By the end of the Kosovo conflict in June 1999, it was estimated that 4,400 to 4,500 persons were missing. Today, about 1,700 remain unaccounted for.
Since 1999 ICMP has addressed the issue of persons missing as a consequence of the Kosovo conflict, and since 2003 it has been assisting Kosovo through DNA-based identifications, first in cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and since December 2008 in cooperation with the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). Since 2001 ICMP has also provided technical assistance to the Government of Serbia in locating, recovering and identifying persons missing from the Kosovo conflict. To date, ICMP has issued DNA identification reports to Serbia, UNMIK and later EULEX reliably accounting for 2,466 missing persons.
ICMP’s work in Kosovo focuses on ensuring that transparency and human rights standards are fully applied when determining the fate and whereabouts of the missing. ICMP has supported efforts to improve dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and has worked to promote the capacity of the Kosovo Government Commission on Missing Persons (GCMP) since it helped the Kosovo authorities establish the Commission in 2006.
To date, ICMP has collected 97 percent of family DNA reference samples needed to assist in the identification process; however, in more than 1,700 cases, including approximately 400 cases in the Pristina mortuary, it has not been possible to make DNA matches. In 2010, ICMP issued “The Situation in Kosovo: A Stock Taking” report, in which it called on local and international authorities responsible for the issue in Kosovo to take all necessary steps to resolve Kosovo’s continuing missing persons problem.
The recommendations included the following:
- A joint review by ICMP and EULEX should be conducted to examine excavation records, autopsy reports, death certificates, stocktaking efforts undertaken by the EULEX Office of Missing Persons and Forensics and any other records of cases closed. This would make it possible to review instances where bodies have been misidentified, to resolve outstanding cases where identifications have not been made simply because relevant information has not been brought together in the same place, and to establish where the focus of coordinated efforts to resolve outstanding cases should be made.
- More support should be provided to the initiatives taken by the Kosovo government to strengthen the capacity of the GCMP, and to coordinate a strategic approach to casework. Transitioning authority on the missing persons issue to domestic institutions must clearly ensure that local authorities will deliver on their obligations in a nondiscriminatory, transparent and accountable manner.
- A Kosovo Central Records archive should be established to consolidate existing investigative data, ante-mortem and postmortem records, and site location information, as well as identification and repatriation information, which would in turn allow for improved casework while establishing better foundations for overall analysis.
- The Kosovo Law on Missing Persons should clarify the mandate of the GCMP as an independent government agency with the authority to coordinate the missing persons issue with relevant local and international actors and other government entities, including the judicial system. It should expressly state that the GCMP has the authority to monitor and coordinate excavation cases.
In 2014, the mandate of the EULEX mission in Kosovo was amended to permit, among other things, the transfer of responsibility for the missing persons issue to local authorities, including the GCMP. Since then, at the invitation of the GCMP, ICMP has monitored excavation work at two potential mass gravesites in Kosovo.
However, casework initiated by EULEX prior to the transfer of responsibility to Kosovo remains the responsibility of EULEX until the prospective end of its mandate in 2016. EULEX therefore continues its executive functions with regard to the majority of missing persons cases related to the Kosovo conflict
Since 1999, ICMP has also worked with the families of the missing, their associations and other civil society actors to encourage greater cooperation among them and with government authorities in order to address shared problems and to advocate more effectively. Initially this work concentrated on issues such as dealing with the past, prejudice, stereotypes, and individual guilt. Since 2009, ICMP has supported joint activities between Serb and Albanian associations of families of the missing. The associations have made joint demands for answers from relevant government authorities and have engaged in joint memorialization of the missing.