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Brooks Newmark MP is MP for Braintree and a member of the Treasury Select Committee.

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 14.45.15Last year, I travelled to Bosnia and, while in
Sarajevo, visited the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). This unique and highly effective organisation
has revolutionised the international community’s approach to addressing the
issue of missing persons.  In doing so, it
has made a genuine contribution to justice and peace building in the Balkans
and elsewhere.

President Clinton founded the ICMP in
1996 as an ‘ad hoc’ organisation to clarify the fate of missing persons
following the Balkan wars. Confronting
the scale of the problem, ICMP developed state of the art DNA identification
technology and
has helped resolve 70 per cent of missing persons cases from the 1990s conflicts, including
7,000 of the 8,100 missing from Srebrenica.

These unparalleled results provide
the means to end the desperate uncertainty that families have endured.  It also provided irrefutable evidence to the
domestic and international courts that hear war crimes cases, including those of
Karadzic and Mladic. For the first time
in history, DNA evidence is being used to convict the architects of genocide.

The
distinctive expertise that the ICMP brings to this field is reflected in the
growing contribution it is making beyond the Balkans. It now assists Cyprus, doubling the annual
rate of identifications in less than four months. And this year, having
just opened an office in Libya, the ICMP received funds from the UK (announced
during the Prime Minister’s visit to Tripoli) to start DNA testing.  Within one month it had identified over 100
victims of Gadhafi’s forces. The ICMP has also been working in Iraq for several years and, sadly, it is clear that in
the future, Syria  will also require similar assistance.


In addition to its post-conflict work, the ICMP has
assisted Chile, Colombia, and South Africa in addressing missing persons cases
from human rights violations, and also Thailand, the Philippines, and the United States (Hurricane Katrina) in the aftermath of natural disasters. In total, the ICMP has identified the remains of
over 19,000 individuals in the past decade.

Having achieved what it was established to do in the Western
Balkans, the ICMP is gradually winding down its assistance in that region. Yet all
of its programmes worldwide rely, with varied effectiveness, on a legal status
recognized in a few states in the Balkans and a headquarters in Sarajevo. This is not a sustainable basis for its future.

The ICMP is not incorporated under the domestic law of
any one country and is not an NGO. Its lack
of formal legal status hampers the ICMP’s ability to carry out its work and as a result
it was forced to close its office in Colombia, and its efforts in Libya and Iraq
are put at unnecessary risk. A draft legal framework was negotiated by the US,
the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark in 2004, within which the ICMP could operate. But the document was never concluded, leaving ICMP without a permanent,
internationally recognised status.

While I was initially keen for the UK to take the lead on
supporting the ICMP to be based in the UK, I have been persuaded that the
logical place for it to have a sustainable headquarters would be the city of
The Hague, which is keen to provide the ICMP with a home. As the seat of many
international justice institutions, including the International Criminal Court,
The Hague would be an ideal setting for ICMP.

However, the Dutch condition is that ICMP’s legal status is
put on a more sustainable footing, allowing the ICMP to operate in the Netherlands and
in the often dangerous countries in which it works with the immunities it
needs to protect its database of genetic information, which contains information
voluntarily provided by family members of the missing. The Dutch Foreign Minister is prepared to lead a process
aimed at securing that status – but only if he has the reassurance that other partner
countries will support his efforts.

In order to assure the ICMP’s future, I felt
it was vital that the UK gave a clear signal of support for the Dutch
initiative to secure the work of this vital organisation. I therefore urged the Foreign Secretary to make
the UK’s support clear, thereby making a decisive contribution to securing the ICMP’s future for the benefit of all. The
Foreign Secretary was able to visit the ICMP in October last year which was an
excellent signal of support, and the FCO has been actively working with the Netherlands ever since to resolve questions over the ICMP’s future status.

I am no advocate of tying the UK, as a matter of principle,
into permanent financial commitments to international organizations. However, it is precisely because the ICMP has not
had the luxury of permanent funding – and the fact that it has innovated and
managed costs effectively at every stage in its history – that has underscored
another critical reason for me to support this organization. By way of comparison, with a broad range of
programmes and having developed the world’s largest human identification laboratory, the ICMP’s budget is £5 million; a very cost effective
endeavour to alleviate suffering around the world.  

The ICMP
does not seek any permanent funding commitments. Instead, a permanent legal status will enable
it to build on its exceptional track record of success in raising voluntary
contributions. It
is clear that an effective response to the tragedy of missing persons caused by
conflict is, and will remain, a fundamental element of successful conflict
prevention and post-conflict resolution. The UK has a direct interest in
ensuring that present and future international peace building strategies involve
missing persons as an integral element.

In
order to assure the ICMP’s future, it is now time for the UK to take a leadership
role in encouraging other states to support the Dutch initiative to give the
ICMP a more permanent status.

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