Hanoi, Vietnam 26 July 2023 – During the week, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) have hosted a series of events aimed at enhancing efforts to account for the large number of missing persons and unidentified human remains from the Vietnam-American War. The project is funded and generously supported by US Agency for International Development.
Senior representatives from ICMP participating in this week’s events include Ms. Thảo Griffiths, Board Member of the ICMP, Ms. Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of ICMP, Dr. Thomas Parsons, Member of the ICMP Expert Panel and an expert on forensic genetics, and two senior ICMP scientists from the ICMP DNA Laboratory in The Hague, specializing in Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies.
On Monday, 24 July, during a workshop organized by VAST, together with representatives from the Center for DNA Identification (CDI), the Institute for Biotechnology (IBT), the Department of National Devotees of the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), USAID, and the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNSOMP), the first report on results from the Implementation Plan, an agreement signed by ICMP and VAST in October 2022, were announced. These encouraging results follow several months of intensive testing on post-mortem samples that were hand-delivered to ICMP in The Hague in February 2023, following the first exchange visit of senior representatives from the relevant Vietnamese institutions.
Collaborative testing efforts included the use of new protocols based on nuclear DNA extraction methods bode well for NGS testing. “While the results of the extraction methods from challenging post-mortem samples are promising, there are still many hurdles that need to be overcome in accounting for the large number of missing and unidentified human remains, including the ability to conduct genetic kinship matching between distant relatives on such a large scale,” Ms. Bomberger said during her presentation.
On Tuesday, 25 July, US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper visited the CDI human identification laboratory together with VAST President, Professor Chau Van Minh, ICMP Board Member Ms. Griffiths and ICMP Director-General Bomberger, VNOSMP Director Mr. Le Cong Tien and USAID representatives, including Ms. Ritu Tariyal. With the support of USAID, ICMP will work in partnership with VAST and CDI to build Vietnam’s capacity to use cutting edge DNA technologies to account for large numbers of missing persons. This support will include significant donations of equipment and technology.
“It is our hope that this technology will not only help Vietnam account for large numbers of missing and unidentified persons, but that it will make Vietnam a world leader in the field of advanced forensic genetics, which can have many applications, including helping countries in the ASEAN region to account for missing persons following natural and man-made disasters,” said Ms. Griffith.
During the event at CDI, Ambassador Knapper promised the “unwavering support” of the United States for the project.
The Government of Vietnam estimates that millions of Vietnamese were killed or went missing in the 30 years of fighting before 1975. Vietnam has devoted considerable attention to the indispensable task of locating and identifying human remains, but many challenges remain.
In July 2020, USAID and ICMP began a project to help advance DNA identification methods in Vietnam. In light of technical factors, including the degradation of skeletal samples and the inter-generational difference between the missing persons and surviving relatives, the goal of the ICMP Vietnam project is to adapt proven new DNA identification methods to the Vietnam context, and – working in concert with Vietnamese scientists – to establish a plan for applying these methods in Vietnam’s identification efforts.
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.