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Forensics the key to missing and dead on old and new battlefields

A new identification programme initiated by the humanitarian organisation International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hopes to enable military institutions to identify combatants killed in conflict by using basic DNA profiling before they are deployed.

Many soldiers are unaccounted for on battlefields and there is only a limited chance of identifying those who are found and returning their remains to their families. Science can provide a solution, according to Stephen Fonseca, manager of the ICRC’s new African Centre for Medicolegal Services (ACMS)

“Failure to develop military identifications programmes contributes significantly to dead combatants being misidentified or not identified at all,” said Fonseca.

Using medico-legal assessments and observations, he said the ACMS realised “there is no military programme or guidelines, especially in Africa, that explains how soldiers need to be searched for, recovered, examined, stored and ultimately identified, based on what was collected before going out on battle”.


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