The Story Beneath Us by abstraks


									        The Story Beneath Us
     Forensics and Mass Graves

          Workshop Report:
WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Workshop Series
         12 July-13 July 2008
           Beirut, Lebanon
                            The Story Beneath Us

                                Table of Contents

Executive Summary……………………………………………………………………. 1-2
Introduction……………………………………………………………………………… 3-6
       Background Materials…………………………………………………………. 4-6
Workshop Objectives………………………………………………………………….. 7
Participant……………………………………………………………………………….. 8-10
       List of Participants………………………………………………………………. 9-10
Workshop Findings………………………………………………………………………11-13
Workshop Contents…………………………………………………………………….. 14-32
       Day 1……………………………………………………………………………… 14-22
               Session 1: Investigating Political Crimes with Forensics………….. 14-16
               Session 2: Forensic Archeology………………………………………. 17-19
               Session 3: Political and Religious Dimensions……………………… 20-22
       Day 2……………………………………………………………………………… 23-32
               Session 4: The Identification Process…………………………………23-24
               Session 5: Mass Grave Excavations in Lebanon………………….. 25-27
               Session 6: Moving Forward in the Short Term……………………… 28-29
               Session 7: Moving Forward in the Long Term……………………… 30-32
Evaluation………………………………………………………………………………... 33-34
       Objectives and Follow Up…………………………………………………….. 33
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   1. Executive Summary

   “The Story Beneath Us” was the third in a series of specialized workshops

tackling the issue of Lebanon’s war-loaded memory. This workshop was

commissioned to assess the state of forensic sciences and mass grave

investigation in Lebanon. Moreover, the wide range of participants

recommended courses of actions to facilitate the investigation of mass graves

and improve forensic capabalities. Luis Fondebrider, a founder of the

Argentinean Forensic Archeology Team (EAAF), was selected as the international

expert tasked to provide feedback to workshop participants.

      The following assessments of the situation of working on forensic sciences

and mass grave investigations were made:

           Forensic sciences play a critical role in alleviating the trauma of war


           Forensic science capabilities in Lebanon are very weak.

           There are numerous problems with the process of exhuming mass

            graves in Lebanon.

Workshop participants produced the following goals:

           Work towards holding a National Commission handling the issue of

            mass graves, enforced disappearances, and other civil war crimes.

           Investigate mass graves on a humanitarian and judicial basis.

           Lobby for laws protecting grave sites.

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The following strategies to achieve the goals were produced:

          Build the capacity of current investigative institutions.

          Develop the information gathering process.

          Create a follow-up committee tasked with raising awareness and

            conducting political lobbying.

          Involve families of the missing in the investigative process.

          Involve religious institutions in the investigative process.

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   2. Introduction

       The third workshop of the ““WHAT IS TO BE DONE: Lebanon’s War-Loaded

Memory” project was held on July 12th and 13th, 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon. This

workshop focused on forensics and mass graves. Participants assessed the state

of forensic science in Lebanon and suggested courses of action to build

investigative capacities. Documents from the ICRC, UMAM D&R, and other

institutes were collected together as background material for the workshop.

   The workshop would not have been possible without the generous donations

of the following donors:

      Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V

      Federal Republic of German – Foreign Office

      International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)

      Heinrich Böll Foundation

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      2.1 Background Materials

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a number of

documents that served as background material for the workshop, including:

             “Operational Practices Regarding the Management of Human
              Remains and Information on the Dead by Non-Specialists: For all
              Armed Forces; For all Humanitarian Organizations”1
             “The Handling of Human Remains and Information on the Dead in
              Situations Relating to Armed Conflicts or Internal Violence and
              Involving Missing Persons”2
             “Developing Standards in International Forensic Work to Help
              Identify Missing Persons,” by Stephen Cordner and Helen McKelvie;
              published in the International Review of the Red Cross3
             “Reflections on the Scientific Documentation of Human Rights
              Violations,” by Luis Fondebrider; published in the International
              Review of the Red Cross4
             “Missing People, DNA Analysis and Identification of Human Remains:
              A Guide to Best Practice in Armed Conflicts and Other Situations of
              Armed Violence.”5
             “Management of Dead Bodies after Disasters: A Field Manual for
              First Responders”6
             “Management, Exhumation and Identification of Human Remains:
              A Viewpoint of the Developing World,” by Alex Kirasi Olumbe and

