Kharkiv, Ukraine, 7 October 2022 – Following a meeting with Deputy Interior Minister Meri Akopyan on 28 September, a team from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) deployed together with the national police to Eastern Ukraine this week to learn more about the challenges to locate and identify missing persons from the on-going war.
The visit will help enhance a strategy to assist Ukraine in locating over 15,000 persons missing since the war began to judicial standards of evidence that will make it possible to hold perpetrators of atrocities to account in both international and domestic courts and provide the public with factual and credible information regarding disappeared persons and related crimes.
The ICMP team visited the regional Bureau of Forensic Expertise in Kharkiv and the Scientific and Research Expert and Forensic Center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which are responsible for investigating missing persons cases, including identifying victims from the area liberated since the beginning of September through the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The team also traveled to Izyum to observe the exhumation of victims buried in irregular circumstances. The exhumation was supervised and recorded by scene-of-crime officers from the Investigative Unit of the National Police, a forensic expert from the Ministry of the Interior and two war crimes investigators from the Regional Prosecutor’s Office. Also, in Izyum, the ICMP team visited a cemetery from which 447 bodies, some in a mass grave and some showing signs of torture, have been exhumed and taken to Kharkiv Mortuary.
“The responsible agencies in Ukraine are well-established and, as we have witnessed, are dealing with the issue of locating and identifying victims as efficiently as possible,” said ICMP Forensic Anthropologist Photis Andronicou. “However, the scale of the challenge is enormous. We have been extremely impressed by the processes that are in place, but these processes have to be ramped up significantly when institutions that routinely deal with tens of cases in a month have to deal with hundreds or even thousands of cases. This is a challenge faced by all countries that have to address the issue of large numbers of missing persons as a result of war or disaster.”
The Head of ICMP’s Ukraine Program, Matthew Holliday, expressed his thanks for the cooperation ICMP has received from Deputy Minister Akopyan. “ICMP has secured the support of the European Union and the United Sates for a major program in Ukraine,” he said. “Working in more than 40 countries around the world, ICMP has developed effective methodologies related to locating and identifying large numbers of missing persons. ICMP is now finalizing a Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine that will make it possible to roll out a comprehensive program of support for the institutions and personnel that are now very hard pressed.”
ICMP’s Ukraine Program is currently supported by the European Union’s service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI).
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. 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.