led identification process in a post-conflict environment. The use of DNA not only increased the speed of identifications, but also provided irrefutable evidence of a person’s identity that could be linked back to the original crime scene,” said Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of ICMP.  “This process has enabled families of the missing to secure their rights to truth and justice and has laid the foundations for an honest reckoning of atrocities that were committed. It has helped to uncover the truth about war crimes and I hope that it will prevent the political manipulation of the missing persons issue,” she added.

Following the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia more than 40,000 persons were reported missing. ICMP supported the work of families of the missing and the regional governments starting in 1996.  In addition to supporting the investigation into thousands of missing persons cases, to creating purpose-specific legislation and to enabling the establishment of impartial missing persons institutions, ICMP collected data, including genetic reference samples from over 100,000 families of the missing who voluntarily provided their data.  This means that all families, regardless of nationality religion, gender, or any other factor, participate in efforts to find their missing relatives.  In addition, ICMP received over 60,000 post-mortem samples from governments and issued 41,055 DNA-match reports enabling DNA to be used as the frontline of regional identification efforts.  This unprecedented achievement includes identifying 7,000 of the approximately 8,000 persons missing from the Srebrenica Genocide.

ICMP’s mandate to support the investigative obligations of public authorities has allowed it to assist justice processes for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. ICMP scientific data, including DNA records have been admitted as evidence at trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This evidence has been scrutinized in great detail numerous times and consistently upheld.

The scientific approach that was adopted in the Western Balkans is now being applied worldwide to account for persons who went missing as a consequence of armed conflicts, human rights abuses, and other causes. ICMP’s Western Balkans program continues to assist governments in the region, which have formalized their relationship through the Missing Persons Group, in order to locate and identify more than 11,000 persons still missing. In July 2018 in London, leaders of the countries in the region and EU members states that are participating in the Berlin Process signed a Joint Declaration, which, among other things, reiterates their commitment to supporting efforts to account for those who are still missing. In November 2018 at ICMP’s Headquarters in The Hague, representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia signed a Framework Plan formally undertaking to work together as the regional Missing Persons Group.

About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization that seeks to ensure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration, and other causes, and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.