Tagged / mass graves

Professor Melanie Klinkner receives European Research Council Consolidator Grant

A BU research project to develop a comprehensive human rights framework around mass graves has been awarded over £1.6 million from the European Research Council (ERC).

Mass Grave Protection, Investigation & Engagement: a comprehensive universal human rights framework – or MaGPIE – will be led by Professor Melanie Klinkner, Professor of International Law at BU.

Professor Melanie Klinkner

Professor Melanie Klinkner

Mass graves exist across the globe on a shocking scale, with thousands of victims and families seeking answers. However, currently there are no global records for mass graves – meaning the scale and nature of the problem is not well understood.

There is also no universal framework for protecting and investigating mass graves to safeguard sites and human remains, as well as the rights and interests of survivors.

The MaGPIE project will respond to this significant knowledge and policy gap and develop a comprehensive human rights framework to inform the protection, investigation and stakeholder engagement around mass graves.

Professor Klinkner said: “I am grateful and honoured to have been given this opportunity by the European Research Council. Mass graves, the focus of my research, are a very sensitive topic: for each body concealed in a mass grave, there is a family or community suffering from anguish and grief.

“This five-year research project will explore how dignified, rights-compliant engagement with mass graves can be progressed, asking what and how we can do better for affected families and survivors.”

This work builds on Professor Klinkner’s research into the protection and investigation of mass graves.

This includes projects to examine when mapping of mass graves should be avoided or kept secret so that protection is not jeopardised, exploring how states deal with missing persons cases, and the publication of the international standard-setting Bournemouth Protocol of Mass Grave Protection and Investigation. It also continues a long-standing collaboration with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Professor Einar Thorsen, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Media & Communication at Bournemouth University, said: “Receiving this prestigious and highly competitive award from the European Research Council is an outstanding achievement and testament to the quality of research being undertaken by Professor Klinkner and the team at Bournemouth University.

“Protecting mass graves and the rights of victims and their loved ones is an issue of international importance and this funding reflects our commitment to addressing global challenges and enriching society across research, education and practice.”

The funding of 1.9 million Euros (approximately £1.6 million) to support the MaGPIE project has been given as an European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant.

Professor Klinkner is one of 321 researchers from 37 countries across Europe to receive the funding, chosen from 2,222 applications through a rigorous review process.

The funding – worth €657 million in total – is part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. It will help excellent scientists, who have 7 to 12 years’ experience after their PhDs, to pursue their most promising ideas. Only 31 British researchers, including Professor Klinkner, have been selected.

President of the European Research Council Prof. Maria Leptin said: “ERC Consolidator grants support researchers at a crucial time of their careers, strengthening their independence, reinforcing their teams and helping them establish themselves as leaders in their fields. And this backing above all gives them a chance to pursue their scientific dreams.”

International Day of the Disappeared 2013

Dr Melanie Klinkner studies the use of forensic science for investigation and prosecution of atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Here she talks about the International Day of the Disappeared.

Today serves as a reminder of the number of people around the world who are missing as a result of armed conflicts. We remember the families who face a daily struggle to understand what has happened to their loved one.

Dr Melanie KlinknerEnforced disappearances have been and continue to be used by oppressive regimes in an attempt to dispose of political opponents secretly and to instil fear in the population. Article 2 of the Convention for the Protection for all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006) defines disappearances as ‘the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law’.

The Red Cross work tirelessly to reunite families where possible and organisations such as the International Commission on Missing Person support identification of bodies.

In the aftermath of conflict and gross human rights violations, there is an overwhelming need of the families is to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones and, where the worst has happened, to receive their human remains as an absolute proof of death and to facilitate burial and commemoration rituals.

This need is mirrored in international human rights and international humanitarian law development, which has advanced the recognition of victim rights of national or international crimes and human rights abuses. The Basic Principles encompass the need for victims and their families to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones and demands that the bodies of those disappeared are recovered, identified and buried.

Melanie works alongside Ian Hanson and Paul Cheetham in the School of Applied Sciences, who have developed standard operating procedures for forensic investigation of mass graves. These have been used internationally in judicial and humanitarian contexts, bringing those responsible for atrocity crimes to justice and providing much needed answers to families.

Read more about the Red Cross

Dr Melanie Klinkner’s profile

International Commission on Missing Persons

Mass graves in Libya

Bournemouth University’s Senior Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology, Ian Hanson, has featured in a New Scientist article about mass graves in Libya.

New Scientist journalist Andy Coghlan visited BU's mass graves simulation exercise in July

An estimated 5000 people went missing during Gaddafi’s dictatorship and, following his death last week, the country’s transitional government is preparing to exhume and identify bodies in mass graves.

Speaking to New Scientist journalist Andy Coghlan, Ian said: “Each site should be treated as if it’s a crime scene, and you must presume there might be criminal investigations in the future.” 

Ian has advised on protocol and procedures for mass graves excavations following the Balkan and Iraq conflicts.

Since April 2009 he has spent a great deal of time in Iraq, developing further programmes that introduce new trainees to investigations, the law and science involved in recovering evidence from the many mass graves that remain in the country, and to establish competency and protocol for global scientific and legal standards.

Read the New Scientist article for more information.