Visibility event ‘IPA Further Support to Forensic Medicine Services in Kosovo’

15 September 2022

EULEX Kosovo Head of Mission, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark
Pristina, 15 September 2022
(Check against delivery)

Minister Haxhiu,
Head of EU Office in Kosovo/EU Special Representative Mr Tomas Szunyog
Acting Director of the IFM Ms Flutra Goga Bajrami
Colleagues from the IPA 2 Team
Representatives of media, partners, ladies and gentlemen

  • A professional, effective and efficient Institute of Forensic
  • Medicine is fundamental for the rule of law, justice and the protection of human rights (as the previous speakers already highlighted).
  • This is why the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo - EULEX, since the beginning of its mandate end of 2008 is supporting the Institute of Forensic Medicine and also supported its predecessors, the Department of Forensic Medicine and the Office for Missing Persons and Forensics
  • Over the past 13 years, our work has focused in particular on one of the most devastating legacies of the Kosovo war and its aftermath, that is: missing persons and the right of family members to know the fate of their loved ones.
  • When EULEX started working there were over 1900 missing persons related to the Kosovo war.
  • As of today, 1621 individuals are still missing. They come from all communities: Albanian, Serbian, Bosnian, Roma, Turkish to name a few. This number includes women, men, girls, boys, children as young as one day old and three months old.
  • Since 2008, EULEX forensic experts embedded in the Institute of Forensic Medicine are supporting the process of location and identification of missing persons by carrying out field activities such as site assessments, excavations and exhumations, and forensic examinations at the IFM.
  • In the past, EULEX forensic experts have also supported IFM in other areas of forensic medicine by performing clinical examinations and autopsies.
  • From the beginning of our mandate until today, EULEX has conducted over 700 field operations and has identified 332 missing persons.
  • But our role is not limited to performing these tasks ourselves. It also involves building local capacities through daily monitoring, mentoring and advising of Kosovo staff in the Institute in all the aspects related to the search and identification of missing persons.
  • Our forensic experts work hand in hand with our IFM counterparts.
  • We take pride in the solid partnership we have established with colleagues from the IFM and other counterparts both in Kosovo and in Serbia.
  • This partnership is based on mutual trust and our common goal is to give family members of missing persons the answers they are entitled to.
  • EULEX forensic experts sit in both the Analytical Team and Sub-Working group meetings together with the Pristina and Belgrade Delegations, a mechanism chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross – ICRC, where key information to resolve missing person cases is shared and analyzed.
  • Since last year, EULEX experts are also working on the review of the remains at the Pristina mortuary. These efforts are coordinated by a working group led by the Institute of Forensic Medicine and based on the working group’s Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023.
  • The working group includes IFM staff members, as well as EULEX forensic experts, representatives from the Kosovo Government Commission on Missing Persons, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Commission on Missing Persons, and IPA 2. In addition, representatives of the Serbian Delegation are invited as observers to the review of cases of mutual interest.
  • 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.
  • The Action Plan of the WG is set to cover activities from 2021 through 2023 and the work is ongoing. The cases that remain in the morgue to date are the most complex to investigate and thus this process requires determination, commitment, and compliance with the highest standards.
  • The full completion of this review depends on several factors, including the complexity of the cases being reviewed, the existence or not of appropriate reference blood samples for DNA-based identification, and the parallel field search of new cases.
  • EULEX already conducted a review of these remains between 2009 and 2012; however, given the developments in technology and the processing of cases over the years, there is a concrete possibility that this ongoing process will result in new identifications. We are very hopeful that this will happen.
  • Today we can take stock of the results achieved so far with the contribution of Kosovo counterparts and the concerted efforts of the EU family in Kosovo. The support provided through EULEX on the one hand, and the EU Office through the IPA project on the other, is a good example of what we call the “integrated approach” of the EU.
  • At the same time, we need consider those who are still waiting for answers and justice in Kosovo, in Serbia, and elsewhere i Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, grandchildren, grandparents.
  • As EULEX our job is not done; we have 1621 reasons to keep going.
  • Our experts will therefore continue to work together with our local counterparts at the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) to identify potential clandestine graves and identify victims related to the Kosovo war and its aftermath.
  • Finally, let me also highlight that that our partnership with the IFM is not limited to forensic work related to missing persons.
  • We are also supporting the Working Group tasked with the drafting of the Protocol for Sexual Violence Offences. Once adopted, this protocol will standardize the services that a victim of sexual violence should receive and will facilitate the coordination of all service providers.
  • Such a protocol will be a fundamental step towards the alignment of the Kosovo system with the ‘Istanbul Convention’, the most comprehensive human rights convention on gender-based violence, including sexual violence offences such as rape.
  • In September 2020, Kosovo institutions undertook a formal commitment to implement the provisions of this Convention and in July this year, the Mission published a report on the handling of rape cases in Kosovo in light of these commitments.
  • In this report, we highlighted the importance of timely and professional collection of forensic evidence in these cases, a role the Institute of Forensic Medicine is mandated to perform.
  • In September 2019, in cooperation with the Kosovo Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) the Mission also launched, the “Speak Up on Time” campaign.
  • This campaign is aimed at raising awareness on the importance of ensuring the preservation of biological evidence following sexual violence offences. After the launch of this campaign, several lectures were held in elementary and high schools across Kosovo between September 2019 and February 2020 to inform pupils about this topic.
  • Our intention is to continue to support the IFM within the framework of the upcoming protocol for the treatment of victims of sexual violence cases, as well as in raising awareness of this issue.
  • Recent rape cases confirm how a proper handling of sexual violence cases should be a joint priority for all relevant actors. And we are here for that.