By Lejla Softic
In May 2016, two experts from the Kosovo Agency on Forensics (KAF) and one expert from the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) completed a two-week professional development training program at ICMP’s facilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The KAF is primarily a crime laboratory. It was established as an agency of the Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2003 and has received extensive support from the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). The IFM comes under the Ministry of Justice and is responsible for managing and maintaining forensic services based on internationally recognized standards and European best practice to provide medico-legal services, teaching and support services for families of missing persons.
The two scientists from the KAF observed the workflow at ICMP’s laboratories in Tuzla, Banja Luka and Sarajevo, and they were briefed on post-mortem sample preparation, washing and grinding and DNA extraction.
The visit by the Kosovo scientists reflects ICMP’s global function as a knowledge multiplier. ICMP maintains a high throughput DNA laboratory standing capacity to conduct human identifications to assist countries with missing persons cases, particularly large-scale disappearances, and over a period of two decades it has developed the ability to extract DNA from the most challenging skeletal samples. As a public law institution, it shares its knowledge and capabilities with others. ICMP is in the process of establishing a Center of Excellence for Training through which it will seek to expand its capacity to transfer knowledge and develop and disseminate techniques that can be applied in missing persons scenarios throughout the world.
“Currently we are using organic extraction in our work, but we are aware that we need to improve our forensic techniques,” said Fatmir Ademi, Head of the DNA laboratory at KAF. “Therefore the main focus in training was on DNA extraction from post mortem samples. Now we are able to apply the new methods at KAF. DNA extraction and profiling methods will be useful for us.”
“The core of the training was to get acquainted with the best practices of ICMP’s work on the issue of missing persons particularly from the perspective of forensic anthropology,” said Dr. Ditor Haliti, Forensic Anthropologist from the IFM.
By the end of the Kosovo conflict in June 1999, it was estimated that 4,400 to 4,500 persons were missing. Today, about 1,700 are still unaccounted for.
Since 1999 ICMP has addressed the issue of persons missing as a consequence of the Kosovo conflict, and since 2003 it has been assisting Kosovo through DNA-based identifications, first in cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and since December 2008 in cooperation with the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). Since 2001 ICMP has also provided technical assistance to the Government of Serbia in locating, recovering and identifying persons missing from the Kosovo conflict. To date, ICMP has issued DNA identification reports to Serbia, UNMIK and later EULEX reliably accounting for 2,466 missing persons. ICMP has also worked to promote the capacity of the Kosovo Government Commission on Missing Persons (GCMP), which it helped the Kosovo authorities to establish in 2006.
In 2010 ICMP published a Stocktaking Report (http://bit.ly/21fFhGj) on the search for the missing in Kosovo, describing in detail what had been done until then and recommending steps that should be taken in order to ensure that the effort to account for those still missing would be expedited. It noted, among other things, that addressing the issue of misidentifications made prior to the introduction of DNA testing would be key to carrying the process forward. As many as 2,000 missing persons cases were closed without the use of DNA prior to ICMP’s assistance in 2003.
Following the signing of a grant agreement with the EU in July 2015, ICMP has received support for its program in Kosovo.
ICMP’s assistance to the Kosovo Agency on Forensic (KAF) and the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) is an important component of the effort to help the KAF and the IFM strengthen their capacity to address the issue of missing persons related to the Kosovo conflict and to solve crime cases.