Adam Boys OBE spent 20 years working to alleviate the human tragedy of the Bosnian conflict and its aftermath. He tells William Ham Bevan about his journey from auditing in Scotland
In 1994, Adam Boys made a decision that would alter the course of his life. He informed his bosses at Price Waterhouse in Glasgow that he was quitting his job to drive aid trucks in Bosnia – then an active war zone. Their response was generous: if he returned at any time within five years, they would keep his role as assistant manager open for him. So did he ever think of taking up their offer? “There were times when I did,” he says.
“Taking aid across the front line I’d unwittingly taken photos in a government building, and some Serbian soldiers found my camera. They were heavily armed and drunk. I ended up getting a bit of a kicking.” Boys has filled high-profile positions at the Office of the High Representative – dealing with the aftermath of the Bosnian war – and the International Commission on Missing Persons. And in 2015, two years before taking up his current role at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he got an OBE for services to conflict prevention and resolution.
Boys is an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh, where he earned a degree in psychology before becoming an audit senior at KPMG in London. After gaining his ACA, he moved back to Scotland to join Price Waterhouse. His decision to volunteer as an aid worker came after meeting his flatmate’s sister, who was working at a refugee camp in Croatia. “The comparison was stark between her life and mine,” he says. “I was auditing a hospital trust in Ayrshire and it was miserable. I decided I could get the wanderlust out of my system by working in Bosnia for a year or so.” Boys began delivering food and medical aid for the charity Feed the Children. “I had a very bad car crash,” he says. “I recovered, but I couldn’t drive a truck any more. What they really needed in Bosnia was administrators, not drivers – and I’d become passionate about the whole concept of conflict resolution.”
He started work as a border monitor between the rump Yugoslav state and Bosnia, seconded to the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. An encounter with a drunk policeman forced a rethink. “He wanted our vehicle to fetch more booze. He pulled a gun on me. Luckily, there wasn’t a round in the chamber, which gave me time to get out.” Once again, the incident pushed Boys into a role more attuned to his expertise. He says: “I became the chief financial officer for that mission, and closed it down at the end of the war. I was then invited by the negotiator of the peace agreement to come to Bosnia and run the finances for the mission he was setting up to monitor the peace agreement.”
In 2000, Boys was invited to join the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), a body set up in 1996 to account for the many thousands of people whose fate remained unknown after the conflict. He became chief operating officer and director of finance. His wife, Kathryne Bomberger, remains director general. He says: “The commission began to provide concrete evidence for the process of criminal justice. We developed the laboratory system into something that could provide real evidence of identity for war crimes cases. That hadn’t really been done before. We built the highest-throughput DNA identification system in the world, and at one point we made 67 identifications in a single day.”
By the end of 2014, the ICMP had identified the fate of almost 20,000 missing persons from the Bosnian war, including 90% of those who disappeared in the fall of Srebrenica. It now operates globally, providing expertise in the aftermath of natural disasters as well as war. After 20 years of working in the Balkans, Boys left the ICMP in 2014. He followed up a spell in Stockholm at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance by accepting a job as chief of administration at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Based in The Hague, this was established to bring to justice the perpetrators of the February 2005 bombing in Beirut. Boys is now a Fellow of ICAEW.
He credits his ACA training with helping him develop the professional rigour that has underpinned his career – and in particular, his work at the ICMP. He says: “What we were doing in Bosnia was accounting for the missing. It was about ensuring we identified the truth of the situation. That meant we had to be rigorous in applying methodology. If there’s any doubt about the number of missing, it allows the perpetrators of war crimes or those around them to deny the atrocities really happened. “It’s what you’re trained to do as an auditor.
You need to prove these people died, and that the systems you operate are good enough to make an appropriate identification.” As for the future, Boys says: “The organisation I work for is great, but it has a temporary mandate. When it comes to an end, I’d like to stay in this line of work as I believe strongly in international organisations. And then, I’ll sail around the world. I’ve got to do that, or I’ll feel I’ve not quite achieved what I set out to do.”
I like being an ACA because... I’ve always felt ICAEW is there when I need it. It has provided valuable advice.
I am happiest when... Sailing.
My favourite book is... Shibumi by Trevanian. It’s a near-perfect novel written in a style that makes me laugh out loud.
The hardest lesson to learn has been... Taking in the news of the Dunblane massacre – it floored me completely.
The love of my life is... My brilliant wife Kathryne, and wonderful daughters Tash and Katya.
My worst habit is... Getting petulantly annoyed when served hot food on a cold plate