In this report, people are referred to as "Dead"
if their deaths were witnessed. In most cases in Matabeleland North,
this also means that what happened to their remains is known, even
if all that is known is that the bodies were taken away on trucks.
While the current location of the remains of the "Dead"
is often known in Matabeleland North, this is less often the case
in Matabeleland South.
"Missing" refers in most cases to people
who were known to have been taken from their homes at night in mysterious
circumstances, or known to have been detained, and never seen again.
(See interview , page for an example). There is no indication in
these cases as to where bodies might now be.
As the vast majority of victims can be classified
as "Dead" rather than "Missing", the possibility
of identifying and rcovering human remains for many victims is positive.
In this Zimbabwe is more "fortunate" than for example
Argentina, where approximately 10 000 disappeared, or Guatemala,
where 50 000 people disappeared in recent decades.
The recovery and identification of those who died
in the 1980s might also be more easily accomplished than for those
who died in the 1970s civil war in what was then Rhodesia, as many
of these victims went missing outside of the country, or were killed
and buried in regions in Zimbabwe far from their own districts.
In spite of the difficulties, many victims of the 1970s war have
been successfully recovered and reburied in the years since independence,
and the reburial exercise continues. The establishing of a pre-mortem
data base on all "Missing" victims, containing as much
physical information on each victim as possible, would dramatically
improve chances of identification. The structure of the computer
data base currently used in Argentina could be adapted to the Zimbabwean
2.THE BEARING OF PERPETRATOR ON BODY DISPOSAL
Murders in the 1980s were perpetrated by both government
agencies and dissidents. The case studies in Part Two illustrate
that approximately 98% of deaths and disappearances in the communal
lands were at the hands of government agencies, and 2% were murders
by dissidents. In Tsholotsho, for example, 18 murders by dissidents
were claimed by civilians, while a further 900+ deaths and disappearances,
mainly perpetrated by 5 Brigade were identified, most occurring
in February 1983. In addition to murders in communal lands, dissidents
murdered people living in the sparsely populated commercial farming
areas. Approximately 70 deaths in these regions were at the hands
of dissidents, not government agencies.
Dissidents would typically murder one or two civilians
in the communal lands in any one incident, almost invariably people
they believed to be sell-outs. The victims would be murdered and
the dissidents would then make a hasty departure before the authorities
arrived. This meant that families of victims were able to give their
deceased traditional burials.
Other dissident victims were typically commercial
farmers and their families or employees, who would also be murdered
in hit and run raids or ambushes. These victims too would be left
behind and were accorded proper funerals. There are a few notable
exceptions here, namely the six tourists who were abducted and buried
in shallow graves, in July 1982. There was also an abduction of
two commercial farmers in Bubi, one of whose remains were only recovered
years later. Such cases of abduction were not common. In both these
cases, remains were ultimately recovered and identified.
Those in mass graves, and those who were not given
decent burials are the civilians killed by state agencies, in particular
the 5 Brigade. Part Two, III, indicates 1437 killings and 354 disappearances
in which the names of victims are known. Of these, 1134 deaths and
169 disappearances were by 5 Brigade.
These figures are known by researchers to be incomplete,
with substantial indications on record of large numbers of dead
in areas not extensively researched for this report, in particular
in Lupane and Nkayi, where mass graves and bodies in mine shafts
have been reported. Matabeleland South, including Matobo, Gwanda
and Bulilimamangwe also have mass graves and reports of bodies down
3.DISPOSAL OF BODIES
It has been previously stated in this report that
it was a characteristic of 5 Brigade to insist that there was no
mourning for the dead. In some cases the family of the dead victims
were themselves shot because they wept. It was also characteristic,
particularly of the early weeks of 1983, for victims to be buried
in mass graves. In some cases, 5 Brigade would shoot people and
pass on with no concern for what happened to the dead, and in these
cases, families were able to bury their own dead, although full
burial rites and full attendance by family members were not possible
because of the prevailing conditions in those weeks.
This part of the report will concern itself with
cases in which no proper burial took place. The way in which bodies
were disposed of in such cases can be categorised as follows:
1.Bodies left where they were killed and burial
2.Bodies buried in mass or individual graves in villages but not
in the culturally accepted place or manner.
3.Bodies left inside huts in cases where people were burnt to death
4.Bodies buried in mass or individual graves at 5 Brigade camps.
5.Bodies dumped into mine shafts.
