June 01, 2013

Forensics Resources Help Salvadoran Criminal Justice Actors Process Clandestine Cemeteries

June 2013

Despite varying estimates, stakeholders agree that the number of clandestine cemeteries, mass graves where gangs bury their victims to avoid legal ramifications, continues to increase. First discovered in 2005, this impunity-fueled phenomenon has overwhelmed the technical and human resources capacities of El Salvador. The country—like other countries of the region—has limited forensic capacity, a problem exacerbated by the complexities of clandestine cemeteries and the more advanced forensic capacity required to identify and process them.

Site of a mass grave uncovered by forensic anthropologists in El Salvador.

As part of its continued efforts to help strengthen forensic capacity in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Panama, in January, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held a two-day workshop in El Salvador on processing clandestine cemeteries. A total of 15 forensic anthropologists from across the country’s justice sector attended the workshop, which was recommended by an ABA ROLI-established working group of representatives from criminal-investigation and crime-scene processing institutions. The workshop addressed the challenges clandestine cemeteries present and best practices in addressing them.

Following the January workshop, a technical committee composed of stakeholder representatives was formed to develop a manual for processing clandestine cemeteries, which is being tailored to the needs of investigators, crime scene technicians, police officers and prosecutors. The manual covers such topics as investigation of clandestine cemeteries and prosecution of related crimes, search methods and evidentiary techniques, and restorative justice. Stakeholders have also agreed to form specialized inter-institutional teams that will utilize the manual to jointly process clandestine cemeteries.

ABA ROLI will continue to work with justice sector institutions in El Salvador and in the region to help fight impunity by improving the use of scientific evidence in the criminal justice system.

To learn more about our work in Central America, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.