Deputy Speaker of the House of Peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina visits ICMP

Head of ICMP DNA Laboratories Division Rene Huel in the presence of ICMP Director General Kathryne Bomberger explains Mrs Dušanka Majkić the process of taking blood sample for DNA analysis.

13 November 2009: The Deputy Speaker of the House of Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms. Dusanka Majkic, visited the international headquarters of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Sarajevo.

The Deputy Speaker met with ICMP’s Director-General, Ms. Kathryne Bomberger, and discussed areas of mutual interest and concern regarding the issue of missing persons, including the process of locating, recovering and identifying missing persons, the rights of families of the missing and the Missing Persons Institute for Bosnia and Herzegovina. She also paid a visit to ICMP’s DNA laboratory where she received a briefing on the techniques and methodologies of ICMP’s DNA-led identification system.

“I will always be a friend of this organisation and together we will be able to find solutions to common problems; everything here is much better than I imagined before I came to visit,” said the Deputy Speaker. “I would encourage others to visit this important organization and to see their work first-hand,” she added.

“We are very grateful to Ms. Majkic for her interest in the work of ICMP and for coming to see our headquarters and laboratory. We are particularly appreciative since her visit represents one of the rare occasions that an official of BiH has taken the initiative to make such a visit and to have a serious discussion about this complex issue, which poses political, legal, technical and emotional challenges for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said ICMP’s Director-General, Ms. Kathryne Bomberger.

A productive discussion was held about indentifying the approximately 600 mortal remains currently stored in Nevesinje, Lukavica and Banja Luka mortuaries in Republika Srpska. ICMP has obtained DNA profiles for all of the bone samples received from Dr. Karan, Director of the Republika Srpska Forensic Pathology Institute; however, these profiles do not match profiles obtained from blood samples provided to ICMP by families of the missing, including the 7,737 samples received from families living in the RS. MPI is chairing a Working Group on Resolving Cases of Unidentified Mortal Remains in Mortuaries and Storage Rooms that up to date held three meetings in Banja Luka, which includes Dr. Karan, to determine the reasons for this. The MPI working group and Dr. Karan are still working on the review together with ICMP.

Regarding MPI, Ms. Majkic and Ms. Bomberger were in agreement concerning how to improve the work of MPI and that the MPI Steering Board members should be appointed without further delay. Ms. Majkic further stated her unequivocal position that political party members should not be part of the Institute.

Ms. Majkic expressed concern regarding the length of time it took ICMP to identify the remains of Colonel Avdo Palic. Ms. Bomberger explained that the ICMP has a high through-put DNA identification process, and in less than 8 years, ICMP has assisted in identifying over 15,000 mortal remains from the conflicts in the Western Balkans. None of these individuals, including Colonel Palic, would ever have been identified without DNA. In the last two years the process of locating new clandestine graves has decreased in the region and as a consequence, ICMP is receiving fewer bone samples from regional government authorities than it used to. In 2009, ICMP completed a lengthy reanalysis of 1,582 unmatched DNA profiles from the early years of the DNA laboratory’s operation. Through this process, two new identities were found, including that of Colonel Palic. ICMP is accredited to ISO 17025 by the one of the world’s most well-respected agencies, the German company DACH and ICMP has a robust quality management program and a Steering Committee on Forensic Sciences, which includes some of the world’s leading forensic experts. To further review why there are cases of unmatched profiles, which is of significance regionally, in addition to the case of Colonel Palic, and to ensure full transparency in its evaluation, ICMP will invite an expert review panel to further analyze ICMP’s work. The panel will conduct its review in mid-December and will produce a report on its findings early next year.

Ms. Majkic also had questions about the excavation at Sijekovac which took place in 2004.  Following extensive efforts over the years, including the use of new DNA techniques to obtain DNA from bone samples, ICMP recently issued a report to the State Prosecutor, MPI and the relevant cantonal and district prosecutors recommending that if further investigations are conducted, they should focus on evaluating the possibility that most of the remains are not from the recent conflict.

Ms. Majkic suggested that ICMP’s book on Notice on DNA Reports be submitted to the Entity Prime Ministers, in addition to MPI and other relevant regional government authorities and institutions concerned with the issue. ICMP issues reports on a monthly basis regarding the results of its DNA analysis and on a regular basis provides the material in book form. So far two volumes have been produced and the next volume is due out early next year.

Head of ICMP DNA Laboratories Division Rene Huel in the presence of ICMP Director General Kathryne Bomberger explains Mrs Dušanka Majkić the process of taking blood sample for DNA analysis.

Ms. Majkic was also interested in the poor condition of the storage of mortal remains in Novo Groblije in Banja Luka and ICMP said it would look into the matter.

Both Ms. Majkic and Ms. Bomberger agreed that it is the responsibility of governments to provide reliable and accurate information regarding this issue to society and particularly to victims, who are the most vulnerable groups.

Since ICMP’s DNA identification system went online in November 2001, 15,158 identifications have been made of persons missing from armed conflicts in the Western Balkans, 12,722 of whom were missing from Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is no other example in the world where such a large number of missing persons have been found. ICMP also provides assistance to Chile, Norway, Thailand, South Africa, Cameroon and the Philippines. In addition, ICMP has begun operations in Iraq and Colombia.

Along with the BiH Council of Ministers, ICMP is the co-founder of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia-Herzegovina (MPI).The work of MPI also brings closer the implementation of the Law on Missing Persons, which helps safeguard the rights of families of the missing.