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Bitter legacies

A war of extermination, grave looting, and culture wars in the American West

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Tony Platt

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.

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Yehonatan Alsheh

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.

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‘As if nothing ever happened’

Massacres, missing corpses, and silence in a Bosnian community

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Max Bergholz

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.

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Élisabeth Anstett

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.

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Valérie Robin Azevedo

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?

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Anne Marie Losonczy

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.

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Clara Duterme

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.

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Jose López Mazz

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.

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Pamela Colombo

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Louise Corron, Jean-Marc Dreyfus, Alfredo Gonzalez Ruibal, Claudia Garrido-Varas and Clotilde Pégorier