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The use of forensic botany and geology in war crimes investigations in NE Bosnia

Brown, A.G. (2006) The use of forensic botany and geology in war crimes investigations in NE Bosnia Forensic Science International, 163, (3), pp. 204-210. (doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2006.05.025).

Record type: Article


From 1997 to 2002 the United Nations International Criminal Tribune for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) undertook the exhumation of mass graves in NE Bosnia as part of the war crimes investigations aimed at providing evidence for the prosecution of war criminals in The Hague. This involved the location and exhumation of seven former mass graves (primary sites) dug following the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. These primary mass graves were secretly and hurriedly exhumed three months later and most of the bodies or body parts transported and reburied in a large number of secondary sites many of which were subsequently exhumed by ICTY. The aim of the pollen and soil/sediment studies was to provide an ‘environmental profile’ of the original site of the samples and use this to match the relocated bodies to the original mass graves. This was part of completing the chain of evidence, providing evidence of the scale and organization of the original atrocities and the subsequent attempts to conceal the evidence related to them. All the primary sites were located in areas of contrasting geology, soils and vegetation, and this allowed matching of the sediment transported in intimate contact with the bodies to the original burial sites, which in some cases were also the execution sites. In all, over 24 sites were investigated, over 240 samples collected and analyzed under low power microscopy and 65 pollen sub-samples fully analyzed. The pollen and sediment descriptions were used in conjunction with the mineralogy (using XRD) of primary and secondary sites in order to provide matches. These matches were then compared with matching evidence from ballistic studies and clothing. The evidence has been used in court and is now in the public domain. It is believed this is the first time ‘environmental profiling’ techniques have been used in a systematic manner in a war crimes investigation.

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More information

Published date: 22 November 2006
Additional Information: The first published use of pollen and sediment mineralogy for the prosecution of a War Crimes case. Undertaken with the UN International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; being used in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Established this approach as of major value in complex war crimes cases.
Keywords: forensic palynology, forensic geology, war crimes, mass graves, bosnia


Local EPrints ID: 46668
ISSN: 0379-0738
PURE UUID: 63515b44-bce3-4acc-8880-dc028ef9990d

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 13 Jul 2007
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 15:06

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