“Send it to CSI,” half-joked Shyam Bhadur Chand, as his gloved hands waved a labeled plastic bag containing a stained fragment of carpet for his colleagues to see. Chand, who works for a Nepali human rights advocacy organization, and a dozen other senior-level government and non-government organization representatives were participating in a mock exhumation in Nepal’s remote western city of Dhangadi. The faux gravesites contained “bloodied” dummy corpses and were strewn with cigarette butts, bullet shells and other potential criminal evidence.
The exercise was part of a March 22–25 ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) training of trainers (TOT) on forensic investigations. The training—conducted in cooperation with Equipo Peruano de Antropologia Forense, one of the world’s foremost authorities in forensic anthropology, and ABA ROLI legal specialist Robert Lochary, a former ABA ROLI country director in Serbia and a long-time state prosecutor—focused on developing both a deeper awareness of the legal significance of forensic investigations and the technical skills needed to conduct them.
The Dhangadi training was the first of three TOT workshops. The second training was held in the popular mountain town of Pokhara from March 29–April 1, and the third in the capital city of Kathmandu from April 5–8. About 50 people, including lawyers from the Nepal Bar Association and the Nepal Bar Council, state prosecutors, representatives from local human rights organizations, and investigators from the Nepal Police Force and the National Human Rights Commission, participated in the trainings. The trainings enhanced the country’s forensic capacity and will help increase the availability, accuracy and admissibility of evidence in human rights-related cases.
In classrooms, participants discussed the importance of collecting ante-mortem data, including clothing, dental records and other types of pre-death information provided by relatives or friends of missing persons to aid in identifying remains. Participants then reviewed basic protocols used for burial site preservation and the recovery of evidence, step-by-step crime scene assessment and post-mortem analysis techniques to determine the most probable cause and manner of death. Later, the participants took the newly acquired skills to the field, where three mock burial sites awaited them.
Working in mixed teams of criminal investigators, prosecutors and human rights advocates, the participants reviewed a background scenario and exhumed, preserved and documented evidence. The teams then presented their case analyses to the larger group for evaluation and feedback. Participants also received a 160-page, Nepali-language field manual on forensic investigations. Many participants said the practical trainings were “one-of-a-kind experience.”
Lochary, who led the trainings, said the trainings were critical to Nepal’s legal process and restorative justice. “[They are] sure to have broad impact,” he added. “The participants are learning both concrete tasks and how to fit these individual skills into an overall framework for pursuing these cases.” ABA ROLI’s forensic program is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor. A fourth forensic investigation workshop and follow-on sessions, which will evaluate the impact of the trainings, will be held next year. ABA ROLI will also train technicians at Nepal’s National Forensic Science Laboratory on advanced DNA analysis techniques, the development of DNA databases and related testimony.
To learn more about our work in Nepal, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].