A representative of the Iraq’s Missing campaign recently visited Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH), to tour the facilities of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). Based in Sarajevo, but with offices throughout BiH and in other countries, the ICMP specialises in DNA-assisted identification of bodies.
The ICMP was established by an initiative of Bill Clinton at the G-7 summit in 1996 to support the Dayton Peace Accords, with a view “to ensure the cooperation of governments in locating and identifying those who have disappeared during armed conflict or as a result of human rights violations.” Since then, its efforts have led to the successful identification of over 15,000 people in BiH, and many others who died as a result of the Asian Tsunami, the September 11th attacks in New York, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters and conflicts around the world.
Since establishing itself in BiH, the ICMP has significantly expanded its role in other countries, providing, for example, assistance in the form of training, to the Iraqi government.
The purpose of the visit was to gather information about the work of the ICMP in BiH and Iraq and to research the process of identification, to establish what degree the process is suitable for the situation in Iraq.
Iraq’s Missing visited the Podrinje Identification Project (PIP); located in Tuzla in the shadow of the Majevica Mountains, around a three-hour drive from the capital. Tuzla was once famous for it’s salt mines (the name “Tusla” derives from the Turkish word for salt). Following the massacre of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica (almost all of them male), the bodies were stored in the city’s abandoned salt mines, where they were attacked by rats and water.
The PIP was established to deal specifically with identifying the victims of this atrocity and storing the remains more appropriately. At PIP forensic anthropologists and pathologists conduct detailed human remains analysis, overseen by a criminologist who coordinates the cases. Post-mortem examinations are combined with ante-mortem data (information provided by the families about their loved one’s condition before their death), personal effects and DNA match reports, and results are coordinated with local identification authorities to return identified remains to their families.
At present, there are around 500 sets of mortal remains stored at PIP.
Tuzla is also home the information ‘hub’ of ICMP activities worldwide. The Identification Coordination Division (ICD) – housed in an old sports centre where killings took place during the war – is where samples of blood, data analysis and all case information is processed. Samples are then sent to laboratories where DNA testing takes place and missing persons files are compiled at the ICD.
All data and information is made anonymous by a process of bar code tracking which protects, amongst other things, the ethnic origin of the victim – something that should be replicated in any efforts to identify victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq.
Iraq’s Missing also had the pleasure of meeting with Hatidža Mehmedović, an outspoken member of a group of mothers who lost their loved ones in the massacre. She and her friends were vocal in pushing to get a memorial site built at Potocari, which is now home to more than 3,000 of the dead. At the memorial, a plaque (written in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, English and Arabic) reads: “In the name of God the most merciful, the most compassionate. We pray to almighty God, May grievance become hope! May revenge become justice! May mothers’ tears become prayers that Srebrenica never happens to no-one, nowhere!”