News / Africa

Scientists Search for Those Long Missing

Forensic scientists and doctors prepare for the exhumation of a mass grave site on the grounds of a mosque, in the Yopougon district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 4, 2013.
Forensic scientists and doctors prepare for the exhumation of a mass grave site on the grounds of a mosque, in the Yopougon district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 4, 2013.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Researchers are developing new techniques to find hidden graves. They say it would help locate the remains of a lone murder victim or the mass graves of victims of war. The research has been presented at the Meeting of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union.


Jamie Pringle Said, “There are thousands of missing people around the world that could have been tortured and killed and buried in clandestine graves.” Pringle is a lecturer in geoscience at Britain’s Keele University.

“It’s important for families obviously to find their relatives – to give them closure – so they can find out what happened to them and give them someone to bury. But of course also it’s really difficult to get a successful criminal conviction without a body. It does happen, but normally it’s more unusual. You get charged with something like illegal deposition of a body or preventing a proper funeral, things like that,” he said.

He said that there have been a number of missing child cases in Britain where this has happened. It can be just as hard to locate mass graves of people who disappeared during wars.

“[In] some of the Africa conflicts obviously it’s very chaotic. The perpetrators don’t obviously leave a map of where they’ve deposited people. Could be isolated graves or mass graves in a variety of environments and that can be quite difficult to find, I think, especially if there’s some significant area to search and you have limited resources. It’s really hard to be honest,” he said.

Pringle’s colleague, Carlos Molina of the National University of Colombia, will test the techniques in the South American country. Many people there have gone missing in drug and other crime related violence.

Molina not only wants to be able to find bodies, but evidence that can be used in criminal prosecutions, such as the time of death. To do so, he’ll create simulated gravesites based on sites that have been found in the past.

Pringle said, “He’ll create some burials using normally animal cadavers rather than humans. Fill it in again and then basically survey them over set periods of time to see what technique works best and does that change over time. But obviously over time that gets vegetated again and often you get people called forensic botanists. They look at vegetation changes. It may be different plants might grow there or they might grow better perhaps if they’re well fertilized to be a bit grizzly about it.”

The sites would be surveyed every eight days during the first month, every 15 days in the second and third months and then once a month for the next 15 months. Scientists will use instruments such as ground penetrating radar in their work.

Pringle said that there’s a specific workflow when trying to locate hidden graves.

“Normal work flow is you go from the big scale -- some remote sensing methods, some old aerial photos or modern ones, in fact, or some sort of nonvisible wavelength data to see if you can see where things might have been disturbed. And then you say well those areas look interesting. And then, ideally collect some data over there and see if you can see if there’s anything buried there.”

Forensic geophysicists from around the world, he said, are collaborating to solve disappearances stemming from conflicts.

“The Balkan civil wars from the 1990s, trying to find some of those graves in mountainous areas in the former Yugoslavia, for example. I have colleagues in Spain looking for some of these civil war mass graves, which is a little contentious over there. There are some people who want to find their relatives and other people – maybe the perpetrators or their colleagues – [who] don’t want them to find them. So there are colleagues working in Queens University in Belfast, they’re trying to find some of these victims from the 1970s and 80s in Northern Ireland,” he said.

It can be a very long, slow and painstaking process.

Pringle said he’s currently helping to find the graves of some nomadic groups in West Africa before mining operations begin.

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs