African School of Humanitarian Forensic Action
African School of Humanitarian Forensic Action
Improving the forensic capacities of African countries

Challenges

Several African and Latin American countries have a long history of internal conflicts, human rights violations, mass disasters and, more recently, mass migration. One of the main consequences of these events is the disappearance of thousands of people who are buried in unmarked graves.  

 

With the exception of South Africa, few African countries have developed a forensic system. In addition, the lack of development in various academic fields, such as anthropology or genetics, forces forensic specialists and doctors to work without the support of experts in other disciplines. 

 

This situation is particularly worrisome because forensic work within a legal medical investigation frequently conflicts with the traditional beliefs and practices of local populations, especially with regard to the treatment of dead bodiesFor forensic investigations to be successful, it is therefore importanto connect forensic experts with the victims’ families and with human rights organizations. 

Towards a Solution

This project aimed to improve the forensic capacities of local experts in several African countries in identifying human remains in cases related to human rights violations, mass disasters, migration and other complex scenarios. Technical assistance was provided by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team [Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense] (EAAF), a scientific non-governmental organization that pioneers the application of forensic sciences in human rights and humanitarian investigations. This initiative contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal16 by increasing access to justice, strengthening local institutions and providing them with the necessary capabilities to carry out criminal investigations involving human rights issues in a transparent and accountable manner. 

 

The experience gained in Argentina in identifying the human remains of people who disappeared during the previous military dictatorship has become an invaluable tool in supporting forensic capacities in Africa. Since 1994, EAAF has been working in the region to train and coach forensic experts, lawyers, attorneys and civil society organizations in applying forensic sciences to investigations involving human rights violations. 

 

With the aim of strengthening capacities and institutional coordination at the regional level, EAAF organized a regional conference in Johannesburg in November2011. It established the basis for a specialization network. As a result, the African School of Humanitarian Forensic Action offered its first course in Durban in 2012. The school was primarily intended to train specialists from African countries in applying various forensic disciplines to the documentation and investigation of human rights violations in their countries of origin. Ialso constitutes a key regional network of human rights advocates and forensic experts who, through exchanges and periodic dialogue, improve the quality of services provided to victims and their families, particularly in identifying human remains and creating genetic banks. 

 

Since 2016, the Argentine Fund for International Cooperation has been collaborating with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the University of Pretoria to finance this initiative. Over 50specialists from over 20countries participated in the training courses offered by EAAF. Topics included the handling of dead bodies in disaster situations, complex crime scenes, exhumations, ante-mortem data collection, anthropological analysis of skeletal remains and multidisciplinary processes of identification, as well as the applications and limitations of forensic genetics. 

 

Noteworthy results from this initiative include improvedialogue among forensic specialists, lawyers and the police, who have incorporated international protocols into their daily work. The initiative has also enhanced dialogue with civil society organizations and victims’ families with regard to cultural and religious considerations. 

 

The African School of Humanitarian Forensic Action continues to operate, drawing new experts from different specializations and countries in the region every yearDue to its success, the initiative was replicated in Tunisia. A new regional school for North Africa was inaugurated in November2019, thanks to the joint efforts of the Argentine Fund for International CooperationEAAF and ICRC. The sustained presence and prestige of these organizations in the region ensures continuity while facilitating coordination with local actors in establishing new schools where there is interest. 

Contact Information

Name: General Directorate for International Cooperation Organization: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Worship and International Trade of Argentina

Countries involved

Algeria, Argentina, Burundi, Côte D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia (Republic of The), Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, United Republic of Tanzania, Yemen, Zimbabwe

Supported by

Argentina: General Directorate for International Cooperation

Implementing Entities

Argentina: General Directorate for International Cooperation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Worship and International Trade), Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF)

Project Status

Completed

Project Period

2016 - 2019

Primary SDG

16 - Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

Secondary SDGs

17 - Partnerships for the Goals

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