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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs