This article presents an account of the involvement of forensic anthropology in the investigation of human rights abuses in the modern era, and the difficulties it faces with respect to lack of adequate funding, volatile settings, the presence of unexploded ordnance, corruption in governmental agencies and a lack of good will, absence of support for NGOs and the curtailment of formal judicial proceedings to effect transitional justice. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Mexico and the Northern Triangle are provided as regional examples of the problems encountered when attempting to conduct forensic anthropological investigations to locate mass graves, retrieve victims and obtain proper identifications. Interventions by various organisations are highlighted to illustrate their assistance to forensic and non-forensic individuals through technical support, training and mentoring in the areas of crime-scene management and identification techniques. Interventions in mass-grave processing when state agencies have failed, the importance of DNA banks and information from family members and witnesses are also presented.
Truth commissions are widely recognised tools used in negotiation following political repression. Their work may be underpinned by formal scientific investigation of human remains. This paper presents an analysis of the role of forensic investigations in the transition to democracy following the Brazilian military governments of 1964–85. It considers practices during the dictatorship and in the period following, making reference to analyses of truth commission work in jurisdictions other than Brazil, including those in which the investigation of clandestine burials has taken place. Attempts to conceal the fate of victims during the dictatorship, and the attempts of democratic governments to investigate them are described. Despite various initiatives since the end of the military government, many victims remain unidentified. In Brazil, as elsewhere, forensic investigations are susceptible to political and social influences, leading to a situation in which relatives struggle to obtain meaningful restitution and have little trust in the transitional justice process.
The military coup of March 1976 in Argentina ruptured the prevailing institutional order, with the greater part of its repressive strategy built on clandestine practices and tactics (death, torture and disappearance) that sowed fear across large swathes of Argentine society. Simultaneously, the terrorist state established a parallel, de facto legal order through which it endeavoured to legitimise its actions. Among other social forces, the judicial branch played a pivotal role in this project of legitimisation. While conscious of the fact that many of those inside the justice system were also targets of oppression, I would like to argue that the dictatorship‘s approach was not to establish a new judicial authority but, rather, to build upon the existing institutional structure, remodelling it to suit its own interests and objectives. Based on an analysis of the criminal and administrative proceedings that together were known as the Case of the judicial morgue, this article aims to examine the ways in which the bodies of the detained-disappeared that entered the morgue during the dictatorship were handled, as well as the rationales and practices of the doctors and other employees who played a part in this process. Finally, it aims to reflect upon the traces left by judicial and administrative bureaucratic structures in relation to the crimes committed by the dictatorship, and on the legal strategies adopted by lawyers and the families of the victims.
This article describes the operational practices of the city morgue in Santiago, Chile and their effects on the family members who come to claim the bodies of their loved ones. It explores the impact of the body‘s passage through the morgue on the observance of rituals surrounding death and mourning. An underlying conflict can be identified between the states partial appropriation of and interference with the body and intrinsic needs associated with the performance of funeral rites in accordance with cultural and religious precepts.
Between 1975 and 1979, thirty-one unidentified bodies bearing marks of torture appeared at various locations along Uruguays coastline. These bodies were material proof of the death flights implemented in neighbouring Argentina after the military coup. In Uruguay, in a general context of political crisis, the appearance of these anonymous cadavers first generated local terror and was then rapidly transformed into a traumatic event at the national level. This article focuses on the various reports established by Uruguayan police and mortuary services. It aims to show how,the administrative and funeral treatments given at that time to the dead bodies, buried anonymously (under the NN label) in local cemeteries, make visible some of the multiple complicities between the Uruguayan and Argentinean dictatorships in the broader framework of the Condor Plan. The repressive strategy implemented in Argentina through torture and forced disappearance was indeed echoed by the bureaucratic repressive strategy implemented in Uruguay through incomplete and false reports, aiming to make the NN disappear once again.
In discussions of conflict, war and political violence, dead bodies count. Although the politics and practices associated with the collection of violent-death data are seldom subject to critical examination, they are crucial to how scholars and practitioners think about how and why conflict and violence erupt. Knowledge about conflict deaths – the who, what, where, when, why and how – is a form of expertise, created, disseminated and used by different agents. This article highlights the ways in which body counts are deployed as social facts and forms of knowledge that are used to shape and influence policies and practices associated with armed conflict. It traces the way in which conflict-death data emerged, and then examines critically some of the practices and assumptions of data collection to shed light on how claims to expertise are enacted and on how the public arena connects (or not) with scholarly conflict expertise.
This article examines the ways in which missing persons have been dealt with, mainly in the former Yugoslavia, to show how the huge advances made in the search for, recovery and identification of those who disappeared is positively impacting on the ability of families to find their loved ones. The article surveys the advances made in dealing with the missing on a range of fronts, including the technical and forensic capacities. It examines some of the other developments that have occurred around the world with regard to the search for, recovery and identification of people and makes recommendations on how to make improvements to ensure that the rights of families around the world, as well as a range of other human rights, including truth and justice, are enhanced.
Exhumation may be defined as the legally sanctioned excavation and recovery of the remains of lawfully buried or – occasionally – cremated individuals, as distinct from forensic excavations of clandestinely buried remains conducted as part of a criminal investigation and from unlawful disinterment of human remains, commonly referred to as bodysnatching. The aim of this article is to review the role of exhumation – so defined – in the activities of CEMEL, the Medico-Legal Centre of the Ribeirão Preto Medical School-University of São Paulo, in international, regional and local collaborations. Exhumations form part of routine forensic anthropology casework; scientific research in physical and forensic anthropology; and forensic casework conducted in collaboration with the Brazilian Federal Police; and are carried out as part of humanitarian investigations into deaths associated with the civil–military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985. This article aims to offer a non-technical summary – with reference to international comparative information – of the role of exhumation in investigative and scientific work and to discuss developments in their historical and political context.