By 1st Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informerr#127, November 28, 2001
On Tuesday, Nov. 20, the International Commission
on Missing Persons (ICMP) led one of its last exhumations of the
year in co-operation with the Commission on Missing Persons of
Republika Srpska (CMP RS), and with support from SFOR.
Hadzici - On this cold autumn morning a convoy formed
in front of Sarajevo International Airport. But, in the Bosnian
capital, winter is already here. Snow covers the streets and fields,
and it will fall again during the morning. The column gathered
ICMP and CMP RS teams, an SFOR protection group and a Bosnia and
Herzegovina (BiH) Federation (Fed) police escort. They departed
at 9:90 a.m. to Hadzici (Fed), 11 kilometres west of Sarajevo.
After 20 minutes, off-road vehicles left the main road to make
their way up a snowy track through the surrounding hills. Thirty
minutes of slow progress and the group joined Zoran Dzida, Srpsko
Sarajevo District Court Investigative Judge, on the research site.
The teams assembled that day searched for the two bodies of Bosnian-Serb
soldiers who may have been executed by Bosniac fighters in 1992.
A witness was there to direct searches. The location fixed, CMP
RS members, led by Slobodan Skrba began to dig. German Battle
Group (GE BG) soldiers from Rajlovac kept watch.
ICTY and ICMP
Two organisations are in charge of exhumations in BiH: the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the ICMP.
ICTY is responsible for the charging of war criminals. Exhumations
allow for the establishment of possible culpability. ICMP was
created on June 29, 1996. Its mission is to resolve cases of missing
persons during the war and to help families to determine their
close relations' fates. It is the first commission of this type
to have been created in a post-war situation; its current president
is James Kimsey. Main ICMP donors are Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands,
the United States and the United Nations. Missing persons searches
are initiated by families' demands to local authorities or to
the three ethnic CMPs (Bosniac, Bosnian-Croat or Bosnian-Serb),
to ICMP or to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC).
ICTY has priority. It intervenes in investigation sites where
a war crime is suspected to have occurred. Mostly, in that case,
tribunal anthropologists work in association with ICMP ones. In
other cases, it's this last one which takes responsibility for
the whole process.
This consists of entities commission teams and investigation supervisors
both of which work in co-ordination with local authorities. Every
exhumation is subjected to an inquiry by local courts. "My
work is to ensure that excavations are correctly made," explains
Rick Snow, ICMP Forensic Anthropologist. "I determine the
sex and age of found individuals. Then, local forensic scientists
carry out autopsies and determine the cause of death." The
mortal remains identification process has revealed itself to be
the most effective method to end the majority of missing persons
SFOR is in charge of exhumation sites protecting teams on the
sites. When ICTY intervenes, it carries out permanent surveillance
to avoid the disappearance of any exhibits. French Gendarmerie
Maj. Alain Grandjean, SFOR liaison officer to ICTY and ICMP, underlines:
"SFOR signed a memorandum of understanding with ICMP by which
it undertakes to supply support in terms of security, and information
on mined areas and on the state of the roads." On the other
hand, mine clearance of sites is financed and managed by ICMP.
30,000 missing, 12,000 exhumations
considers that between 25,000 to 30,000 persons went missing in
BiH during the war of 1992-1995. Most are estimated to be in several
hundred mass graves, mainly along the Inter-Entity Boundary Line
(IEBL) and on the road from Srebrenica to Bratunac, where, according
to the ICMP, up to 8,000 Bosniacs were executed by Gen. Ratko
Mladic's Bosnian-Serb troops in July 1995. According to various
local commissions' leaders, 5,000 persons have been identified
of the 12,000 exhumed since 1995 in the whole of BiH. Michael
Portillo, an ICMP leader, said that 40,000 persons are reported
missing in the FRY.
A new DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis method is going to
allow the acceleration of the identification process and to reduce
its cost. This one, worked out by ICMP experts in BiH, is based
on comparison of DNA from the bone marrowof bodies and that of
missing persons' families blood. Three laboratories are operational.
One, in Sarajevo, is specialising in osseous analysis and two
others, in Tuzla and in Banja Luka, specialise in blood analysis.
This technology is also used in Croatia, in Serbia and in Kosovo,
but was also supplied to the United States to assist in the identification
of the victims of the Sept. 11 atrocities. The programme should
allow for the analysis of 450 remains a month. Experts hope to
test the DNA of all human remains exhumed in five to seven years.
The process's speed depends on the established database of the
families' blood samples. At the end, 100,000 persons should be
referenced. Today, 17,566 samples have been collected. For Gordon
Bacon chief of the ICMP in FRY, this programme should contribute
to the reconciliation process in all the Balkans.
Missing Persons Institute
Uncertainty about missing people is a permanent source of fear
for families and an obstacle to restoring civil peace in BiH.
The Missing Persons Institute (MPI) was created on Aug. 15, 2000,
on the initiative of the Office of the High Representative (OHR),
ICRC and ICMP, to assure a lasting structure dedicated to identifications
at national level.
Today, in the snow-covered woods of Hadzici, the searches resulted
in nothing. CMP RS's team turned over the undergrowth for four
hours without a result. But Skrba is not discouraged: "Never
mind. We will be back tomorrow and we will continue to dig."
Grandjean concludes: "The first concern should be to return
bodies to families, so that they can bury their dead and do their
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