Report by French journalist on visit to International Commission for Missing Persons in 2011

In July 2011 French Journalist Frederic Saillot visited to the ICMP in Bosnia.  By pre-arrangement he sent this note of what happened to one of colleagues.  Translated from the original French, we think it sheds very interesting light on the nature of the ICMP and the way it carried out its work for The Hague Tribunal.  This account alone makes it clear that it was far from being an impartial and professional organisation.

13 July 2011

I send you the photo of the Majdan in Tuzla, the premises of ICMP occupy all the first floor. You can see that it is rather large. I visited I suppose the main parts of it, the visit was rather complete and even if he started to tell me that I had to first pass by their press officer in Sarajevo, Edin Jasagaric, the manager of this office, did his best to explain me what they are doing here. I had also the feeling that I was “waited”. 

Edin explained to me that Tuzla ICMP collected samples from the victims’ bones and the blood of the families of the missing, that is to say that in these premises they have the bones of the victims and the blood samples from the families, from which they take samples for DNA analysis that they do not make themselves. These samples are sent to laboratories for DNA analysis and comparisons after return.

This comparison work is computerised and is the final phase of the process.  It is done in these premises. Edin told me that there were 5564 “closed cases” – that is 5564 identifications and burials, including those that were made before yesterday at Potocari, 630. There remains about a thousand “boxes” to close: the identifications.  6598 in total  have been made but of the 6598 total there are 1034 remaining cases due to the fact that “the body is not complete and that the families prefer to wait”.

To the question: where are your laboratories doing the DNA analysis of the samples you take yourself, Edin started by saying that all the samples, both Kosovo and Hurricane Katrina, were sent to Sarajevo. When I asked who practiced DNA analysis for Srebrenica, he finally told me that it was the “Podrinje Project” in Tuzla, passed under the authority of the BiH government, and who has done all the DNA analysis work concerning Srebrenica since the beginning.

So he phoned “Podrinje project” to arrange a visit for me. I asked him who I will be dealing with in particular.  Dr. Kesetovic he said. So I went there.  It is at the other end of Tuzla but I ended up finding it after about fifty minutes. I am told that Dr. Kesetovic left about fifty minutes ago and that he will not come back from the day and that I will be received by his collaborator Emina. She begins by telling me that she is finishing a meeting with a group of Italian journalists and then we can talk, but we will be joined by a German journalist. I press for an interview at the head and she finally agree to receive me in the office of Dr. Kesetovic.

Emina Kurtalic has been a project manager for the Podrinje identification project for the last 8 years and she tells me that she has become “Communication for missing persons Institute”. At my insistence, she gives me a brief history of the Podrinje project. Created in early 99 – that is, at the time of the Racak affair – I noticed what she agreed to  it was originally an appendix of the “Komemorativni Centar “, ie the municipal administration of the Tuzla Funeral Pumps, until becoming the” Commemorative Center for the Missing Persons Institute” in June 2010, via the” Podrinje identification project, “as part of the Department of Legal Medicine of the ICMP”.

It is then that she formally informs me that DNA analysis concerning Srebrenica is carried out  in the ICMP laboratory in Sarajevo, at Alipasina 45 a, 71 000 Sarajevo, contact person: Jasmin Agovic, press officer.

I ask her the names of the scientists who work in this laboratory and who carry out the analysis. She answers me. “a team of lab technicians” and refuses to tell me more. She formally tells me that DNA analysis is not done in Tuzla, as Edin Jasaragic told me.

She then explains the work done by the “Podrinje Project”. Dr. Kesetovic is a medical doctor, he is the one who carries out the first medico-legal analyzes on the remains of victims discovered in the mass graves by foreign archeologists. I ask to meet them and visit places of burials in October. she looks dubious about the possibility of doing so. Dr. Kesetovic is working with criminologist Amir Hazandzinovic under the supervision of the BiH prosecutor and the Tuzla prosecutor. I ask him the name of the prosecutor, she answers me: “it does not matter, it is a team which deals with it”. She adds that they also work in collaboration with anthropologists, foreigners too, without any more precision on nationality. Dr Kesetovic then takes samples of corpses from the pits, and also the Podrinje project which carries out the blood samples, which are sent to the Majdan at Edin Jasaragic’s place, where they are processed in order to send them to Sarajevo for DNA analysis.

Tthe comparison work is done by the Jasagaric service in Majdan.  If the coincidence rate is not less than 99.99 per 100, the DNA report is made by the same service which sends it to the “Podrinje project”.  In the final phase, identification is formally established and burial can take place.

We are talking about the “closed cases” figure, then the list of missing persons from the Red Cross. I did not have time to check, but according to her, the list of the Red Cross raised to … 5564 missing persons! She then tells me that the Red Cross has a list that goes beyond … the 8000. We talk about the independence of the “Podrinje project”: she tells me that the government of Republika Srpska does not recognize the ICMP, it seems difficult to envisage a collaboration. I then try to ask the question of the regulatory procedures for verifying the conclusions obtained by the ICMP laboratories by other laboratories outside the ICMP. She had started by telling me that since the ICMP had 2 laboratories, the first one in Sarajevo the second Banja Luka, the verification was self- evident. She said “The ICMP is world famous, we practice DNA analysis in many emergencies: Kathryna, Tsunami etc., we are the best performers, I do not see what laboratory could check the quality of our work” .

I then ask her if this quality has been authenticated by a verification body. She answers me: we are financed by 16 states, including the United States. I clarify my question by saying that it is a scientific authentication and not political or financial. She replied “I did not know that such a verification and authentication body could exist at the international level”.