UNMARKED AND MASS GRAVES:  
    THE RELEVANCE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

    Thursday 2 July 2009, Palais des Nations

    The two non-governmental organisations International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) and the International Council for
    Human Rights (ICHR) held a Convention on Disappearances: Unmarked and Mass Graves and the Relevance of International Law. Concurrent to the 9th
    session of the UN Human Rights Council, the one-day conference was convened at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva/ Switzerland. It brought together
    academics and scholars, international lawyers, representatives of civil society, members of the police, as well as forensic archaeologists and forensic
    anthropologists, who all contributed to a fruitful debate on how to address the discovery of mass graves in different historical, cultural and legal
    contexts.


    In the opening plenary, Barrister Majid Tramboo, Chairman of the ICHR Kashmir Centre EU, who shared the panel with Dr. Y.N. Kly, Chairman of the
    IHRAAM and Dr. Andreas Kleiser, Policy Director of the International Commission on Missing People, outlined the overarching objectives of the
    convention that were


    •first, to define the necessary procedures necessary in addressing potentially atrocious crimes, including holding of impartial and independent
    investigations of nameless and mass graves; and,


    •second, in absence of international community taking steps to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of atrocious crimes, how international law could
    be applicable to bring such perpetrators to the book.


    He stated that, “among others, the Indian occupied Kashmir region can be taken as one of the many existing case studies, where the state is not
    interested in identifying bodies, investigating crimes and prosecuting perpetrators.” He further commented that the relevance of international law
    addressing the Kashmir context has most recently been processed by the European Parliament’s urgency resolution on mass graves in Kashmir that
    expressly strongly condemns the unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other human rights abuses which have occurred in
    Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of the armed conflict in 1989.


    With respect to missing or disappeared individuals, the Policy Director of the International Commission on Missing Persons, Dr. Andreas Kleiser
    stressed the need for a systematic and holistic approach that includes “the rule of law and a transition agenda following conflict, but also justice
    processes and accountability of the perpetrators.” Other important factors are, in his view, the “treatment of traumatised victims and information
    sharing with the family members that are left behind.”


    Chairing the first theme (Orientation and understanding of international human rights law as it relates to the discovery of mass graves, a possible
    evidence of genocide or ethnocide) of the convention, Dr. Y.N. Kly emphasised the importance of the involvement of citizens of the local villages who are,
    in most instances, not only the ones to discover and report mass grave sites, but also essential for cooperation in unfamiliar areas and structures.
    Such a set of tasks that states as well as the international community are called to take into account, are applicable to all conflict situations, whether
    they appear in numerous occasions in Kashmir or, for example and as reported by Mr. Midhi Perincek from the Turkish Human Rights Association, in
    Turkey. Mr. Farooq Siddiqi, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, added affirmatively that “the occurrence of mass graves is, indeed, not
    only limited to countries where tyrants and dictators are ruling – history and presence shows us different!” According to him, only in Kashmir
    approximately 940 mass graves have been found.


    In the second theme (Rapidly growing use of forensic anthropology and archaeology in relation to persons missing as a result of armed conflict,
    violation of human rights and natural disasters), Prof. Margaret Cox, Chief Executive of the Inforce Foundation, UK, highlighted however that “unless
    there is political will, forensics cannot do much.” An important point raised by John R. Hunter, Professor at the University of Birmingham for Ancient
    History and Archaeology, is that “there are not only forensic reasons for the recovery of remains of bodies, but primarily humanitarian aspects, which
    are no less important.” Dr. Marie Louise Jorkov, Lecturer of Forensic Anthropology at the Bournemouth University, added that there is an “immense
    potential of modern technologies” that enable scientists not only to precisely scrutinise sites of alleged mass graves and locate bodies but also to
    undertake DNA- and dental examination.” All scientists agreed on her statement that “it is highly necessary that trained personnel undertake
    excavation, since untrained actions may destroy necessary evidence.”


    It is therefore essential that “not only the legal community should discuss this issue but all related academic circles, including experts from different
    fields,” said Aslihan Tekin, KAGIDER, Representative of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey and Law Candidate at the Ghent University,
    during the third theme of the convention (Definition of each possible violation under human rights law and their legal consequences). As civil society and
    the parents of the disappeared carry most often the burden to publish and report crimes, support of these groups of society is a highly necessary
    element to fight injustice,” said Ersen Sansal, Head of the Human Rights Department of the Ankara Bar Association.


    In order to achieve positive developments in the Kashmir region Prof. Peter van Krieken, proposed a range of advocacy steps addressing international
    bodies and those governments involved in the conflict, which “could help us building a legal framework that could, in turn, help bring justice to victims.”


    Moreover, convention participants agreed with Prof. Nazir Shawl, Executive Director, Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre London that with respect to the
    Indian held Kashmir “mass graves, torture and the right of life must be put into context.” He further commented that “justice is, however, not the only
    issue that requires further discussion, but also and mainly prevention, since atrocious crimes continue to be committed in Kashmir.”


    In the closing plenary, the Convention concluded successfully with Barrister Majid Tramboo’s proposal to set-up a specialised working group consisting
    of experts with different educational backgrounds that would particularly look into on of the most current and shocking the discovery of mass graves,
    namely the ones in the Indian held Kashmir region. The delegates unanimously agreed to put this proposal into practice. A three member working group
    was formed to launch The Commission on Mass Graves in Kashmir (COMGIK).





    - The End -