4.CHANCES OF RECOVERY IN EACH CATEGORY
1. Burial denied: in Lupane in particular, but also
in parts of Tsholotsho (see Pumula Mission section), burial was
on occasion forbidden, and relatives of the dead were reportedly
forced to observe the remains of their dead rotting away and being
scavenged. In these cases, bones were sometimes buried months or
years later, and in other cases, bones were removed by the 5 Brigade,
who came past in trucks and collected them. In cases where bones
were removed by 5 Brigade, chances of recovery now are almost non-existent.
2. Mass graves: there are reports of mass graves
throughout most of Matabeleland North and South. Compilers of this
report personally visited a few such sites. Photographs and video
clippings also exist of these graves. What is notable is the careful
way in which these graves have been demarcated by civilians in the
area: they have often been fenced off with logs, or covered with
boulders. In some cases most or all of the actual victims in a grave
are still known to those in the area, and in other cases, those
buried were strangers to the area, and are completely unknown. In
most cases, victims in mass graves were shot dead.
If it was the will of affected communities, relatives
of the deceased and the authorities, such graves would provide ideal
sites for forensic investigations. The possiblity of identifying
at least some, or even all, of the victims in such cases would be
extremely high. It would also be likely that cause of death could
3. People buried under huts: there are several incidents
of people burnt to death in huts in Tsholotsho, and also reports
that this happened in Lupane. In Tsholotsho, there are on record,
nine cases where people were burnt to death in huts (see Pumula
Mission section). Numbers of victims ranged from 1 to 30, with at
least two villages experiencing hut burnings involving large numbers
of people. These bodies were not removed from the huts, but were
given a makeshift burial where they lay, with soil being mounded
over the remains, and the area then being fenced. It is not clear
how many hut burnings resulting in deaths happened in Lupane, although
at least two are on current records.
If it was the will of affected communities, relatives
of the deceased and the authorities, these hut sites would also
provide ideal cases for forensic investigation, although cause of
death can be harder to establish in the case of burnings (See "cause
of death" following).
4. Graves in 5 Brigade camps: those detained at
Bhalagwe in Matobo, report the existence of burial grounds within
the camp. Ex-detainees, particularly from the early weeks, report
the daily digging of graves as one of their chores. Almost every
interview about Bhalagwe alludes to daily deaths in the camp, as
a result of beatings or shootings. Who victims were is not clear,
or exact numbers (see previous discussion on page for more details).
However, it seems clear that some, if not all, of the graves at
Bhalagwe were dug up and the bodies removed, while the camp was
still in operation. The policy of disposing of bodies changed, or
became supplemented within a few weeks, with the throwing of bodies
down mine shafts. Visits to Bhalagwe in November of 1996 showed
the grave sites to have been dug up, although the position of the
graves is still clearly visible. Eye witnesses involved in the burial
procedure recount how at the time of burial, bodies were covered
with asbestos sheeting before the soil was added, and then further
sheeting demarcated the graves clearly. Pieces of this sheeting
are still in the now-empty graves (see photo, page ). This could
suggest that the graves were only ever intended as a temporary measure,
and were designed in such a way as to facilitate later identification
of the sites and removal of the bodies. Certainly, the use of the
asbestos sheeting is not a normal burial procedure in Zimbabwe,
nor was it used in Matabeleland North, where people had been murdered
by 5 Brigade the previous year.
5. Mine Shafts: there are reports of human remains
in mine shafts in both Matabeleland North and South, though these
are more common in Matabeleland South where such shafts abound.
In two iThose interviewed in Matabeleland South also mentioned Legion
Mine, near Sun Yet Sen in the far south of Matobo, as a possible
site for the dumping of bodies. Sun Yet Sen was used as an interrogation
and detention centre by 5 Brigade in 1983 and 1984.
"Old Hat Mine": bones were found here
in 1992, and CCJP attended their exhumation. Unfortunately, this
was not done by forensic anthropologists, and the bones were disturbed
by the police, thus destroying potential evidence. The identification
of 8 individuals was possible, 2 women and 6 men, but their precise
identification was not possible.
Bodies are known to have been thrown down mine shafts
in the 1970s, by the Rhodesian army, and the first response of the
government to finds in the 1990s was that these were Rhodesian victims.
However, coins minted post-Independence and found in the pockets
of the deceased, dated the remains in Antelope Mine to the 1980s.
It is unlikely that positive identification of particular
victims would be possible if bones were exhumed from mine shafts.
