Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation published

The Hague, 27 January 2021 –The protocol, developed in partnership with the International Commission on Missing Persons, aims to improve practice in relation to safeguarding and investigating mass graves.

New guidance on investigating and protecting mass graves was recently published by Bournemouth University in partnership with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

The Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation brings together legal rules, and informed practice to support those protecting and investigating mass grave sites.

The project was led by Dr Melanie Klinkner, a Principal Academic in Law at Bournemouth University, and Dr Ellie Smith.

Dr Klinkner said: “Mass graves contain evidence that is essential to the realisation of truth, justice and perpetrator accountability. Effective rules and procedures for the protection, maintenance and investigation of mass graves are therefore vital.

“The Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation is defining standards on this crucial issue by collating and clarifying international norms to progress policy and practice.”

The Protocol brings together relevant legal guidance and the chronological processes of mass grave protection and investigation to support and inform practitioners. These could include government and state officials, legal personnel and forensic experts.

It was created in conjunction with ICMP, an intergovernmental organisation that has extensively supported countries’ efforts to investigate mass graves. The organisation spearheaded efforts that led to the identification of more than 70 percent of the estimated 40,000 people who were missing following the 1990 war in the former Yugoslavia, many of whom were found in mass graves.

In the foreword to the Protocol, Her Majesty Queen Noor, ICMP Commissioner, said: “The Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation is an important step forward in providing clarity on international norms and standards. It will enable greater co-operation among organisations in a broad array of settings.

“Mass graves and sites where horrific violence and human loss have occurred must be protected against interference and investigated to standards that are lawful and respectful.”

In the Protocol preface, Dr Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, adds: “It provides a much-needed definition of mass graves and brings together the branches of international law that underpin lawful and respectful protection and investigation efforts in ways designed to benefit families’ exercise of their human rights to truth and justice.”

To find out more about the project visit:

Notes to Editors:

The Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation can be found in full here 

For further information, or to request interviews, please contact Emma Matthews in the BU Press Office – or +44(0)7703 607430

The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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About the ICMP:

ICMP endeavours to secure the co-operation of governments and other authorities in locating persons missing as a result of conflicts, human rights abuses, disasters, organized violence and other causes and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.

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