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.
Archaeologists and anthropologists specializing in the field of funerary customs have been used to considering the degree of social, religious and political investment placed in the dead body. The treatment of human remains following their exhumation and the legal status assigned to them as individuals pose a new set of legal and political problems of a particularly thorny nature. The studies of Francisco Ferrandiz on Spain and Elisabeth Claverie on Bosnia have revealed that the legal and symbolic status given to human remains in situations of mass violence can vary from material evidence to that of simple detritus. It is important to note from the outset that the deployment of violence through the gulag occurred on a historical, geographical and sociological scale that has rarely been equalled. The mass violence accompanied by the confiscation, concealment or destruction of bodies is considered as being distinct from mass murders committed without confiscation.
Massacres, missing corpses, and silence in a Bosnian community
Newly available documentation from the State Archive of Bosnia-Herzegovina indicates that the majority of sites where Muslim civilians were massacred during the Second World War remained unmarked as late as the mid-1980s. This chapter seeks to answer the question of why so many sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina where Muslim civilians were murdered remained unmarked after the war. It does so through the reconstruction and analysis of the wartime and postwar history of Kulen Vakuf, a small town located in northwestern Bosnia. The corpses of the victims were never gathered and buried, and no monuments were even built in memory of them. This resulted in a silence whereby the region's inhabitants learned how not to speak of the large number of corpses that everyone knew existed in close proximity.
This chapter provides a general introductory outline of the biopolitical approach to the study of genocide and mass violence, pointing out its central problems and limitations. It outlines the ways by which the research into corpses of mass violence and genocide is able to support a proper biopolitical analysis of the phenomena concerned. The correlationism of biopolitics has led to the interpretation of genocide as a possible manifestation of a correlation between a historically specific political subjectivity and a political reality that neither precedes nor derives from the political subjectivity experiencing it. Modern biopower is a generative, cultivating power that seeks to stimulate, enhance, accelerate, better, regulate and normalize its object of concern, human populations. The chapter then refers to the biopolitical meaning of the rise of forensic anthropology as a professional and authoritative interpreter of corpses as planes of inscription.
A war of extermination, grave looting, and culture wars in the American West
Focussing on the exhumation of Native American gravesites in the American West in the 20th century, the chapter presents a counter-narrative to many of the prevailing assumptions surrounding the exhumation of the dead: that the descendants, biological and cultural, of the victims of mass crimes of genocide and violence want their ancestors to be traced, exhumed, identified, named, and publicly acknowledged. But to understand the history of this region’s bitter legacies requires a larger context and backstory, one in which archaeological-scientific abuse was one of three interrelated catastrophes that indigenous people experienced.
This chapter explores representations of cross-border mobilities in the Ukrainian-Romanian borderlands. In 2007-2009, cross-border trading and shopping had established themselves as an important part of the local economy and integral to daily life in local communities. Nestled within the thousands of border crossings that were made every day were feelings of shame on the part of those living on the Ukrainian side of the border. This shame was relational across two levels: firstly, as a personal shame in the practices involved in cross-border small trading – the payments of bribes, the flirtation with Romanian customs officials and interactions with money-changers; secondly, a more general, collective sense of shame that such practices should be taking place across a border, which had previously sheltered Soviet citizens from the humiliations of living under late socialism in Ceausescu’s Romania. The chapter elucidates how for the villagers involved the intersection of these levels of shame emerged in dominant narratives of the trade, which not only challenged elite level nation-building in Ukraine, but also made use of existing narrative forms, primarily anecdotes and jokes. What emerges is a much more complex theoretical understanding of the trans-temporality of shame at the border.
The politics of exhumation in post-genocide Rwanda
Contrary to other countries that suffered mass violence in the late twentieth century, such as Bosnia, the issue of individual identification or DNA identification has never been considered seriously by the national and international agents of the memory in Rwanda. The lack of forensic investigation is a result of the financial situation of the Rwandan state after the genocide. In 1996, Rwanda was officially declared as the poorest country in the world. How in this context did Rwandan and international agents manage the memory of the genocide and especially the corpses? Considering the absence of a state-led individual identification program, how did exhumations occur and for what purposes? Who were the agents of exhumations in Rwanda? But also, what is the history behind the conservation of bones and corpses in genocide memorials? Based upon the study of the public archives of the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide, this paper sheds some historical light on the debates around the management of genocide corpses in Rwanda since 1994.
How grave robbers, activists, and foreigners ended official silence about Stalin’s mass graves near Kiev
Karel C. Berkhoff
The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.
"Operation Carrot" was devised and executed by the Uruguayan military at the time of the country’s return to democracy, between 1983 and 1985. The objective of this secret operation was to exhume all the bodies of disappeared prisoners who had been murdered during the dictatorship, in order either to destroy them or make them disappear permanently. This chapter discusses the tools and methodological processes that allow us to physically identify and then interpret these types of actions, which are often extremely hard to detect, given that they are part of an intentional and systematic attempt by the killers to conceal their past deeds. However, we also seek to develop a better understanding of violence within Uruguayan social and political life: for, while the country’s dictatorship only lasted around ten years (between 1973 and 1984), political violence had already begun in the 1960s in the context of social conflicts surrounding land ownership, wages, and civil rights. It is, we argue, precisely because political violence is deeply rooted in Latin America that we must, in order to analyze it, adopt an integrated historical and anthropological approach which also draws on the more specialised disciplines of archaeology and forensic science.