1 Available in English at:
2 Available in English at:

3 Available in English at:
4 Available in English at:
5 Available in English at:
6 Available in English at:

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              Ahmed Kalebi Yakub; published in the International Review of the
              Red Cross7
             “The Missing: Action to Resolve the Problem of People
              Unaccounted for as a Result of Armed Conflict or Internal Violence
              and to Assist Their Families” ICRC8

Other background documents include:

             “The Contribution by (Forensic) Archeologists to Human Rights
              Investigations of Mass Graves,” by Kristen Juhl; Museum of
              Archeology, Stavanger (Norway)9
             “The National Action of Colombia for Investigation”10
             “Exhumation of Mass Graves in Iraq: Considerations for Forensic
              Investigations, Humanitarian Needs, and the Demands of Justice”
              by Eric Stover, William D. Haglund, and Margaret Samuels The
              Journal of the American Medical Association11
             “Uncovering Evidence: The Forensic Sciences in Human Rights,” by
              Luis Fondebrider, edited by Liam Mahony; The Center for Victims of
             “Mass Graves in Lebanon” UMAM D&R13

7 Available in English at:
8 Available in English at:,%20Exhum
9 Available in English at:

10 Available in Arabic at:
11 Available in Arabic at:
Available in English at:
12 Available in Arabic at:
Available in English at:
13 Available in English at:


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             “Notes about Excavated Mass Graves,” by Mohammad Khalil Rida;
              al-Mustaqbal Newspaper, 10 December 200514
             “From Dust to Dust: Ethical and Practical Issues Involved in the
              Location, Exhumation, and Identification of Bodies from Mass
              Graves,” by Erin D. Williams and John D. Crews; published by the
              Croatian Medical Journal15
             “Exhumations” International Criminal Tribunal for the Former

14 Available in Arabic at:
15 Available in English at:
16 Available in French at:

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   3. Workshop Objectives

      UMAM D&R developed the format of the third workshop after consulting

with the ICTJ and relevant institutions and experts active in the fields of forensics

and mass graves. The primary aim of the workshop was to delve into the details

of processes associated with the search for the missing, including all aspects of

forensic evidence. The following objectives were formulated:

   1) To assess the capacity of Lebanese forensic teams, archeological

      institutions and auxiliary fields (such as anthropology, archeology,

      medicine etc.).

   2) To gather Lebanese experts in these areas as well as representatives from

      related institutions in order to allow them to share experiences and build

      the foundation for future collaboration.

   3) To discuss how make mass graves a national issue.

   4) To explore ways to build the capacities of Lebanese forensic investigation


   5) To assess what information on mass graves is available and to discuss how

      best to collect new information.

   6) To put the issue of mass graves on the “agendas” of the Lebanese experts

      in these various fields.

   7) To produce recommendations that outline steps for actions.

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   4. Participants

      In order to meet the goal of facilitating open discussion, UMAM aimed to

invite a diverse group of participants with a wide variety of relevant experiences

and backgrounds. After consultations with the ICTJ and other relevant

institutions, UMAM D&R set out the following criteria for inviting participants:

   1) Participants should include active personalities/experts in the issue of

      forensics and mass graves in Lebanon.

   2) Participants should also include representatives of Lebanese authorities

      involved in the issue, including the judiciary, police, Internal Security

      Forces (ISF), the General Prosecutor Office, and the office of Medical and

      Legal Investigation.

   3) Participants should also include journalists writing about the disappeared

      and mass graves.

   4) Participants should also include representatives from relevant NGOs.

   5) Participants should also include members of political parties involved in

      decision making.

   6) Participants should also include international experts who can provide

      feedback to the workshop.

