This article describes the powerplay around the recent discovery (summer 2015) of eighteenth-century Jewish graves in the French city of Lyon. Prior to the French Revolution, Jews had no right to have their own cemeteries, and the corpses of the deceased were buried in the basement of the local catholic hospital, the Hôtel- Dieu. In recent years this centrally located building was completely renovated and converted into a retail complex selling luxury brands. The discovery and subsequent identification of the graves – and of some human remains – led to a complex confrontation between various actors: archaeologists, employed either by the municipality or by the state; religious authorities (mostly Lyons chief rabbi); the municipality itself; the private construction companies involved; direct descendants of some of the Jews buried in the hospital‘s basement; as well as the local media. The question of what to do with the graves took centre stage, and while exhumations were favoured by both archaeologists and the representatives of the families, the chief rabbi – supported by the construction companies – proved reluctant to exhume, for religious reasons. In the first part of his article the author details the origins of this Jewish funerary place and current knowledge about it. He then goes on to analyse what was at stake in the long negotiations, arguing that the memory of the Holocaust played a role in the attitude of many of the parties involved. By way of conclusion he considers the decision not to exhume the graves and elaborates on the reasons why this led to some dissatisfaction.
In the aftermath of conflict and gross human rights violations, victims have a right to know what happened to their loved ones. Such a right is compromised if mass graves are not adequately protected to preserve evidence, facilitate identification and repatriation of the dead and enable a full and effective investigation to be conducted. Despite guidelines for investigations of the missing, and legal obligations under international law, it is not expressly clear how these mass graves are best legally protected and by whom. This article asks why, to date, there are no unified mass-grave protection guidelines that could serve as a model for states, authorities or international bodies when faced with gross human rights violations or armed conflicts resulting in mass graves. The paper suggests a practical agenda for working towards a more comprehensive set of legal guidelines to protect mass graves.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Spain has experienced a cycle of exhumations of the mass graves of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and has rediscovered that the largest mass grave of the state is the monument that glorifies the Franco regime: the Valley of the Fallen. Building work in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid, was begun in 1940 and was not completed until 1958. This article analyses for the first time the regimes wish, from the start of the works, for the construction of the Valley of the Fallen to outdo the monument of El Escorial. At the same time the regime sought to create a new location to sanctify the dictatorship through the vast transfer to its crypts of the remains of the dead of the opposing sides of the war.
This article will investigate the process of confronting death in cases of the disappeared of the last military dictatorship in Argentina. Based on the exhumation and identification of the body of a disappeared person, the article will reflect on how the persons social situation can be reconfigured, causing structural changes within the family and other groups. This will be followed by a discussion of the reflections generated by the anthropologist during his or her interview process, as well as an investigation into the authors own experiences in the field. This intimate relationship between the anthropologist and death, through the inevitable contact that takes place among the bodies, causes resonances in the context both of exhumations and of identifications in the anthropologists wider fieldwork.
This article will describe the contemporary scientific techniques used to excavate and identify the dead bodies of disappeared detainees from the Uruguayan dictatorship. It will highlight the developments that have led to increased success by forensic anthropologists and archaeologists in uncovering human remains, as well as their effects, both social and political, on promoting the right to the truth and mechanisms of transitional justice.
Established during the Guatemalan Peace Process, the Oslo Accord contemplates the question of compensating the victims of internal armed conflict. Not only was this accord founded on the principles of victims rights, but it also intends to contribute to the democratic reconstruction of Guatemalan society through a process of recognition of victims status and memory – intended to have a reconciling function. The article focuses on the work of two organisations implementing the Oslo Accord and aims to analyse the discourses and practices of the local actors and their perception of the application of victims rights. Civil society actors and members of the National Compensation Programme demonstrate different approaches both in practical work and in representations of what is right. However, revendication of local cultural values is present in all actors discourse, revealing their ambiguous position in regard to state government.
Since the early 1990s, armed actors have invaded territories in the Chocó and Antioquia departments of Colombia, inhabited by Afro-Colombians and Indians whose collective rights in these territories had recently been legally recognised. Based on long-term fieldwork among the Emberá Katío, this article examines social, cosmological and ritual alterations and re-organisation around violent death. Following a national policy of post-conflict reparations, public exhumations and identifications of human remains reveal new local modes of understanding and administration. In particular, suicide, hitherto completely unknown to the Emberá, broke out in a multitude of cases, mostly among the youth. Local discourse attributes this phenomenon to the number of stray corpses resulting from the violence, who are transformed into murderous spirits which shamans can no longer control. The analysis focusses on the unprecedented articulation of a renewed eschatology, the intricate effects of an internal political reorganisation and the simultaneous inroad into their space of new forms of armed insurrectional violence. Thus the article will shed light on the emergence of a new transitional moral economy of death among the Emberá.
In recent years, exhumation campaigns of mass graves resulting from the armed conflict (1980–2000) between the Maoist guerrillas of PCP-Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the States armed forces have increased in Peru. People in rural Andes, the most marginalised sectors of national society, which were also particularly affected by the war, are the main group concerned with exhumations. This article examines the handling, flow and re-appropriation of exhumed human remains in public space to inform sociopolitical issues underlying the reparation policies implemented by the State, sometimes with the support of human rights NGOs. How do the families of victims become involved in this unusual return of their dead? Have the exhumations become a new repertoire of collective action for Andean people seeking to access their fundamental rights and for recognition of their status as citizens? Finally, what do these devices that dignify the dead reveal about the internal workings of Peruvian society – its structural inequities and racism – which permeate the social fabric?