The Hague, April 8 (AP) An international organization formed to identify the dead and missing from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s is preparing to send a team of forensic experts to Ukraine as the death toll rises further of six weeks after the start of the war caused by the Russian invasion.
Kyiv authorities have contacted the International Commission on Missing Persons to help put names to bodies that might otherwise remain unnamed in the fog of war.
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A team consisting of a medical examiner, a forensic archaeologist and an expert in collecting DNA samples from bodies and families for cross-matching, is scheduled to travel to Ukraine early in the next week, Chief Executive Kathryne Bomberger told The Associated Press on Friday.
They will help identify the dead, but also document how they died – information that can fuel war crimes investigations in the future. The organization’s lab, located in an office building on a busy street in The Hague, will build a central database listing the evidence and identities of the missing.
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“Having this centralized capability is absolutely essential because you have to think of this as investigating a gigantic crime scene that’s taking place across Ukraine,” Bomberger said.
The team will have a lot of work to do as it deploys to Bucha, where images of bodies lying in the streets after Russian forces withdrew have shocked the world.
Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk told Ukrainian television on Thursday that at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians during the Russian occupation had been discovered. Fedoruk said hundreds of people had been killed and investigators were finding bodies in courtyards, parks and city squares.
The commission, known by its acronym ICMP, already has working relationships with the prosecution of the International Criminal Court and other crime-fighting agencies like Interpol and Europol to share evidence. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has already opened an investigation in Ukraine.
“We want to make sure that we are working with the Ukrainian authorities to properly search these crime scene sites to identify the mortal remains so that evidence can be provided in the future for criminal trial purposes, not only potentially at the ICC, but also potentially. within domestic courts in Ukraine,” Bomberger said.
The organization is at the forefront of using new technologies in its painstaking work of identifying bodies from the smallest samples.
“We have implemented a new extraction technique, which allows us to extract more DNA from smaller or more damaged bone fragments,” said Kieren Hill, head of the DNA laboratory. “This is quite a unique method in terms of application in the missing person context.”
On Friday, lab staff dressed in white clothes covered with blue plastic coveralls, hairnets and gloves worked meticulously on other cases, grabbing small bone shards in forceps and grinding their surfaces with the DNA research.
The ICMP has an online portal where Ukrainians can anonymously report the location of bodies and will help family members of the missing provide DNA samples to help identify them.
The commission was set up to find the dead of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Its sterile, high-tech labs are a world away from the muddy mass graves where the organization’s experts first made a name for themselves among the rotting dead. of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
They helped put names to bodies which, in some cases, were torn up and strewn across several mass graves as Bosnian Serb forces buried and then re-buried the dead in a bid to cover the traces of their genocidal attempt. to annihilate the Bosniaks of Srebrenica.
The commission made sure that they could not cover their tracks. Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic and his political master Radovan Karadzic are currently serving life sentences for crimes including genocide. Both men were convicted in part thanks to evidence collected by the ICMP.
Funded by voluntary contributions from governments, the organization has since helped national governments put names to thousands of other people whose unmarked remains have been recovered from sites comprising more than 3,000 mass and clandestine graves.
He has worked at crime scenes and disaster sites around the world, including Syria, Libya and Iraq. The organization also helped identify victims swept away by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and extracted DNA from bone samples of 250 people killed when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005.
Ukraine could prove to be one of its biggest challenges yet, as the organization works with Ukrainian authorities to investigate and build cases amid an ongoing war.
“So making sure that this process happens in accordance with the proper investigations, that these sites are properly documented, that the proper chain of custody is obtained, will be a challenge,” Bomberger said. “I think under the circumstances, while there is an active conflict.” (AP)
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