   7) Participants should also include experts from countries with similar

      experiences to Lebanon. They included representatives from Iraq and


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      4.1 List of Participants


Lynn Maalouf: Consultant with the International Center for Transitional Justice
Lokman Slim: Co-founder and Co-director of UMAM D&R


Aoun, Ghada: Judge in the Accusation Chamber of Beirut
Al-Asma, Wadih: Director of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights
Chaaya, Manal: Journalist with An-Nahar newspaper
Chaftari, Assaad: Former senior intelligence official in Lebanese Forces
Fondebrider, Luis: Founder of the Argentinean Forensic Archeology Team (EEAF)
Al-Hajj, Mohammad Ali: Shi’a cleric
Hoffmeister, Ute: Ante-Mortem Data Specialist with the ICRC
Kawwas, Sami: Forensics doctor
Kouros, Kyriakos: Charge d’Affaire of Cypriot Embassy in Lebanon
Lattouf, Antoine: Greek-Catholic priest
Mla’eb, Naji: Head of the Human Rights Department, Internal Security Forces
Sayegh, Hisham: Archeologist with the General Directorate of Antiquities
Tidball-Binz, Morris: Forensic expert at the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC)

                                   Other Participants:

Aawar, Nabih: Activist
Abou Diab, Faouzi: Progressive Socialist Party representative
Adhami, Nada: Lawyer
Borgmann, Monika: Co-Founder and Co-Director of UMAM D&R
Dibsi, Hisham: Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative
Emonet, Samuel: ICRC representative
Fakoussa, Dina: Heinrich Boell Stiftung representative
Ghosn, Faten: Researcher
Humeidan, Iman: Researcher
Halwani, Wadad: Director of the Committee of the Families of Detainees and
Kidnapped in Lebanon
Hassana, Jamal Eddine: Committee of the Families of Detainees and Kidnapped
in Lebanon representative
Karaoud, Ahmad: Director of Amnesty International Beirut office
Maalouf, Rita: Forensic expert

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Makki, Lama: Khiam Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture representative
Machnouk, Nicole: Canada Fund
Messagee, Anne: International Center for Transitional Justice representative
Nasser, Amin: Iraqi refugee and journalist
Noureddine, Rima: Researcher
Petrigh, Cynthia: Nassim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture
Rechdane, Christine: International Committee of the Red Cross
Sarkis, Reina: Psychoanalyst
Shams, Doha: Journalist with As-Safir newspaper
Zubaidi, Layla: Heinrich Boell Stiftung representative
Wierda, Marieke: ICTJ representative

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   5. Workshop Findings

      Workshop participants provided an assessment of the state of forensics

and mass grave exhumation in Lebanon. The workshop also set goals for

Lebanese civil society to work on. Moreover, strategies to achieve these goals

were discussed.

Assessment of the Situation:

      1. Forensic sciences play a critical role in alleviating the trauma of war


      In order to learn the fates missing people of the Lebanese civil war it is

necessary to excavate mass graves and identify the bodies. Proper forensic

sciences helped identify the missing in Argentina and Cyprus. Providing real

closure to families helps them move forward, unlike arbitrary laws that declare

dead all people missing for more than few years.

      2. Forensic science capabilities in Lebanon are very weak.

      There is a lack of forensic resources in Lebanon: facilities are sparse and

underfunded, criminal investigators do not use proper forensic procedures, and

trained forensic experts are not always used by authorities.

      3. There are numerous problems in the process of exhuming mass graves

         in Lebanon.

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      Investigators have to go through a long judicial process to get mass

graves exhumed. Even when authorities decide to allow exhumations, they do

not follow international standards when conducting exhumations. Overall, there

is a lack of political will for exhumations because those who perpetrated the

crimes are still in power today.


           Work towards holding a National Commission handling the issue of

              mass graves, enforced disappearances, and other civil war crimes.

           Investigate mass graves on a humanitarian and judicial basis.

           Lobby for laws protecting grave sites


      1. Build the capacity of investigative institutions. Recommended actions

         for achieving this include:

             Support competent authorities and decrease the role of the ISF in


             Increase technical training for police investigators.

             Develop an effective witness protection program.

             Empower and support local forensic capacity.

             Centralize efforts and increase cooperation.

             Work towards emergency preservation of known sites.

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      Prevent the excavation of mass-graves until proper forensic

       processes are developed to handle the investigations.

2. Develop the information gathering process. Recommended actions for

   achieving this include:

      Preserve information from families, including testimonies, DNA

       samples, AMD data, etc.

      Clarify the legal and institutional framework for data collection

      Increase and expand efforts to map mass graves in Lebanon.

