The Contribution by (Forensic) Archaeologists to Human Rights Investigations of Mass Graves
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- AmS Nett 
Original versionJuhl, Kirsten (2005): The Contribution by (Forensic) Archaeologists to Human Rights Investigations of Mass Graves. AmS-nett 5, Arkeologisk museum i Stavanger
Since the German “Nacht und Nebel” policy of World War II and their industrialised killing of Jews and Gypsies in the Holocaust, state institutionalised, deliberate and systematic practices of making people disappear – whether for political, religious, ethnic, cultural or other motives – has been known as an efficient tool of war and repression. The systematic practice of making people disappear is now known as enforced disappearance, and has lately been recognized as a crime against humanity. Both genocide and crimes against humanity is often associated with the use of mass graves in order to conceal the crime and also prevent individual identification. Over the past twenty years forensic experts, and among these archaeologists, have been contracted or subcontracted to investigate such mass graves by truth commissions, local courts and international tribunals, local and international human rights and family associations in together more than forty countries all over the world. The present study explores how excavating such mass graves may serve different purposes related to the societal rebuilding processes in the aftermath of violent conflicts whether internal or international, and thus contribute to societal security and safety. The focus is on the role and contribution of archaeologists in this process. For this purpose a conceptual distinction is made between excavating mass graves (focusing on the mass grave as an archaeological feature) and exhuming human remains (focusing predominantly on retrieving the human remains). The history, principles and mechanics of scientific mass grave excavations are discussed and illustrated with examples from Latin America, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and most recently Iraq, focusing on the role of archaeology as an integrated part of a multidisciplinary forensic team work. It is demonstrated how evidence from mass grave excavations has been important to truth commissions in Latin America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru), and to cases brought before human rights courts. For example the Dos Erres case where the Guatemalan governments was sentenced to pay reparation and provide physical and psychological treatment to survivors and relatives, and to build a memorial. It is further demonstrated that the evidence from excavations of mass graves is an important factor in getting war criminals convicted, as for example in the case against Krstic, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison based on evidence from 21 mass graves related to the Srebrenica Massacre. It is argued that historically two investigation strategies have been employed. In Latin America one has integrated the excavation and exhumation concept into one investigation concept. In former Yugoslavia one has distinguished between the excavation and exhumation concepts, but achieved a holistic strategy through complementary institutions conducting the investigations – the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP)/the national CMPs. The recent development of mass grave investigations in Iraq seems to introduce a third concept and overall strategy. It is concluded that human rights mass grave investigations have contributed significantly to the success of national as well as international truth commissions, human rights courts, criminal courts and tribunals throughout the world – and thus consequently to both truth and justice. The contribution has been most evident in Latin America and former Yugoslavia. However, the field is rapidly growing and forensic anthropology and archaeology is 3 increasingly incorporated into international crisis and conflict management strategies – notably by the United Nations. Human rights mass grave investigation teams have in general pursued three major purposes: humanitarian, legal and historical purposes. Establishing a historical record – the factual truth of what happened and in which sequence at a specific location at a specific point in time – is paramount to pursuing the legal and historical purposes and important also to reaching the humanitarian purpose of identifying victims. It is concluded that the significance of the contribution by archaeologists to human rights mass grave investigations lies with their unique ability to provide this historical record.