This is a consequence of the fact that so little is known about
precisely who was dumped into particular shafts. However, such exhumation
could be important in terms of validating historical claims. Evidence
of peri-mortem trauma (ie trauma at point of death) might be detectable
on the remains. Items such as coins could also help date time of
dumping. It is not unlikely that any extensive exploration of mine
shafts would also result in the exhumation of victims from the 1970s,
although again, precise identification of victims would be difficult.
REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN BODY DISPOSAL
There seem to be regional differences in body disposal
between Matabeleland North and South. In 1983, killings in Matabeleland
North were more open and the repression was generally more visible,
but in 1984 in Matabeleland South the modus operandi became more
clandestine, with victims more frequently dying in 5 brigade camps
than in the village setting. There were also fewer killings in 1984.
The disposal of bodies seems to reflect this change
in strategy. In 1983 in Matabeleland North, bodies were more commonly
disposed of in individual or mass graves in or near villages, or
inside burnt huts. At the end of 1983 and in 1984 in Matabeleland
South, bodies were disposed of in mine shafts and mass graves located
inside 5 Brigade camps, in particular at Bhalagwe, but also at Sitezi
and other bases.
The change in body disposal suggests that the 5
Brigade modus operandi deliberately became more secretive in 1984
than it had been in 1983, particularly where killings were concerned.
This change in strategy might have been related to growing pressure
from local and international press and human rights groups, including
from CCJP who were operating within the country, and had made several
appeals to government by this stage. This observation might be modified
in the light of future evidence.
To summarise the regional differences:
1."Burials forbidden" is reported to date only in Matabeleland
2."Mass graves" in village settings are reported in all
districts, but are more common in Matabeleland North.
3."Hut burnings" resulting in deaths have to date only
been reported in Matabeleland North, mainly from western Tsholotsho
4."Deaths in 5 Brigade Camps" are reported in all areas,
but in Matabeleland North such deaths are not common: method of
disposal in Matabeleland North is also not clear. In Matabeleland
South, deaths and temporary burials mainly at Bhalagwe and also
at camps in Gwanda and Bulilimamangwe are reported.
5."Mine shaft disposal" is reported mainly in Matabeleland
South, but there are also reports of this in Matabeleland North.
5. OBJECTIVES OF EXHUMATION AND RECOVERY OF HUMAN REMAINS
- Exhumation assists the relatives of the victims
in their right to recover the remains of their dead or missing loved
ones, so that they can carry out the customary funeral rights and
mourn their dead. Families and affected communities may see the
procedure of identification of their dead, or even the willingness
to attempt this, as a necessary step towards their own emotional
- Exhumation can provide physical evidence to help
in the historical reconstruction of events, and to validate one
version of events over another. Forensic investigations can end
The evidence can be used in court if necessary.
National awareness and acknowledgement of events
would follow revelations from the exhumations, which could further
help the process of healing for survivors.
1. Cause Of Death: forensic anthropologists only
deal with skeletal remains. Therefore, if the cause of death did
not affect the skeleton, then there is no way of establishing the
cause of death with certainty.
For example, in cases of hut burnings, it may well
be that not all, or even none, of the skeletons will show signs
of burning. However, some hut burnings were allegedly accompanied
by shooting of victims trying to escape, in which case there might
be skeletal evidence of bullet wounds. There will also be circumstantial
evidence, such as testimonial evidence and the finding of burned
elements associated with the remains, such as charred clothing.
Fatal gunshot wounds are likely to involve human
bones, particularly shots to the head or thorassic regions, which
is where fatal gun shot wounds are typically found. However, shots
to the abdominal region will not necessarily cause skeletal damage,
and can cause death.
2. Identification of Human Remains: the process
of identification of victims is a physical one. Physical or `pre-mortem'
information about the victims when they were alive (such as height,
age, dental records) and `peri-mortem' information relating to the
time of their death obtained from those who witnessed their death,
can be compared with exhumed skeletal remains. For example, if a
certain person was witnessed to die from a shot to a particular
part of the body, and a skeleton shows corresponding damage, this
helps differentiate this victim's skeleton from others in the same
In cases where there are no existing dental records
for victims, and no witnesses to help with precise causes of death,
it is very difficult to identify bodies. Bodies exhumed from 5 Brigade
camps and bodies from mine shafts would have a poor chance of positive
identification, as there are no witnesses who can say with certainty
who was buried where.
In the case of bodies in mass graves and burnt huts,
the prospect of identification is high, as names of victims are
largely known already, and deaths were witnessed. There should be
good peri mortem or circumstantial evidence to confirm cause of
6.FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS INVESTIGATIONS
- A BRIEF HISTORY AND OUTLINE
Forensic sciences are a group of interrelated disciplines
which utilise different scientific methods to analyse physical evidence
related to legal cases. When working on legal cases involving skeletal
remains forensic anthropology is among the main disciplines involved.
