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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora