the Humanitarian and Human Rights Violations Workshop

On the Sunday that Tom and I arrived in Atlanta, we parked his car in a garage, brought all of our stuff to the hotel room (on the 40th floor), changed clothes, and went outside to walk and find a place to eat. We were exhausted. Well at least I was, neither of us slept more than a couple, possibly a few hours, since we drove overnight. We walked up and down one of the Peach Tree streets (NE) to end up at a sweet upscale Mexican restaurant which was right across the street from our hotel, the Westin. The exterior showed just the name of the restaurant, Alma Cocina, which was connected to the Ritz-Carlton. The interior was awesome, modern mexican, not like Acapulcos and cheesy. It was dark, the ceiling had exposed dark-colored beams, the light fixtures were pretty cool, and the bar just had tequila staked everywhere. It was funny because it was all the same, like a wall of tequila bottles. Well dinner was good and everything was nice and Tom love loved the style and food but then at the end we were messing around and somehow he flicked his license and it fell between the booth and the wall. We spent a good ten minutes trying to get it out of the crack. The staff even helped! This lady held a flashlight on me as I tried to scoop it out with a piece of paper. Class.

On that note, we didn’t find anything too exciting to do after so we went back to the room and went to sleep. I also had to get up bright and early for the Humanitarian and Human Rights Violations workshop.

I woke up Monday morning, showered, and got dressed for the part. I wore a skirt and jacket, blah, blah. I knew where to go because the night before we walked over to the Marriott Marquis so I could see how close or far away it was and so I could register, get my badge, agenda, and other cool paperwork. This year was my third year attending, but my first really going on my own. And I won’t be subtle about this, I was afraid I was going to be utterly ignored by my professors and advisors.

I got to the Marriott, coffee in hand, ready to go. I texted with Angel, a woman from my BU program and met her outside of the conference room. We had to get a packet and sign in at the entrance. We caught up for a few minutes, which was really nice, and took a seat at the front of the room…obviously. Dr. Prince Zinni and Dr. Franklin Damann, my two advisors, were there sitting towards the back of the room. I was excited to see them but hesitant because our only form of communication for months and months before that day was via email and I can’t say that it was pleasant conversation, and I can’t say that it was not pleasant; just somewhere in between. I felt blind and clueless around them actually.

I was pleased to see that Dr. Morris Tidball-Binz from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was overseeing the workshop because the front page of one of my jam-packed thick and wide bound binders (the first one I put together for my thesis research), there is an excerpt  from a book on Skeletal Trauma that I keep to remind me why I continue studying this and guess who wrote itttt.. here’s a good piece..

“…a false dichotomy had emerged regarding the purpose of using forensic sciences, including the analysis of trauma, for human rights and humanitarian investigations: On one hand, the need to document trauma, including torture, and establish the cause, manner and circumstances of death of victims, for ensuring the accountability for perpetrators (human rights’ purpose); and on the other, the forensic identification of victims of abuse, to fulfill the needs of bereaved families (humanitarian purpose)”…”In effect, the diagnosis of premortem, peri-mortem and, on occasion, even post-mortem trauma in human remains is often central to their identification. The debate and dichotomy on the purpose of forensic investigations into violations of human rights and Humanitarian Law is now over, but forensic scientists involved in human rights and humanitarian investigations still face the difficult challenge of identifying complex patterns of trauma, often in human skeletal remains and on a scale rarely encountered in domestic criminal investigations, to help establish their identity and how they died…”

Tidball-Binz M.  2008.  A Forward by Morris Tiball-Binz, M.D.  In: Kimmerle EH and Baraybar JP.  Skeletal Trauma: Identification of Injuries Resulting from Human Rights Abuse and Armed Conflict.  Boca Raton: CRC Press.  p xi-xii.

Well, he discussed International Humanitarian Law (IHL), “ambiguous loss”, or a long-term form of bereavement, the “right to know” for the families to receive information about their lost loved one, and referenced the Management of Dead Bodies After Disasters, a Field Methods text. He brought to our attention that there should be and are strategies developed by the ICRC leading up to or just how to go about making a positive identification. Without a standard process (or as he said “frameworks”), the methods could be questioned and there could be errors made. Of course during this process, there could be questions and errors made, but this way there is a process that can be tracked and hopefully eliminate errors and promote more identifications. He also points out that the ‘forensic operation” is founded on “legitimacy”. This opened my mind to question how legitimate are these methods that we use? “We use” is important because for various reasons the US  judicial system considers peer-reviewed methods to be more reliable that non peer-reviewed methods in a court of law. It’s one of the few requirements that indicate legitimacy in your scientific findings.

Moving on to other speakers: President Luis Fondebrider from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) spoke about his experiences and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) forms. Ute Hofmeister from the ICRC- Latin America discussed documents to reference, “The Missing”, and a standards manual entitled, “Consenso Mundial de Principios y Normas Minimas de trabajo psicosocial en procesos de pusqueda e investigaciones forenses para casos de desapariciones forzadas, ejecuciones arbitrarias o extrajudiciales” ( She went on to talk about how there is a psychological effect for those who are impacted by the death of the victims, and that their participation in the recovery and investigation can serve as a coping method. If the forensic specialists, or investigators, explain the process to the families (minimum standards), and the motive of victim disappearances, then the families are likely to be calmer during the investigation.

This day was my favorite so I’m writing lots on it. To be continued…


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