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Reflections on the scientific documentation of human rights violations

31-12-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 848, by Luis Fondebrider

This article reflects on the psychological, judicial, political, economic and humanitarian consequences of exhuming human remains and trying to identify them. The new challenges presented to professionals involved in the scientific documentation of human rights violations both on a technical level and on an ethical level are examined and considered.

   

Luis Fondebrider,
Luis Fondebrider is a forensic anthropologist and member of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a non-governmental organization that has worked since 1984 in human rights investigation, exhumation of graves, and analysis of skeletal remains. During that time, the EAAF has conducted and/or participated in forensic investigations of human rights violations in 27 countries. 
   
Abstract 
 The use of Forensic Sciences in the scientific documentation of human rights vio lations has created new challenges for the professionals involved in the task. These are not questions of understanding ordinary crimes, but of working on massive cases, in which the state tends to be the main perpetrator. In processes of political violence, the disappearance of a loved one is agonizing for the family, given the uncertainty about whether the person is alive or dead. The forensic scientists as well the concerned lawyers must therefore consider, before beginning an investigation, the psychological, judicial, political, economic and humanitarian consequences of exhuming human remains and trying to identify them. What first appears as a clear-cut scientific, technical operation may have complex and ambiguous boundaries as well ethical dimensions.  
   
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