By Saša Kulukčija
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 20 May 2020: Efforts to secure the rights of Srebrenica families of the missing to justice through court-led investigations and DNA-based identifications of the victims were highlighted today during a briefing for the representatives of international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, held by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) with the participation of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) ahead of the 25th annual commemoration of the mass killing.
For more than two decades, ICMP has led efforts to account for those who went missing during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and to uphold the rights of families of the missing, regardless of national, ethnic or religious affiliation, or role in the conflicts. It has helped identify almost 90 percent of the 8,000 men and boys who went missing as a consequence of the Srebrenica genocide.
In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, killing around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and expelling women, children and elderly from the town. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found that the mass executions of men and boys from Srebrenica constituted the crime of genocide.
After the mass killing, cover-up operations took place, including re-burials of the victims’ remains in secondary mass graves. The use of mechanical diggers to move bodies made it extremely difficult to identify bodies by studying distinguishing physical characteristics and personal belongings, as was the convention at the time. ICMP introduced a DNA-led identification process that made it possible to scientifically and conclusively determine the identities of a vast majority of those who went missing in the genocide.
“Bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice is a crucial element in upholding the rule of law. Governments must fulfil their legal obligations to investigate all missing-person cases and secure the rights of the families left behind,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said.
ICMP scientific data, including DNA records, concerning persons missing from the Srebrenica genocide have been admitted as evidence at trials before the ICTY and courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The evidence has been cross-examined in great detail numerous times, for example in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Radovan Karadzic, and consistently upheld.
Abeer Hasan, Legal Officer in the Office of the Prosecutor at the IRMCT, said:
“DNA matching has allowed many of the surviving women and children of Srebrenica to learn about the fate of their loved ones. The ongoing identification of the thousands of Muslim men and boys murdered by the Bosnian Serb forces underscores the gravity of the incredible crimes committed against the Bosnian Muslim population of Eastern Bosnia,” she said. “The evidence laid at trial after trial before the ICTY, established beyond a reasonable doubt that these men and boys of Srebrenica were systematically executed, buried in mass graves and, in many cases, covertly reburied to hide a plainly criminal murder operation.”
ICMP’s experience in assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina find over 75 percent of the 30,000 persons missing as a consequence of the 1990s war and almost 90 percent of the Srebrenica genocide victims demonstrates the importance of addressing the issue of missing persons in line with the rule of law.
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with headquarters in The Hague. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons. ICMP has spearheaded an effort of more than 20 years to account for the missing from the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.
The IRMCT was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010) to complete the remaining work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after the completion of their respective mandates. The IRMCT Office of the Prosecutor is focusing on the completion of trials and appeals, the arrest of the remaining fugitives, and assisting national jurisdictions investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.