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Understanding mass grave recovery

It remains to be seen: animation of mass grave recovery

Mass graves are an all-too-frequent legacy of conflict and human rights abuses. The aim of this project is to produce a short, animated film that shows the process of mass grave protection and investigation from the perspective of victims’ families. It will reflect the overwhelming need to know the fate and whereabouts of loved ones, experiences of engagement with the forensic investigative process and the significance of having mortal remains returned for dignified commemoration.

Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days during the Rwandan genocide
of Rwandans still don’t know the fate or whereabouts of loved ones

About the project

The aim of the project is to reach audiences who are directly affected by mass grave exhumations around the world: family members of the missing and the wider public within affected States.  Through the use of a short, non-verbal, animated film, “It Remains to be Seen” aims to give voice to the experiences of family members of the missing, and to humanise the statistical, judicial and forensic facets of mass grave recovery.

Mass graves are a global phenomenon, and the team hope to produce a film that is universally relevant and applicable to multiple mass grave locations and contexts. The project is led by the authors of the Bournemouth Protocol for the Protection and Investigation of Mass Graves, a set of international standards for the lawful, respectful and effective handling of mass graves and the human remains they contain. The animation sits alongside the Protocol, although will stand on its own as a free-to-access piece that will exist as an educational and victim-advocacy tool.

The Protagonists

Zahra: her village is attacked and her son is taken away by armed militia
Wadad: her husband is taken from their home by security forces as they celebrate his birthday
Wissam, a blogger: their partner is taken by state agents while they speak online

The methodology

The tenor of the project is intended to be universal, such that families around the world who are missing loved ones, where their remains may be located in a mass grave, can recognise their own experiences in it. In order to ensure universality of the narratives identified and used in the film, the team have liaised with survivors, project partners, intermediaries, expert practitioners, civil society organisations and victim groups in many countries, including Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, Guatemala and Iraq.

To ensure that the “voices” offered in the film are authentic, the stories portrayed in the animation are informed by the real-life emotional and practical experiences of families of the missing and those directly affected by mass graves.

Project team

Dr Melanie Klinkner is a Principal Academic in International Law at Bournemouth University, AHRC Research Leadership Fellow, and project lead. She has over ten years’ experience in researching and writing on mass graves. She has conducted funded research into the right to the truth, is joint author of ‘The Right to Truth in International Law’ and was a Research Visitor at Oxford University’s Bonavero Institute of Human Rights.

Dr Ellie Smith has 15 years of experience within the International Human Rights, International Criminal Law and Humanitarian Law fields, gained through legal practice, civil society engagement and academic research.  She has expertise in working with trauma, survivor narrative and testimony in post-conflict, justice-seeking and media contexts, as well as in the field of gender violence, investigation and prosecution. She is also Director of Research and Impact with Radio Film, an independent film production company based in Newcastle.

Dr Sue Sudbury is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker and Principal Academic in the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. She specialises in the use of visual ethnography and participatory film to research everyday lives and to allow people, who are seldom heard, to be heard. She is also interested in the concept of Myerhoff's 'the third voice' when the ethnographer's and participants' contributions come together to create something new, films ‘blended in such a manner as to make it impossible to discern which voice dominates the work…films where outsider and insider visions coalesce’ (Ruby, 1991:62).