Rigorous forensic investigation of mass graves is vitally important for two reasons. Firstly, evidence can be used in international criminal prosecutions, bringing those responsible for such atrocities to justice. Secondly, there is an overwhelming need for families to know the truth about their loved ones and carry out burial and commemoration rituals. This need is mirrored in international human rights and humanitarian law, which demands bodies are recovered, identified and properly buried.
Before BU’s research there were no comprehensive, published, standard protocols or policies for the scientific investigation of mass graves. Lack of consistency and understanding in forensic and scientific processes can lead to evidence not withstanding legal scrutiny.
BU’s multi-disciplinary research in forensic archaeology and anthropology, by Ian Hanson and Paul Cheetham and international law by Dr Melanie Klinkner, has informed and developed standards and universal policies.
Protocols were used to teach Iraqi trainees at the university under a US State Department/FCO funded program. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has since used these protocols and a review of the legal framework for international law, as the basis for their own training manual for further training in Iraq and Libya.
The protocols were also used as the basis for investigating graves of missing First World War soldiers at Fromelles in France. This particular project has significant humanitarian impacts, providing long sought for answers to the families of those missing in action since 1916.