20 October 2005: Forty Prosecutors from all levels of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina visited the identification facilities of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Tuzla, eastern Bosnia, on Thursday.The prosecutors were shown details of the process of identification of mortal remains exhumed from individual and mass graves related to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The State Court is now prosecuting war crimes and better understanding of the identification process, as well as the way secondary grave sites were created, is likely to aid their cases.
ICMP assists local authorities in excavation and exhumation of grave sites and in the identification of remains, using a combination of traditional forensic techniques coupled with cutting edge DNA technology. The introduction of DNA by the ICMP as the basis for finding the identity of remains on a mass scale has radically changed the prospects of identification of the missing. ICMP created a database of DNA profiles taken from blood samples donated by family members of the missing for comparison with its database of DNA profiles taken from bone samples taken from excavated mortal remains.
The prosecutors visited ICMP’s Identification Coordination Division in Tuzla, where family members’ blood samples are stored and where all bone samples that will go to ICMP DNA labs also enter the system. All samples, either from family members or mortal remains from grave sites are bar-coded at this facility to ensure accuracy and a totally apolitical, scientific process.
Because of the large number of victims of the 1995 fall of Srebrenica, ICMP has a greater role in identifying Srebrenica victims than in other parts of the country, and two of the three facilities visited by the prosecutors relate directly to Srebrenica cases.
The Lukavac Re-association Center was established to help to overcome the problem of dissociation of remains in secondary mass graves associated with Srebrenica. After the bodies had been buried for several months in mass graves, the perpetrators dug them up and reburied them, using heavy machinery, in smaller secondary mass graves in an attempt to hide the evidence. At the Lukavac Re-association Center, the bodies are put back together using a combination of traditional forensic archaeology and anthropology, as well as DNA methods. This makes the process of identification and returning remains to families more efficient.
The prosecutors also visited ICMP’s Podrinje Identification Project, where mortal remains of Srebrenica victims are stored and where the ICMP forensic pathologist conducts the ante-mortem and post-mortem data comparisons, inspects the remains and makes the final, official identification.
Ordinarily, after finding a DNA match between family members and a bone sample, ICMP submits its DNA matching reports to local court-appointed pathologists, who then make the official identification of the individual. In the case of Srebrenica victims, however, ICMP’s forensic pathologist is also a court-appointed pathologist, and he makes the final identifications. Of the estimated 8,500 Srebrenica victims, ICMP has so far identified 2,153 individuals.