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.
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.