      Involve the international community and NGOs in the information

       gathering process.

3. Create a follow-up committee tasked with raising awareness and

   conduct political lobbying.

4. Involve families of the missing in the process, so that families build

   relationships of trust with investigators.

5. Involve religious institutions, so that they can help society move forward

   with the process of exhuming mass graves.

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   6. Workshop Contents

      6.1 Day 1

      Moderator: Lynn Maalouf, International Center for Transitional Justice

      (ICTJ) consultant

6.1a Session 1: Investigating Political Violence with Forensics

      Luis Fondebrider, a founder of the Argentinean Forensic Archeology Team

(EAAF), launched the workshop with his presentation on the truth-seeking process

in Latin America. Conflict in the region left many families asking about the fates of

their missing relatives. Numerous truth commissions, tribunals, and ombudsmen

were commissioned in Latin America. According to Fodebrider, forensic experts

working at the time had little experience. Fondebrider said they mixed bones and

contaminated scenes. Therefore, a group of Argentine archaeology students to

decided in 1984 to create the EEAF so as to provide reliable expertise. Fondebrider

said the EEAF took on the responsibility of helping families, but did not give them

false hope about how effective forensics can be. He added that families place a

lot of hope in DNA, when in reality DNA identifications make up a very small

proportion of identifications. Fondebrider stressed the importance of science in this

process. Scientific methods were essential for finding the evidence of violations

committed by authoritarian regimes.

      He then spoke about the process of identifying bodies. According to

Fondebrider, the process of identifying bodies depends on the condition of the

body, available Ante Mortem Data (AMD), and DNA. In Argentina bodies were

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disposed in one of two ways; they were either buried without a name in public

cemeteries, or they were thrown into rivers. After the demise of the dictatorship,

the judiciary ordered exhumations. Fondebrider said that before any graves can

be exhumed, a preliminary investigation is needed. Experts use written sources,

judicial investigations, the media, and autopsy reports in their preliminary

investigations. The objective of this investigation is to know what happened with a

particular body from the time it disappeared until the moment it was exhumed.

The preliminary investigation also takes into account AMD provided by the

families. Usually investigators ask for samples of blood. Fondebrider stressed the

importance of building relations with families of victims. According to him, it is

crucial to meet the families before the excavation process to provide them

realistic expectations. It is also important to speak with witnesses and survivors

because they provide critical information. The EEAF created a special

questionnaire for witnesses to help identify burial sites. After the identification

process is over, it is important to create an organized, comprehensive database.

      Morris Tidball-Binz, a forensic expert at the International Committee of the

Red Cross (ICRC), then made his presentation about forensic sciences within the

context of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). IHL consists of the four Geneva

Conventions and additional protocols, all of which set out to protect people,

goods, and property in armed conflict. On the other hand, Human Rights Law only

protects victims and their families. Tidball-Binz noted that, unlike Human Rights Law,

IHL protects bodies. Under IHL bodies must be respected, and properly handled

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with dignity. According to Tidball-Binz, IHL also demands that bodies are properly


       Tidball-Binz then went on to speak about disappeared people. He said the

standard international definition of a missing person is: “People unaccounted or as

a result of armed conflict or internal violence.” Tidball-Binz explained the effects of

enforced disappearances on society. Families live in a limbo where their missing

relatives are neither alive nor dead. It is a long lasting trauma. He emphasized the

right of families to know the fates of their missing relatives. According to Tidball-

Binz, forensic science plays an important role in enforced disappearances through

identification, documentation, and deterrence. Forensic teams follow consistent

standard, national and international laws, and guidelines from institutions such as

the ICRC. Tidball-Binz also specified the conditions or investigations: a clear and

legal framework, defined responsibilities, quality control and insurance, and

reliable and transparent standards. In addition, the investigation has to be

conducted as if it were a criminal one. Measurements and photos are

compulsory. Moreover, remains have to be managed with dignity. Biologists must

draft biological profiles according to standard forensic criteria. Tidball-Binz added

that families must be at the core of investigations. They will trust the results of the

process if they are involved with it. Tidball-Binz concluded his presentation by

calling for long-term planning and coordination of investigations. He told the

participants to not expect quick results.

