“ICMP’s main objective is to insure that states take responsibility to locate missing and investigate their disappearance. We maintain seven different cross-cutting programs, including support in creating purpose-specific institutions and legislation, support to families of the missing and technical support including data systems, forensic investigations and the use of DNA-based identifications,” Kathryne says. This includes working with the prosecutor's office to insure they're trained to excavate crime scenes – including mass grave sites – to a level where evidence can be provided to an international criminal tribunal.
Mass graves were initially found in 2014, and then again in April 2022, following the Russian Federation invasion, indicating ‘a pattern of activity’ says ICMP. “Normally, countries don't have forensic anthropologists or archaeologists, and that’s the case in Ukraine, so we have a team of forensic specialists who can be in the field, who can do proper excavations – that evidence is also important for criminal trial purposes,” she says. “And then anthropologists who can help carefully exhume the bodies, and then they go to a mortuary to examine the bodies and take bone samples.”
All of this means a lot of work on the political level, across the ministries of health, defense, the interior and others, she points out. “We are trying to help the relevant ministries create a centralized structure, or institution with a central record,” she says.
The police have still been handling missing persons cases in the same way they did before the war, she explains, “one case at a time,” with different government bodies dealing with others, so ICMP has stressed the urgent need to synchronize and harmonize the work. “You have to be really in tune and in step in doing this because if any mistakes happen, that will haunt you. There will be misidentification, families won't have answers, and evidence won't go to courts.”
Kathryne Bomberger has worked at ICMP since 1998 and was appointed Director-General in 2004. She has previously held positions at the UN, the U.S. Senate and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and has worked in conflict zones and areas affected by natural disasters across the world.