ICMP works closely with the Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as with UN-administered Kosovo.
Following the cessation of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, there were 40,000 persons missing and presumed dead. This number includes the conflicts relevant to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Kosovo as well as the 2001 crisis in Macedonia. Of the approximately 40,000 persons missing in the region, an estimated 30,000 were missing from the BiH conflict, 5,500 from the Croatia conflicts, 4,400 from the Kosovo conflict and 23 persons from the 2001 crisis in Macedonia. Today the regional number of missing persons is approximately 14,000, of whom approximately 10,000 are missing from the BiH conflict, 2,000 from the Croatia conflict, around 1,900 from the Kosovo conflict and 13 from Macedonia.
In terms of technical assistance, ICMP has assisted in making 16,945 identifications of different individuals since the DNA labs went on line in November 2001. Of that number 14,063 are relevant to persons missing from the BiH conflicts and 2,433 relevant to Kosovo and 449 persons through a joint project with Croatia. Of the 14,063 persons DNA identified in the context of BiH, 6,877 were DNA identifications of persons missing from the 1995 fall of Srebrenica. To make these DNA-based identifications, ICMP has collected 90,482 blood samples from relatives of the victims, which represent 29,404 missing individuals. ICMP has also received and analyzed 53,328 bone samples from mortal remains of persons recovered from mass graves in the region.
The most difficult case load is the identification of Srebrenica remains. As a result of attempts by perpetrators to conceal evidence, bodies were removed from their initial mass graves and reburied in other locations. As a consequence body parts are found disarticulated in numerous primary and secondary mass grave sites. Identifying these mortal remains is labor intensive and requires an integrated approach in which DNA is used to guide forensic anthropologists in re-associating disarticulated body parts. In addition, ICMP has either monitored or provided rigorous forensic anthropological and archeological assistance at more than 1,000 conflict-related grave sites in BiH, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia (ICMP has not provided assistance in excavating sites in Kosovo). In cases where ICMP experts have provided assistance, they have prepared summary excavation reports.
Furthermore, ICMP has assisted in building institutional capacity and drafting legislation to support the relatives of victims. In BiH, ICMP is the co-founder, along with the Council of Ministers, of the Missing Persons Institute (MPI). The agreement establishing MPI was signed by the co-founders in August 2005 and MPI began functioning in 2007 following the appointment of statutory supervisory bodies. This means that the former BiH Entity functions (including assets, staff, operations) have been merged into the State-level MPI. Searches for persons missing from the conflict in BiH are now undertaken regardless of a persons ethnic, religious or national origin. ICMP has also assisted in developing the Central Records (Centralna evidencija nestalih) for the MPI and will donate software, developed in-house, to the MPI so that the Central Records can be maintained electronically. Along with ICRC, ICMP helped the BiH Council of Ministers draft the Law on Missing Persons. In Kosovo, ICMP assisted in the creation of the inter-ministerial Kosovo Commission on Missing Persons. This initiative was based on models that have been applied successfully in the rest of the region. The Kosovo Commission will establish sustainable policies and coordination systems for dealing with the issue of missing persons. The Kosovo Commission now has a head and co-head representing the Kosovo Albanian and non-Albanian communities. ICMP further plans to help the Kosovo Commission create a central record of the missing (and is prepared to donate software ICMP created for that purpose), as well as assisting with legislation for the families of the missing. ICMP is engaged in similar capacity building in Croatia and Serbia and is working collectively with governments at the regional level to address this issue.
ICMP works with over 120 associations of families of the missing and other civil society organizations in the region. ICMP aims to encourage the development of independent, engaged and effective government and civil society mechanisms that can contribute to the process of truth seeking and to addressing the rights of surviving relatives. ICMP’s local partners are now moving from a position of dependence on ICMP to one of greater self-sufficiency. ICMP’s civil society initiatives program encompasses four main priority areas; these are empowerment, networking, awareness building, and promotion of mutual understanding. Within this context ICMP places special emphasis on the following primary goals:
- Building self-sustainability of associations of families of missing persons;
- Developing effective coordination structures;
- Supporting projects connected to transitional justice and dealing with the past; and
- Promoting education and awareness of rights.
ICMP has also provided support to international and domestic courts on matters related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes under international law, in line with data protection and other safeguards under ICMP policy.
In the context of Southeast Europe the work of ICMP constitutes a long-lasting contribution to the process of ensuring peace and stability in the region by providing an accurate accounting of atrocities committed and by working with victims and building the capacity of governments to address this issue. ICMP’s goal in the region of the Western Balkans is to make a total of 20,000 DNA assisted identifications by the end of 2010. This will require sustainable funds from donors and a continued commitment to this issue on the part of governments in the region.