By Ankit Malhotra*
In the year 1983, Argentina saw the end of a brutal military dictatorship that had killed and led to the disappearance of up to 30,000 people. In the years that followed, forensic anthropologists worked with the families of the disappeared to exhume and identify human remains from mass graves. This operation was momentous. The forensic anthropologists were investigating serious abuses of human rights through the analysis of remains, with the hope of one day bringing the perpetrators to trial. But, they had another goal: to ease the suffering of the living by identifying and returning the remains of the dead to their families. It was from that time that the work of forensic anthropologists began to take on a humanitarian function.
Since the operation in Argentina, forensic investigations of mass graves have become an almost standard response to mass violence. Similar investigations have taken place in Rwanda, Guatemala, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia. The common denominator of these countries in terms of their recent history has been that they all have witnessed mass killings. The Argentinian investigation marked the beginning of this era. But, these events are part of a much bigger story about the humanitarian interest in mass deaths.Read More »