In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was drafted and signed signaling the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The court was established with the goal of investigating and prosecuting crimes including war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Article 6 of the Rome Statute cites the “enforced disappearance of persons” as a war crime. The definition of such “disappearance” includes, but is not limited to, the murder of persons and the burial of such persons in mass, unmarked graves.
Archeology holds the unique ability to exhume and identify both the cause of death and the identity of bodies. Archeological methods can therefore be used highlight the mass human rights violations that have been committed against the disappeared and their families. In the case of the Chechen wars, archeologists have been unable to highlight violations due to Russia’s unwillingness to exhume the mass graves believed by many who have lost relatives, to be the key to learning what happened to their loved ones who disappeared during the wars. Russia reports that 574 cases of missing persons have been resolved yet 57 known mass graves remain untouched. The few investigations that have been carried out, have been either botched or executed in an unprofessional manner.
Numerous human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Russia’s unwillingness to work to exhume and identify the bodies in an appropriate manner. Inappropriate practices include failure of collecting evidence from bodies (both forensic and material), failure to publicize their findings to relatives, and failure to carry out investigations into the nature of deaths (such as interviewing known witnesses). Such botched investigations have made it difficult to determine what has happened to the bodies found. Since 2005, the European Court of Human Rights has handed down over 170 judgments finding Russia “responsible for serious human rights abuses in Chechnya, including executions, torture, and enforced disappearances” (HRW 5). But despite these judgments, there have been no official tribunals or legal proceedings on war crimes; Russia has done very little to help victims of the war recover and find their missing relatives, many of whom could certainty be identified by way of proper practices.
By not exhuming these mass graves or doing so in an improper manner, Russia is further violating the rights of the Chechen war victims. Surviving relatives are left to imagine the horrors their loved ones endured while not knowing what became of them. Russia has clearly taken the approach of ignoring its past violations and failing to address the cloud of uncertainty that looms over many survivors whose relatives disappeared. Russia should be well aware, however, that ignoring a problem does not make is disappear. Russia’s handling of the mass graves brings up many questions. How does the refusal to exhume mass graves and subsequently work to identify the bodies further violate the rights of both the deceased and their surviving relatives? Why has the international community sat by while human rights abuses continue?
Kramer, Andrew. "A vexing reminder of war in Chechnya's booming capital." New York Times 29 04 2008, Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/world/europe/29ihtjournal.4.12440042.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
“Making Justice Count in Chechnya.” Human Rights Watch (2011): 1-21. Human Rights Watch. Web. 9 Nov. 2012
UN General Assembly, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (last amended 2010), 17 July 1998, ISBN No. 92-9227-227-6, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3a84.html [accessed 9 November 2012]