Anthropological Methods for Documenting Human Rights Violations and Genocide

Victoria Sanford | Seminar Violence and exiting violence | May 9th, 2019

Abstract: When asked why exhumations of mass graves were important for human rights investigations, the late, great Dr. Clyde Snow famously said, “The bones don’t lie.” From Argentina to Guatemala, Iraq to Sri Lanka, Mexico to Congo, and many other corners of the world, Dr. Snow investigated massive human rights violations and trained a new generation of human rights investigators.  In the process, he built a new role for anthropology and anthropologists to investigate and document human rights violations for legal processes in truth commissions and courts as well as for the production of historical memory for society and reclaiming of historical subjectivity for victims and survivors.

Drawing on 25 years of experience investigating human rights violations and genocide in Guatemala, I will discuss the theory and practice of forensic exhumations, victim identification, archival and testimonial research and their interplay in legal processes and community desires for justice. I will explore the ways in which science, law and justice complement and collide with one another as investigations move forward from the field to legal courts and the court of public opinion. I consider the role of the researcher as both documentarian and participant in the production of history as well as legal precedence.

Victoria Sanford is professor and chair of anthropology and founding director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College. She is a member of the anthropology doctoral faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She holds a doctorate in Anthropology from Stanford University where she studied International Human Rights Law and Immigration Law at Stanford Law School. She was a Bunting Peace Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University.

She is the author of Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala  (2003), Violencia y Genocidio enGuatemala  (2003),  Guatemala: Del Genocidio al Feminicidio (2008),  La Masacre de Panzos: Etnicidad, Tierra y Violencia en Guatemala (2009), and co-author of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation's report to the Commission for Historical Clarification (the Guatemalan truth commission). She is co-editor (with Katerina Stefatos and Cecilia Salvi) of Gender Violence in Peace and War ~ States of Complicity (2016). She is also co-editor (with Asale Angel Ajani) of Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy and Activism (2008). In August of 2012, she served as an invited expert witness on the Guatemalan genocide before Judge Santiago Pedraz in the Spanish National Court’s international genocide case against the Guatemalan generals. She recently won the University of California Press Public Anthropology competition for her latest book project –The Surge~Central American Border Crossings in the United States, 1980-2015. She is currently completing Bittersweet Justice: Feminicide, Impunity & Courts of Last Resort. She is recipient of many awards including the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, MacArthur Consortium Fellowship, United States Institute for Peace Fellowship, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Fellowship and three Fulbright Fellowships, among others.

Published at 9 May 2019