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6.1b Session 2: Forensic Archeology

      The second session began with a discussion on information gathering.

Participants discussed: the use of incentives to get perpetrators to offer

information,   international   law,   the   difficulty   of   investigating   with   little

documentation, the advantages and difficulties of witness protection programs,

and the central role of families.

      Following the discussion, Fondebrider spoke about forensic archeology

and the process of excavations. He stressed the importance of proper

excavations, saying that bones can be analyzed any number of times, but they

can only be taken out of the ground once. He related the mistakes his team

made in Argentina, including: deficient preservation, site contamination,

handling of evidence by untrained personnel, handling remains without the

presence of physicians or anthropologists, making on-site diagnoses and not

including relevant experts from other fields, such as geologist and botanists.

Fondebrider also spoke about constraints faced by his investigators, including

time constraints, the absence of relatives, and lack of NGOs and international


      After his presentation, Fondebrider answered participants’ questions. He

clarified technical details, and answered questions about to the problems

associated with recovering bodies buried under buildings. Fodebrider also said

he was happy a Lebanese archeologist team was present in the discussion, and

added that even an archaeologist with only an undergraduate degree would

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do a better job at excavations than the police investigators usually assigned to

the task. Participants agreed that exhumation and investigations provide closure

to families, unlike laws that declare all missing people dead.

      Hisham Sayegh, an archaeologist with the General Directorate of

Antiquities, then gave a presentation about excavating ancient mass-graves in

Lebanon. He explained that each excavation team is composed of the

excavation unit itself, a conservation unit, and experts tasked to analyze the

data. Sayegh said that anthropology can be used to define the gender, age,

pathology, and cause of death of exhumed bodies. He added that they follow

standards similar to the ones mentioned by Tidball-Binz.

      In the ensuing discussion, Tidball-Binz asked Sayegh if Lebanese

archeologists had participated in official state forensic cases. Sayegh answered

that the government did not ask for their assistance, adding that archeologists in

Lebanon only concerned themselves with investigations of ancient sites.

Moreover, there are less than 15 archeologists active in Lebanon. A participant

asked Sayegh if there were any attempts to lobby the government to conduct

an investigation when a mass-grave was discovered in Anjar. Sayegh answered

said that the judicial structure of Lebanon hinders investigations. He said that

archeologists can only conduct investigation when requested to do so by the

public prosecutor. Ghada Aoun, a Lebanese judge, confirmed Sayegh’s

explanation of the law. General Mla’eb, the head of the Human Rights

department of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), explained that even the police

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cannot investigate mass graves without first getting prior approval from judicial


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6.1c Session 3: Political and Religious Dimensions

      The third session focused on the political and religious dimensions of

enforced disappearances and mass graves. Father Antoine Lattouf, a Greek-

Catholic priest, spoke about morality and the spiritual aspects of dignity. He

criticized the denial of wrongdoing, citing the example of the biblical story of

Cain and Abel. Lattouf said that it was morally wrong to hide a dead body. Also,

he spoke about the consequences of enforced disappearances on a

community. Lattouf added that it is impossible to hold a Christian burial if there is

no proof a person is dead.

      Wadad Halwani, head of the Committee of the Relatives of Kidnappes

and Missing Persons in Lebanon asked Lattouf what role religious institutions

should play regarding the issues of the missing and excavations of bodies.

Lattouf answered that religious authorities should work with other actors, serving

as a spiritual voice. Hisham Dibsi, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

representative, suggested that clerics should help society reach a common

humanitarian ground on the issue.

      Sheikh Mohammad Ali Al-Hajj, a Shi’a cleric, presented next. He said that

Islam condemns killings and has sacred procedures for respecting the dead. He

cited the Islamic precept that the killing of one human is equivalent to killing all

of humanity. As such, crimes leading to mass-graves are atrocities, and

everything should be done to bring justice to the perpetrators. Hajj said he

would advise Muslim perpetrators to give up all information regarding their

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crimes. He added that he would ask Christians to admit their crimes in

confession. Hajj spoke about Islamic burial procedures, saying that the remains

have to include the heart and torso for it to be considered a body. Hajj noted

that Islam does not allow a funeral until a person is confirmed dead.

