The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Recent trends in the use of human remains for anthropological research during international human rights investigations


Anthropology, New York University

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This paper examines the use of human remains for anthropological research in the former Yugoslavia and Guatemala between 1996 and 2011. This paper surveys articles from the Journal of Forensic Science and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in order to examine recent trends in the use of genocide and massacre victims remains for anthropological research and publication. Data was collected from the articles to assess the detail with which the conflicts were described, consent described in the acknowledgements for the use of the remains for research and publication, and the proposed end goal of the research including its perceived impact on survivors and identifications. While a majority of the articles discussed the conflicts to some degree, a minority mentioned “genocide” or “human rights abuses”, and even fewer discussed the individual conflicts in detail. In cases where permission was noted for the use of human remains for research, permission was always given by overseeing organizations. None of the articles mentioned seeking family or survivor consent for the use of remains or antemortem data for research. Finally, this review found that a majority of studies were initiated to create population-based standards for constructing the biological profile in order to advance identifications. The goal of this research is to open a dialogue for ethical considerations for future research endeavors in international human rights investigations.

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