Last Rights, forensic science, human rights, and the victims of atrocity
- Last Rights is a political, historical, and philosophical study of the scientific investigation of mass graves in the wake of genocides and other mass killings. In the mid-1980s, an independent group of anthropologists formed in Argentina to exhume the anonymous graves of "disappeared" victims of state repression. Since then, a number of human rights organizations have built on this model, assembling teams of forensic anthropologists, archaeologists, pathologists, geneticists, and other experts capable of documenting evidence of war crimes and identifying dead victims. In the 1990s, after genocidal violence erupted in both Rwanda and the disintegrating Yugoslavia, international tribunals called upon forensic experts from Latin America, the United States, and Europe to exhume mass graves in both countries, making the forensic investigation of human rights violations a global project. Since then, expectations have steadily grown among survivor communities, as well as international institutions and observers, that mass graves will be exhumed, evidence gathered, and bodies identified. Using case studies from Argentina, the former Yugoslavia, Poland, Spain, and other post-conflict nations, as well as reports, articles, memoirs, and interviews with forensic experts, this dissertation paints a detailed portrait of the purposes international forensic investigations serve. Courts and tribunals, transitional governments, victims' families and other mourners all have different stakes in discovering the truths buried in mass graves, and thus place different expectations and demands on forensic teams. This complex landscape of stakeholders has added a whole new set of priorities to the traditional conception of forensics as science used in the service of the law: among them the "humanitarian" effort to discover the fate of missing persons and return their bodies to families, the construction of an objective and scientific historical narrative, and training local forensic experts and authorities to deal with the legacy of violence. Yet forensic teams have also met with fierce objections from some families of the missing and other communities around mass graves. These objections pose a challenge to the universalism of global forensic investigation—the idea that forensic science can serve the same purposes in every post-conflict setting. However, a detailed study of the specific arguments behind these challenges can create opportunities to develop clearer explanations of what forensic investigations accomplish, as well as foster more nuanced and democratic interactions with local stakeholders. In its final chapters, the dissertation pursues a new dimension of ethical inquiry, asking what forensic investigations do for the dead victims of atrocity. Drawing on various approaches from political and moral theory, it first explores the ethical framework most familiar to international forensic teams: human rights. Human rights are a powerful language for describing the violations that have been inflicted on the now-dead victims, as well as the claims of living mourners. As a description of the guarantees that can be made to dead bodies, however, they overreach. Dead bodies can, however, be cared for in various ways, even when they are unidentified or incomplete. Many of the practices of forensic experts are already directed towards this care-giving relationship with the dead, an intimate and powerful attempt to reestablish the connections between their bodies, possessions, and their mourners, as well as to reverse the effects of violence upon them.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Rosenblatt, Adam Richard
|Stanford University, Program in Modern Thought and Literature.
|Statement of responsibility
|Adam Richard Rosenblatt.
|Submitted to the Program in Modern Thought and Literature.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2011.
- Use and reproduction
- This document has been removed from online delivery at the request of the author.
- © 2011 by Adam Richard Rosenblatt
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
Also listed in
Loading usage metrics...