      Tiball-Binz said that forensic experts have similar definitions of bodies to

Islamic ones. Forensic experts classify small remnants of bodies, such as a hand,

as remains. If a chest is found, it is called a body. He added that if a remain from

a body proves the person is dead; it is then defined as a body part.

      Hajj explained that one verse in the Quran says religious men need to

cooperate with political leaders. He said in the case of mass-grave excavations,

clerics can only work in cooperation with political leaders.

      Assaad Chaftari, a former senior intelligence official in the Lebanese

Forces, spoke about the role of religion in his decision to apologize. Moreover,

religion helped him convince other perpetrators to apologize. In Chaftari’s

opinion, religious figures can help society move forward and transform the

cause of the missing into a humanitarian issue.

      A heated discussion followed this presentation. Participants argued about

the duty perpetrators to give information, and the risks they face in doing so.

Participants analyzed the barriers to the sharing of information. Ghazi Aad,

Director of Support of the Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), asked

Chaftari to name the people and institutions trying to prevent him from giving

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information. Chaftari answered that the state told him not to disturb the peace.

Also, he explained that he was threatened by the Lebanese Forces.

      Mla’eb spoke about ISF work in the matter. He said that the ISF created a

human rights department. Also, the ISF is using the services of experts in various

related fields. Mla’eb expressed his willingness to help further investigations of

mass graves in Lebanon.

      The participants then discussed expectations for speed of action. Some

participants cautioned that changes will not happen overnight. Others argued

that the search for the missing has lasted for decades, and even if all the missing

were found tomorrow, it would still not be fast.

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      6.2 Day 2

      Moderator: Lokman Slim, Co-Founder and Co-Director of UMAM D&R

6.2a Session 4: The identification process

      The second day of the workshop began with a presentation by

Fondebrider on the identification process. He focused on the work done in labs

following excavation. He enumerated the range of methods available for

identification, including: general skeletal information, dental records, clothing

and previous medical conditions. He noted that DNA analysis is not always

necessary, and is much more complicated than most people are aware. DNA

analysis requires samples to be taken from the whole family, followed by

information about the family genealogical tree. Fondebrider added that

families usually ask for time frames for the investigation, which are hard to

provide. He also spoke about financial constraints.

      In the discussion that followed, participants asked Fondebrider about the

details of identification, including: how to investigate bodies buried for long

times, what to do about bodies dumped in the sea, how to investigate bone

fragments, and whether personal possessions can be used for identification

purposes. Fondebrider answered that identification rates are low, especially in

cases where a long span of time has elapsed. He said that the high rate of

identification in Bosnia-Herzegovina is an exception rather than the rule.

Fondebrider recommended families to find independent forensic advisors when

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they doubted the word of the state. Tidball-Binz intervened with a comment,

saying that investigations need to include a preliminary investigation, so as to

avoid immediately exhuming the bodies and exposing them to contamination

and deterioration. Halwani, whose husband was kidnapped during the civil war,

broke into tears when Fondebrider showed pictures of dead bodies and their

living relatives. This emotional moment touched all the participants, and

reminded them of the human aspect of the topic. Participants agreed that it is

important to remember the suffering of victims, even in technical discussions.

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6.2b Session 5: Mass Grave Excavations in Lebanon

      Manal Chaaya, a Lebanese journalist, presented the results of her

investigation into mass-graves in Lebanon. She said that as soon as a mass-

grave is discovered in Lebanon, investigation of it becomes frozen and

politicized. Chaaya cited the case of Yarze, where 11 bodies were found in

2005. Several of the exhumed bodies were identified, including a person

believed to be detained in a Syrian prison. When she started interviewing

witnesses, the authorities grew suspicious of her. Political figures both supported

and opposed her, demonstrating the politicization in these cases. In another

case, Chaaya was interrogated by police investigating the mass grave in Halat.

She disclosed her sources, and a few days afterwards authorities began digging

in Halat. The excavation lasted three hours, and was broadcasted on Lebanese

television channels. She concluded her presentation, saying that the problem

with addressing mass graves in Lebanon is the fact the people responsible for

atrocities remained in power following the end of the war.

