Forensic medicine is an important juridical tool that provides the legal system with objective information and medical knowledge to support crime investigation. Two laws, passed in 2010, regulate the forensic medicine in Kosovo. These laws establish Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM) as a public authority responsible for providing forensic medicine and medical death investigation services in Kosovo. The Department is also responsible for exhumation, autopsy and identification of human remains related to the armed conflict in Kosovo and its immediate aftermath. To protect the human rights the quality of forensic services must be improved and obsolete management practices and outdated forensic methodologies updated. A strong Finnish expertise in the field of forensic medicine has played a major role throughout the process.
National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland and Hjelt Institute at the University of Helsinki, Finland together with the local DMF staff and forensic experts are implementing a European Union project on forensic medicine in Kosovo. The two-year project is managed by the EU Office in Kosovo and funded through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), by which the EU supports reforms in the enlargement countries with financial and technical help.
Under the leadership of Finnish forensic odontology expert, Dr. Sinikka Salo, the project aims to further develop technical and human capacities and strengthen also the administrative structures of the DFM to secure the capability of the Department to provide European and international standard forensic medicine and medical death investigation expertise in Kosovo. Currently the Kosovo Ministry of Justice is preparing a law reform on forensic medicine that will enter into force next year. The EU IPA project will assist the Department in the process. Through this reform the Ministry of Justice will strengthen the forensic services at the Department of Forensic Medicine, reduce bureaucracy and ensure impartiality and democratic surveillance of the services.
Furthermore, a Finnish forensic anthropologist, the EULEX Deputy Head of Department of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Tarja Formisto is working in Kosovo to ensure that the stories of the victims of the armed conflict will be heard. One of the main priorities for the EULEX Department of forensic Medicine is to continue the work to find and return the remains of the missing persons to their families and secure the rights of the families to know the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones and to be able to lay their remains to rest.
However, the discovery of graves and the identification of the victims has been a long and challenging process. Uncertainty about the fate of the missing relatives is still a reality for many families in Kosovo. Altogether, 6028 persons were reported missing after the Kosovo war. A total of 1654 persons, including 535 Serbs and other non-Albanians, have remained unaccounted for. After the conflict the turn of events has been kept in the dark, often intentionally, and the fate of the persons still missing may remain unsolved for long if not forever.
For over a decade this uncertainty has damaged the relations between Kosovo and Serbia and hampered the reconciliation process between these two sides of the conflict. Parents, siblings, spouses and children are constantly seeking their lost relatives. Families and communities, not knowing the fate of their loved ones, are not able to leave behind the past events that disrupted their lives. As the grief continues for years after the fighting ends, the mourning family members cannot move on to rehabilitation and reconciliation, either as individuals or as a community. By giving voice to the silent victims, forensic medicine can ensure that the missing persons are not forgotten but their stories will be heard. Only by bringing the perpetrators to justice the human rights can be protected in the future.
As a part of the EU IPA project, a high level conference Missing Persons – Way Forward will be held in Pristina on Tuesday the 8th of September. President Tarja Halonen will attend the conference as a key note speaker. The conference aims to gather citizens, politicians, the media, judges and other parties involved in order to increase the awareness of human rights and the actions needed to secure the legal protection of the citizens. In particular, the conference will address the implementation of international agreements and the importance of local and international cooperation.