Mass grave protection and investigation project

Mass Graves and Missing Persons

Mass graves are a frequent legacy of conflict and human rights abuses. Survivors have a need to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones, and they have the right under international and domestic law, to the pursuit of truth, justice and reparation. Governments have statutory obligations to survivors, including the obligation to ensure that the human remains of victims are identified and returned to families so that they can be buried with dignity, and appropriate memorialization can take place. Investigation and preservation of mass grave evidence is essential for transparency, redress and end impunity. An effective protection regime for the maintenance and investigation of mass graves supports survivors’ rights to truth and justice.

Towards Mass Grave Protection Guidelines

If mass graves are not adequately protected to preserve evidence, facilitate identification and repatriation of the dead and enable a full and effective investigation to be conducted, survivors’ rights are compromised. Despite guidelines for investigations of the missing, and legal obligations under international law, it is not expressly clear how these mass graves are best legally protected and by whom. Dr. Melanie Klinkner, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Leadership Fellow and Principal Academic in International Law at Bournemouth University, asks why, to date, there are no guidelines and  examines progress towards a more comprehensive set of legal guidelines to protect mass graves.

Developing mass grave protection and investigation guidelines: a collaborative approach

To ensure survivors’ rights can be more adequately protected, Bournemouth University and ICMP have entered a partnership to develop mass grave protection guidelines, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project is researching methods of safeguarding, protecting and investigating mass graves in order to ensure truth and justice for survivors. It adopts a collaborative approach and will bring together 20 expert participants from different disciplines and across the world. Over the course of the project, they will help shape, progress and finalise the mass grave protection guidelines to be published in autumn 2020.

The project outlines the importance of ensuring transparency, ending impunity and protecting human rights and will support victims’ efforts to know what happened to their loved ones.


This project is funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council. The Arts and Humanities investigate the values and beliefs which underpin both who we are as individuals and how we undertake our responsibilities to our society and to humanity globally.

Follow the project on Twitter: @GraveProtection