      Wadih Al-Asma, the director of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights

(CLDH), said that after the Yarze case, a follow-up committee on mass-graves

was created by civil society organizations. He then spoke about the problems his

organizations noticed in the excavations in Yarze, Anjar and Halat.17 These

including: the use of bulldozers close to bodies, the digging of small holes that

17French text of CLDH report on Halat excavation available at:

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did not allow proper investigation, the fact that authorities in Halat did not close

the road under which the bodies were buried, and the fact that some areas

weren’t even excavated. Asmar presented pictures taken by his organization in

Halat, proving that authorities did not follow international standards in their

excavation. Asmar added that in Anjar authorities did not set up a security

perimeter around the site. Also, he said that the investigations lacked

transparency. Asma stressed the importance of lobbying authorities to fulfill their

responsibilities. Nonetheless, Asma said bodies are better off under the ground

because of the poor, non-scientific methods currently used by authorities.

       Aoun then presented a small summary of the legal procedure for

investigating an excavation. First, a complaint must be filed if there is proof of a

potential mass grave. Then, the public prosecutor needs to take action.

Associations can file complaints, but it helps to have a victim file one. The

investigation    judge    decides     whether        the   complaint   warrants   further

investigation. Aoun said that judicial interpretation is widely varying, even

though the Court of Mount Lebanon ruled that abductions are a continuing

crime. The investigating judge should make his judgment based on all available

evidence. If the investigating judge rules that an investigation should

commence, the accusing chamber will then analyze the evidence and decide

if it sufficient to warrant further investigation.

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      Chaaya told the government officials attending the workshop that

witnesses are oftentimes silenced by threats. She cited the example of Halat,

where many witnesses were threatened.

      Dr. Sami Kawwas, a forensic doctor with extensive investigative

experience, spoke about the current state of forensic sciences in Lebanon. He

said that Lebanon does not have the forensic facilities that other countries do,

especially in terms of ballistic forensics. Kawwas said that a single centralized

forensic institute needs to be created in order to increase efficiency. He also

criticized authorities for not calling upon the services of forensic experts for many

of their criminal investigations. Kawwas also noted that there is a serious lack of

resources in Lebanon, citing the fact that he is not provided with standard

forensic science kits in his investigations. Moreover, the only autopsy facility in

Lebanon is in a converted garage in Baabda. According to Kawwas, crime

scenes in Lebanon often become contaminated, and new forensic techniques

are rarely used.

      The participants agreed that an independent investigation of forensic

practices in Lebanon is needed. Moreover, they agreed that there should be an

input of resources and training for forensic centers.

                              The Story Beneath Us

6.2c Session 6: Moving Forward in the Short Term

      The third session began with an UMAM D&R presentation of the

organizations interactive map of mass graves in Lebanon.18 Lokman Slim, co-

director and co-founder of UMAM, said the map can be used as an important

lobbying tool. The map was drawn up with information found in open sources

and private information in the UMAM archive. Using only open sources, UMAM

found it easy to identify a large number of mass graves. UMAM used interviews

with former perpetrators to pinpoint exact locations of many mass graves.

Moreover, these interviews provided important background information on the

overall process of killing and body disposal. Some perpetrators admitted that

they would tell authorities about certain mass graves, while at the same time

withholding information about nearby graves.

       Ute Hofmeister, an Ante Mortem Data specialist with the ICRC, gave a

presentation about the importance of managing AMD and post-mortem data

(PMD). She gave a demonstration of software used to standardize data on

missing persons, grave sites, witnesses, AMD, and post mortem information. The

software is designed to be secure, user-friendly, compatible with several

languages, and affordable. Hofmeister also stressed the importance of

standardizing the data entry process, so as to avoid inconsistencies and other

18UMAM Presentation “Mass Graves in Lebanon” available at:

                             The Story Beneath Us

related problems. As a result, the ICRC produced guidelines and standardized

forms for data collection.

       Following this presentation there was a discussion over who should be

responsible for the management of forensic data. Fondebrider said that

although the state should have the responsibility of investigating the cases, it is

not always helpful to give them data. Hofmeister said that, ideally, there should

be one national body in charge of data, but this is rarely practiced. Tiball-Linz

added that there is no universal formula for this issue, explaining that each

country has its own arrangement. For example, in the UK one NGO is tasked by

the law to collect forensic information. Participants all agreed that the data

management tools were interesting, and expressed their desire to receive

training to use them.

