ICMP assists Serbia in excavation of mass grave near Raška

Raška, Serbia 30 November 2020 – Experts from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) today began providing technical forensic assistance at the request of Serbia’s Government Commission on Missing Persons at the exhumation of skeletal remains at the disused Kizevak quarry near Raska in southern Serbia.

The site is believed to hold remains of Kosovo Albanians missing from the 1999 conflict. Authorities have used ICMP DNA-matching reports to identify more than 2,500 of the 4,500 people estimated missing from the Kosovo conflict.

In 2015, supporting the Serbian Commission on Missing Persons, ICMP monitored the initial phase of the excavation at the Kizevak site. However, no human remains were found at that time. Efforts to locate the gravesite continued iteratively until earlier this month when the Serbian Commission found skeletal remains at the site with the help of aerial imagery.

ICMP has since 2001 provided technical forensic assistance to exhume four Kosovo conflict-related mass graves in Serbia, located at Batajnica, Petrovo Selo, Bajina Basta and Raska Rudnica. ICMP has facilitated DNA-based identifications of 97 percent of the nearly 900 cases of remains recovered from these sites.

“ICMP continues to assist authorities in Serbia in respecting their obligation under local and international law,” said Matthew Holliday, the Head of ICMP’s Western Balkans Program. “This includes assistance in exhuming and documenting clandestine graves and facilitating DNA-based analysis and data matching so that authorities can accurately identify missing persons cases. This process enables the identity of missing persons to be linked to crime scenes and evidence submitted to courts. In this way, ICMP helps secure the rights of the families of the missing.”

ICMP’s technical forensic assistance at the Kizevak exhumation is funded by the European Union as part of a project that aims to strengthen regional cooperation in the Western Balkans to resolve missing persons cases from the 1990s conflicts.

Since 1996, ICMP has maintained a regional program in the Western Balkans to support governments’ cooperation in finding persons missing from the conflicts of the 1990s. ICMP has helped the regional governments account for over 70 percent of the 40,000 persons reported missing, a ratio that has not been equalled anywhere else in the world.

“ICMP encourages the governments of Serbia and Kosovo to cooperate more closely within the Missing Persons Group, in which they both participate, as this would maximize the effect of their efforts,” said Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP Director General. “Such cooperation is needed to increase the chances that the families who are still missing relatives will learn about their loved ones’ fates.”

The Missing Persons Group is a regional mechanism established in the context of the Western Balkans Berlin Process, which is designed to help the countries of the region prepare for future EU membership.

About ICMP

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 tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.