DNA analysis: Only Way in Identification Process

12 November 2005: Family members of persons missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia agreed today that a DNA-based identification process is the only way to identify mortal remains of missing persons recovered years after the end of hostilities. The family members of the missing, from all ethnic groups across the former Yugoslavia, were discussing the progress to date in the identification process today, on the second day of a three-day regional conference organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Novi Sad, northern Serbia and Montenegro.Regional experts in the identification of mortal remains explained the process of identification to conference participants and the vital role played by DNA in that process. ICMP pioneered the use of DNA as the first step in identifying large numbers of persons, and has found more than 8,500 matches between mortal remains and family members of the missing in the former Yugoslavia since the first “blind” DNA match was found in November 2001. ICMP’s Head of DNA Laboratories, Jon Davoren, explained that ICMP has an extraordinarily high success rate of obtaining DNA profiles from bone samples, around 90%, and a 100% success rate in obtaining DNA from blood reference samples taken from relatives of the missing.

Adnan Rizvic, the Deputy Director of ICMP’s Forensic Sciences Department, explained that the rate of DNA identifications is contingent upon two elements: the process of exhumations engaged in by governments and the ability for ICMP to collect blood samples from relatives of the missing. Mr. Rizvic, and other experts, appealed to family members at the conference to urge as many family members of the missing as possible to give blood samples. “If ICMP’s collection of blood samples continues at the current rate,” he said, “We are optimistic that in a couple of years we will have most of the samples we need.”

In order to better address the rights of family members of the missing, representatives of family associations underlined the need for stronger coordination mechanisms between all stakeholders in the process, particularly the governments. In that regard, participants approved the structure and terms of reference for a multilevel Regional Coordination Body. This body would improve cooperation between all family associations, of all ethnicities, in presenting their concerns to governments, and would help in implementation of joint activities and exchange of information. It will consist of representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.

Participants also approved the nominations for the six-member family association Advisory Board to the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina.