Washington, DC—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), today introduced legislation to authorize the Secretary of State to advance efforts at the United Nations to establish an international legal standing for International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). Smith’s bill, the International Commission on Missing Persons Assistance Act of 2012, H.R. 4344, would allow the ICMP to provide assistance globally on identifying and locating persons missing as a result of conflict and disaster – particularly through DNA technologies that it has developed in the western Balkans since the 1990s. (Click here for the text of H.R. 4344.)
“No other organization can fill this role – and if the ICMP isn’t given the status it requires to ‘go global,’ its institutional capacity could be lost, due to the winding-up of its work in the Balkans and the lack of clarity in its legal status elsewhere,” said Chairman Smith. “Because of the sensitive information the ICMP acquires in the process of identifying missing persons, it cannot simply work with governments outside the western Balkans. H.R. 4344 will ensure that the ICMP obtains the internationally-recognized legal status necessary to carry out its mandate globally – wherever governments need assistance in locating and identifying missing persons.”
On February 28 Chairman Smith held a hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to examine the effectiveness of global efforts to identify missing persons. At that hearing, Smith took testimony from Queen Noor of Jordan, an ICMP commissioner, and others on the ICMP’s unique resources to locate and identify persons missing as a result of conflicts, natural or man-made disasters, to support investigation of genocide and mass atrocities, and other human rights violations, as well as the emotional relief and closure families receive when the ICMP provides them with reliable information about the fate of missing loved ones.
Queen Noor testified, “I have been in the mass graves. I am still haunted by the memory. I still cannot comprehend… the calculated, systematic attempts to strip these people of their humanity and to hide their bodies repeatedly so that they would never be identified, in order to deny that these atrocities took place… Through painstaking work and the exquisitely sensitive techniques of DNA analysis, ICMP is able to make genetic matches between DNA profiles taken from skeletal remains recovered from mass graves and DNA profiles provided voluntarily by living family members, thus merging state-of-the-art science with human outreach in the service of justice and human rights… Today, of the approximately 8,100 persons killed and missing from the 1995 fall of Srebrenica, ICMP has helped identify 6,700… The need for knowledge, for closure, in these situations is universal… the healing and recovery it provides the victims, as well as the process of accountability it helps foster with governments, are absolutely integral to the processes of healing, reconciliation, justice and ultimately conflict prevention.”
There are currently over a million reported cases of persons missing/ unidentifiable from wars and violations of human rights, and an estimated 150,000 individuals go missing from natural disasters alone. (Click here to read about the February 28 hearing.)
Original co-sponsors of H.R. 4344 are Rep. Michael Turner (OH-03), Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC-07), and Rep. James Moran (VA-08).
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.