Large Scale DNA Identification of Missing Persons

Tuesday September 24th, 2019 // 11:20 am - 11:50 am // Oasis 1-2

Every year thousands of persons go missing as a result of conflict, natural disasters, irregular migration and crime. Increasingly experts are relying on DNA as a key tool in the formal identification process of these missing persons. Although DNA is widely used in forensic labs for criminalistics these same labs may have difficulties with the low numbers of cases of missing persons involving older skeletonized remains. Additional complications can arise when results need to be matched against complex family pedigrees.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is a treaty-based international organization based in the city of The Hague. It is the only international organization that is exclusively tasked to address the issue of missing persons and is actively engaged in developing institutions and civil society capacity, promoting legislation, fostering social and political advocacy, and developing and providing technical expertise to locate and identify the missing.

The presentation will give a brief overview of the history of the ICMP with a main focus on past and present programs. The ICMP’s DNA laboratory has routinely been applying DNA to help identify large numbers of missing persons since 2001 from programs such as accounting for the large numbers of missing as a result of the breakup of the former-Yugoslavia to more recent work on political disappearances from the military dictatorship in Brazil. The lab has also been active in several large-scale disaster victim identification (DVI) projects starting with the 2004 boxing day Tsunami to the recent crash of Malaysian airways flight MH-17.

The experience of testing 10,000s of samples has allowed for the refinement of robust DNA extraction protocols and bespoke kinship matching software that has led to over 20,000 unique DNA kinship matches world-wide. Examples of complex cases will be given.

More recently the ICMP, in collaboration with other partners, has developed a highly discriminating panel of SNPs dedicated to human identity, targeting over 1,400 SNPs. An overview of the work done to date and case examples will be described.


René Huel

Head of DNA Laboratories Division, ICMP

As a member of ICMP’s DNA Division, Mr. Huel has been involved in developing and validating new technologies in the lab and helped oversee the initial ISO accreditation (ISO 17025) of the labs in 2007. ICMP’s DNA Division continues to process samples from a variety of contexts and countries from around the world. These include disaster victim identifications, post conflict, and individual missing person’s cases.

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