                            The Story Beneath Us

6.2d Session 7: Moving Forward in the Long Term

      The last session of the workshop focused on the example of Cyprus. First,

Fondebrider spoke about the participation of the EEAF in investigations in

Cyprus. The EAAF helped establish the Forensic Archeology Team of Cyprus.

They first observed a group of 20 young scientists exhume two graves in order to

assess their capacities. After training, this group worked together for the last two

years. Fondebrider stressed the importance of political will and community

representation in this project. Politicians helped support the creation of the

Forensic Archeology Team. He also praised the offices of the investigation,

which included laboratories and a counseling area for families of victims. After

two years of investigation, 402 bodies were exhumed, 275 of which were fully

analyzed, and 102 of which were identified.

       Dr. Kyriacos Kouros, the Charge d’Affaire of the Cypriot Embassy in

Lebanon spoke next, reminding the participants that the great success of the

EEAF came in the context of three decades of hard work by Cypriot activists. He

praised the families of the disappeared for their activism. Kouros also gave

credit to the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), which was established in

1981 and operates under the auspices of the UN. Kouros presented five main

experiences encountered in Cyprus that the Lebanese can learn from.

       First, After 25 years of state inaction, families grew very angry. They

channeled this anger into many directions, including at people approaching

them for information. Kouros was on the receiving end of many families’ anger.

                             The Story Beneath Us

Second, the mandate of the CMP was limited to Cyprus alone. It did not include

Turkey, which made the investigation somewhat one-sided. Third, it was

necessary to use institutions other than the UN to pressure Turkey to cooperate.

Activists in Cyprus used the Council of Europe to pressure Turkey. In 2005 the

Council of Europe passed a resolution demanding Turkey play its part in

facilitating investigations. Fourth, the process is traumatic for all those involved.

Kouros gave the example of a family who refused to accept that an exhumed

skeleton was of their son because it looked so small. Identification was often

difficult for not only family members, but also those working with families. Fifth,

NGOs can’t do all the work themselves; the government should at least appoint

a national coordinator for civil society efforts. At the end of his presentation,

Kourous invited participants to visit Cyprus to learn more about the work that

had been done there.

      Chaftari then explained that there are two types of mass graves: those

were bodies from a single massacre are buried, and those that are dumping

grounds for people killed on an individual basis. He proposed setting up a

commission or platform where perpetrators could bring their information.

According to Chaftari, even a mail box, anonymous e-mail address, or hotline

would be helpful.

      At the end of the session, each of the participants presented final

comments on the workshop and discussed future steps to take on the issue.

Halwani called for immediate action, and felt the workshop alone was not

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enough to stimulate political change. Other participants offered smaller more

concrete suggestions.

                           The Story Beneath Us

   7. Evaluation

      7.2 Objectives and follow-up

      The objectives set by UMAM for this workshop were met. These objectives

included: open discussion, assessing the current situation, and formulating

practical recommendations. As such, the workshop can be considered a

success. This workshop built on the foundations of the first two workshops, and

set up the groundwork for future actions.

                             The Story Beneath Us

      7.2 Feedback

      An evaluation form was distributed to the participants at the end of the

workshop. Most of them agreed that the workshop met their expectations, the

objectives of the organizers, and covered the subject in an excellent manner.

Participants suggested some useful recommendations, including: reaching the

public by publishing the contents of the workshops, holding periodic meetings

working towards the establishment of a follow up committee, encouraging more

networking   between     participants,   and   encouraging     more    practical

recommendations during workshops. Participants also suggested for future

workshops to tackle the role of government authorities and former perpetrators.

In addition, they recommended for more attention to be paid on legal

frameworks of concerned issues.

      Most participants praised the organization aspects of the workshop,

including the location, moderation, time allocation, selection of topics and

participants, and working papers. Some participants felt the sessions were too

short, suggesting that more time be allowed for discussions. Participants also

asked for working papers to be distributed before the workshops. In addition,

participants asked for more officials from militias and political parties to be

invited as well as lawyers. Overall, participants felt that the workshop produced

feasible recommendation that will form the basis for future work on the issue of

forensics and mass graves.


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