T.K. Ralebitso-Senior, T.J.U. Thompson, and H.E. Carney
In the mid-1990s, the crime scene toolkit was revolutionised by the introduction of
DNA-based analyses such as the polymerase chain reaction, low copy number DNA analysis,
short-tandem repeat typing, pulse-field gel electrophoresis and variable number tandem
repeat. Since then, methodological advances in other disciplines, especially molecular
microbial ecology, can now be adapted for cutting-edge applications in forensic contexts.
Despite several studies and discussions, there is, however, currently very little evidence
of these techniques adoption at the contemporary crime scene. Consequently, this article
discusses some of the popular omics and their current and potential exploitations in the
forensic ecogenomics of body decomposition in a crime scene. Thus, together with published
supportive findings and discourse, knowledge gaps are identified. These then justify the
need for more comprehensive, directed, concerted and global research towards
state-of-the-art microecophysiology method application and/or adaptation for subsequent
successful exploitations in this additional context of microbial forensics.
Marco Aurelio Guimarães, Raffaela Arrabaça Francisco, Sergio Britto Garcia, Martin Evison, Maria Eliana Castro Pinheiro, Iara Xavier Pereira, Diva Santana, and Julie Alvina Guss Patrício
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 article will present the findings of ethnographic research into the Colombian and
Mexican forensic systems, introducing the first citizen-led exhumation project made
possible through the cooperation of scholars, forensic specialists and interested citizens
in Mexico. The coupling evolution and mutual re-constitution of forensic science will be
explored, including new forms of citizenship and nation building projects – all approached
as lived experience – in two of Latin America‘s most complex contexts: organised crime and
The Tomašica mass grave and the trial of Ratko Mladić
This article focuses on the judicial consideration of the scientific analysis of the Tomašica mass grave, in the Prijedor municipality of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Often referred to as the largest mass grave in Europe since the Second World War, this grave was fully discovered in September 2013 and the scientific evidence gathered was included in the prosecution of Ratko Mladić before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Based on the exhaustive analysis of all the publicly available trial transcripts, this article presents how the Tomašica evidence proved symptomatic of the way in which forensic sciences and international criminal justice intertwine and of the impact of the former over the latter on the admissibility of evidence, the conduct of proceedings and the qualification of the crimes perpetrated.
Adrien Douchet, Taline Garibian, and Benoît Pouget
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene, the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives related to the conduct of the war.
COVID-19 has reinstated the sovereign enclosures of corpse management that mothers of the disappeared had so successfully challenged in the past decade. To explore how moral duties toward the dead are being renegotiated due to COVID-19, this article puts forward the notion of biorecuperation, understood as an individualised form of forensic care for the dead made possible by the recovery of biological material. Public health imperatives that forbid direct contact with corpses due to the pandemic, interrupt the logics of biorecuperation. Our analysis is based on ten years of experience working with families of the disappeared in Mexico, ethnographic research within Mexico’s forensic science system and online interviews conducted with medics and forensic scientists working at the forefront of Mexico City’s pandemic. In the face of increasing risks of viral contagion and death, this article analyses old and new techniques designed to bypass the prohibitions imposed by the state and its monopoly over corpse management and identification.
The introduction outlines the book’s scope and addresses the central questions raised by the included chapters: when, how and why are bodies hidden or exhibited, and what is their effect, either desired or unintended, on various political, cultural or religious practices? With explicit reference to each chapter, a historic and disciplinary background will be presented, raising issues such as the increased application of forensic sciences on the discovered dead body, the emergence of debates surrounding necro-political strategies by states and political communities, and the economy and chain of custody over human remains resulting from historic and contemporary forms of violence.
Forensic and archaeological approaches to locating the remains of Holocaust victims
Caroline Sturdy Colls
bodies and obliterating the traces of bodies of Jews killed by the
Einsatzgruppen (1947)’, in Y. Arad, I. Gutman and A. Margaliot (eds),
Documents on the Holocaust, Selected Sources on the Destruction of the
Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland and the Soviet Union (Lincoln, NE
and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1981), pp. 471–3; IMTN,
Trial of the Major War Criminals, vol. 1.
48 T. Thompson, ‘Heat-induced dimensional changes in bone and their
consequences for forensic anthropology’, Journal of ForensicScience,
50:5 (2005), 1008–15; T. Thompson, ‘Recent