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Local Communities, National Governments and Forensic and Archaeological Investigations of Human Rights Violations

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Abstract

Forensic and archaeological investigations of human rights violations are socially and politically sensitive. They are influenced by the principle of psychic unity and by ideas of cultural relativism. Investigations of clandestine graves are carried out by interdisciplinary teams working with local communities, national institutions and international agencies. Scholars focus on the detection of graves and the recovery of victims of crimes. Understanding how and when a grave was created takes a secondary position in these scenarios. The present study draws from these insights and argues that reconceptualising forensic and archaeological investigations in terms of concerns of local communities is a way to understand their changing relations with national governments and international organizations.

Résumé

Les enquêtes des médecins légistes et des archéologues sur les violations de droits de l’homme sont des sujets sociaux et politiques sensibles. Elles sont influencées par le principe d’unité psychique et par l’idée de relativisme culturel. Les enquêtes sur les tombes clandestines sont menées par des équipes pluridisciplinaires qui travaillent avec les communautés locales, les institutions nationales et les organisations internationales. Les chercheurs se concentrent sur la découverte de tombes et la récupération des corps de victimes de crimes. Comprendre quand et comment une tombe a été créée devient une tâche secondaire dans ce type de scénario. La présente étude tire parti de ces éléments et avance qu’une reconceptualisation des enquêtes de médecine légale et d’archéologie qui prendrait en compte les attentes des communautés locales permettrait de mieux comprendre leurs relations changeantes avec les gouvernements nationaux et les organisations internationales.

Resumen

Las investigaciones forenses y arqueológicas de las violaciones de los derechos humanos son social y políticamente sensibles. Están influidas por el principio de unidad psíquica y por las ideas del relativismo cultural. Las investigaciones de tumbas clandestinas son realizadas por equipos interdisciplinarios que trabajan con comunidades locales, instituciones nacionales y agencias internacionales. Los estudiosos se centran en la detección de tumbas y en la recuperación de las víctimas de crímenes. La comprensión de cómo y cuándo se creó una tumba tiene una posición secundaria en estos escenarios. El presente estudio surge de estas percepciones y argumenta que la reconceptualización de las investigaciones forenses y arqueológicas en términos de preocupaciones de las comunidades locales es una forma de comprender sus relaciones cambiantes con los gobiernos nacionales y las organizaciones internacionales.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Friedrich Schipper for the invitation to contribute to this special issue. I thank Margaret Kalacska, Tim Moore, Mike Dalva and Carrie Herzog for discussions on soils and spectroscopy, and Eva Snirer for discussion on early work on forensic methods. Thank you Margaret and Mike for field collections over two summers at Parc Safari and one summer at the National Research Council in Ottawa. Thanks to the ANTH 460 class, Andre Costopoulos, Colin Wren and Christopher Ames for archaeological field collection at Parc Safari. Field collection was made possible through funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (Canada).

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Gupta, N. Local Communities, National Governments and Forensic and Archaeological Investigations of Human Rights Violations. Arch 9, 106–131 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11759-013-9225-4

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