Mass grave evidence for international criminal proceedings

Image of forensic investigators

Dr Melanie Klinkner explores the unique legal challenges surrounding forensic evidence from mass graves in international criminal trials.

She has devoted recent years to exploring the use of forensic science – particularly forensic archaeology, anthropology, and pathology – in two international criminal proceedings: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which is trying former members of the Khmer Rouge.

International criminal justice is part of a coordinated effort to achieve transitional justice in response to social trauma, human rights’ abuses, mass atrocities, civil war and genocide. Critically, criminal trials are believed to contribute to a notion of truth through producing a record of the causes of conflicts, the responsible actors and parties, as well as the events.

As part of its criminal investigations, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) employed multi-disciplinary forensic teams to excavate mass graves and examine the human remains to discern information regarding the victims and the events that preceded their deaths. It thus contributed to two notions of ‘forensic truth’: firstly, through generating findings related to an individual level, questions such as ‘what happened to an individual, where, when and how?’ were answered; and secondly information about the reasons, circumstances and patterns of the events leading to the creation of mass graves was ascertained.

Her research explored the reasons for, potential, values, theoretical and practical aspects of the interaction between international criminal law and forensic science evidence from mass graves. In her work she provides an assessment of the value forensic science evidence from mass graves holds within the ICTY and ECCC’s transitional justice efforts.

Secondly, she outlines the conceptual and theoretical challenges that occur as part of the ‘forensic science-international criminal law relationship’, thus relating traditional law-science debates to a yet unexplored context.

Thirdly, with reference to exchange theory, her research formulates key recommendations to improve practical aspects that arise during the interaction between legal, investigative and forensic practitioners throughout forensic science investigations into mass graves for international criminal prosecutions.


  • Klinkner, M.: (2014) “Scientific Evidence before international criminal tribunals” Springer Encyclopedia for Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Klinkner, M.: (2012) “Psycho-social aspects surrounding criminal investigations into mass graves”, International Criminal Law Review, 12 (3), 409-426.
  • Klinkner, M.:  (2012) “Improving international criminal investigations into mass graves: Synthesising experiences from the former Yugoslavia”, Journal of Human Rights Practice, 4(3): 334-364.
  • Klinkner, M.: (2009) “Forensic science expertise for international criminal proceedings: an old problem; a new context; a pragmatic approach”, International Journal of Evidence and Proof, 13 (2), 102-129.
  • Klinkner, M.: (2008) “Forensic Science for Cambodian Justice”, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2 (2), 227-243.
  • Klinkner, M.: (2008) “Proving Genocide? Forensic Expertise and the ICTY”, Journal of International Criminal Justice, 6 (3), 447-466.