News

Reviewing the Remains at the Pristina Mortuary: The Way Forward

27 April

Today, as Kosovo marks the National Day of Missing Persons, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) reaffirms its commitment to continue supporting the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) in its efforts to shed light on the fate of 1620 persons, who are still unaccounted for.

Together with the IFM, EULEX is currently engaged in: (a) supporting local authorities and counterparts with specialized expertise in field work operations on several sites for which there are pending court orders, (b) searching for new potential clandestine graves, which could lead to the identification of more missing persons, and (c) reviewing the remains at the Pristina mortuary.

The review of the remains at the Pristina mortuary is coordinated by a working group led by the forensic experts of the IFM, based on the working group’s Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023. The main aim is to review all human remains stored in the mortuary as well as the associated case files, and determine the status of all cases including:  conflict-related cases of forensic interest, cases of forensic interest which are not related to the conflict, and cases of no forensic interest.

The review process, which is already underway, has so far resulted in the recent handover of the remains of seven missing persons from the massacre in Krusha e Vogël/Mala Kruša to their families.

EULEX’s Forensic Anthropologist, Luísa Marinho, said that dealing with unidentified remains is a very demanding process, which requires commitment and persistence by all experts involved. “We will undertake a more strategic approach and we will exhaust all forensic investigation means to resolve cases of missing persons currently under custody of the IFM,” said Marinho.

Speaking about the Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023, Marinho said that it includes two strategies that have a high potential to help identify some of the unidentified remains: “The first strategy is to reach out to missing persons’ relatives and ask them to provide blood samples where there is none, or they are insufficient for DNA analysis. This could lead to positive DNA matches and the identification of missing persons. The second strategy is to address the misidentifications that resulted from the so-called ‘traditional identification’ process, through the use of DNA.”

Marinho also said that the two main factors that could hinder or prevent the identification of remains are the condition of preservation of the remains, i.e. whether they are burned or highly-fragmented, and the inability to obtain appropriate reference blood samples for DNA-based identification.

“However”, added Marinho, “the fast-evolving technology in the field of DNA could lead to positive results from re-testing previously unsuccessful DNA testing of some samples. Lastly, the investment on international archival research, with renewed attempts to access and analyse information from ICTY and other international organizations’ records, could also open new leads in the forensic investigation of some cases.”

From the beginning of EULEX’s mandate until today, EULEX has conducted 684 field operations to locate missing persons, including 181 exhumations. The remains of 477 individuals have been identified, including 332 missing persons.