September 6, 2017, NEW YORK – The Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute and Clinic and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) brought together experienced advocates and lawyers for a workshop on the uses of forensic sciences to investigate massacres and other serious atrocities.
The workshop explored the law and science of forensic investigations, and how scientific methods can be used to further accountability for violations of human rights law. It brought together participants from around the world—working with NGOs and the UN—as well as Columbia students. The workshop was led by forensic anthropologist Dr. Luis Fondebrider, who has carried out forensic investigations in over 35 countries and is President of EAAF, as well as Professor Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Human Rights Clinic and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute, who has investigated unlawful killings around the world, and was Chair of the Legal Working Group for the redrafting of the Minnesota Protocol, the leading international protocol on the law and best practice for death investigations.
“Many human rights advocates are trained as lawyers, and have not had access to specialized training in forensic sciences,” Knuckey said. “By drawing on tools and knowledge from forensics, advocates can improve our methods and approaches to documenting human rights violations and also improve how we monitor government investigations.”
Dr. Luis Fondebrider explains the use of forensic sciences in investigating disappearances in Argentina.
Using case studies from mass grave investigations in Chad, Cyprus, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, among other countries, the workshop provided an overview of what scientific analysis of gravesites and skeletal remains can reveal, how victims can be identified, and how assessments of the manner and cause of death are made. Additionally, the workshop focused on how the rights of families can be advanced through forensic tools, which can assist in promoting the right to truth, memory, dignified burials, and criminal accountability. Using the new Minnesota Protocol, it also provided an introduction to the legal obligation on states to investigate allegations of unlawful deaths.
The workshop is part of ongoing work by the Human Rights Institute and Clinic to advance the theory and practice of human rights fact-finding.
Professor Knuckey and Dr. Fondebrider have previously run trainings together on advancing forensic sciences and war crimes investigations for government officials, civil society, UN officials, and academics in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), in collaboration with the University of Bangui Center for Human Rights and Democratic Governance. The Human Rights Clinic has been partnering with civil society organizations in CAR since 2014, and is currently undertaking a project together with EAAF to promote accountability and reconciliation, and develop forensic expertise in the country.
The Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute advances international human rights through education, advocacy, fact-finding, research, scholarship, and critical reflection. We work in partnership with advocates, communities, and organizations pushing for social change to develop and strengthen the human rights legal framework and mechanisms, promote justice and accountability for human rights violations, and build and amplify collective power.
The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic is an organization of international law professors, lawyers, and law students from around the world who work with victims, civil society groups, communities, the UN, and others to advance human rights. The Clinic engages in investigations of alleged abuses, reporting and advocacy, training and education, and litigation directed at ceasing violations of rights and accountability for abuse. The Clinic has worked to address violence by security forces and armed groups, sexual violence, torture, and killings, the rights to expression and assembly, mining and environmental harms, abuses by companies, and water and health rights. For more information, see: http://web.law.columbia.edu/clinics/human-rights-clinic.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF) is a non-governmental, not-for-profit, scientific organization that applies a multidisciplinary approach in forensic sciences—mainly forensic anthropology, archaeology, medicine and genetics—to the investigation of human rights violations in Argentina and worldwide. EAAF was established in 1984 to investigate the cases of at least 9,000 disappeared people in Argentina under the military government that ruled from 1976-1983. Today, the team works in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Europe on five integrated programs: (1) investigative programs, (2) training and advisory assistance, (3) scientific development, (4) strengthening the field and (5) documentation and dissemination. For more information, see: http://www.eaaf.org/.
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