Considering the time elapsed and the condition of burial sites recently
observed, forensic investigation could be useful in Zimbabwe.
Forensic anthropology consists in the application
of methods and techniques from physical anthropology and forensic
medicine to legal cases in which skeletal or mainly skeletonised
remains are involved. It is considered a branch of physical anthropology.
The physical anthropologist applies his/her knowledge about how
bodies vary over time and place to a legal or forensic context.
There are several other disciplines involved in this task. In order
to recover the remains in the proper way, the use of forensic archeology
is crucial. This simply consists of the "application of standard
archeological techniques slightly modified to meet the requirements
of crime scene processing where a skeleton(s) or buried body(ies)
is present." Other skills involved are: forensic pathology,
odontology, ballistics, radiology and genetics, among others.
The use of forensic anthropology in the investigation
of human rights violations started in Argentina in 1984. Argentina
returned to democracy in December 1983. The newly elected President
Dr. Raul Alfonsin, created the National Commission on the Disappearance
of Persons (CONADEP). The Commission established that at least 10
000 people had been disappeared under the previous military regime
(1976-1983). Bodies had been dumped from aeroplanes into the sea,
illegally cremated or buried in anonymous graves in cemetries.
In order to ensure impartiality and expertise, a
group of American forensic scientists under the leadership of Dr.
Clyde Snow was assembled, and several forensic teams in South America
were trained over the next ten years. These are the Guatemalan Forensic
Anthropology Team, the Chilean Forensic Anthropology Team and the
Argentinian Forensic Team. In the USA, the Physicians for Human
Rights and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
(AAAS) continue to promote and assemble teams of experts for specific
missions. They work internationally in interdisciplinary teams,
as expert witnesses or international consultants invited by local
judiciaries, or by intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations
War Tribunals and the United Nations Commissions of Inquiry, to
help resolve human rights issues. These teams of forensic anthropologists
are all non governmental and non-profit making.
Since 1984, forensic anthropology has been used
in investigations in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia,
Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Haiti, Mexico,
The Philippines, Iraqi Kurdistan, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Rwanda
PROCEDURE USED IN FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGICAL
1. Preliminary Investigation:
i) This involves the gathering of historical information about the
case under investigation, including official records, eye witness
ii) Pre-mortem data collection: collection of physical information
about victims, such as medical and dental records, old X-rays, height
etc. Peri-mortem information is also gathered, that is information
on injuries sustained at the time of death.
2. Archeological Work:
The archeological approach provides a rational way to recover and
reconstruct events, ensuring evidence is not damaged, recovery is
complete, and that documentation is adequate.
Using techniques from physical anthropology and medicine, it is
possible to establish stature, sex, age at death, ancestry, pathologies
and lesions, dental features etc of the exhumed skeletal remains.
Pre-mortem and peri-mortem data is then compared
with skeletal remains to try to establish their identities. In countries
where the affected populations are largely poor with little access
to medical and dental check up and where there is therefore little
pre-mortem data, new genetic methods involving the extraction of
DNA material from remains and comparing them with DNA material from
likely relatives can help identify victims.
1.The Will of Affected Communities: it is essential
that no steps be taken without consultation with communities and
relatives of the deceased. Some may wish for exhumation, while in
adjacent areas, others may not, for cultural or personal reasons.
2.Judicial Proceedings: Exhumations should be done
through the intervention of judges in order to keep a legal record
of the proceedings and findings, even in situations where no legal
prosecutions are to follow on findings (such as in Zimbabwe).
3.Exhumations must be professionally done: There
are teams of forensic anthropologists and organisations around the
world who are expert at this type of work. They have accomplished
successful exhumations in several Latin American countries, and
also in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Ethiopia, Rwanda, among other
3.A short exploratory mission: a first mission by
an international forensic team, lasting two or three months, would
ideally include different types of cases to fit the categories of
human remains listed above. For example, one burnt hut and one mass
grave could each be excavated. A mine shaft identified as having
a high likelihood of remains could be excavated, and a 5 Brigade
camp could be examined.
4.Depository for Human Remains: in cases where exhumed
remains are not identified:
a.)establish a general data base in the hope that identification
might ultimately be possible, and keep the remains available at
a specific centre and under control.
b.)if it is not possible to keep remains unburied,
do not rebury underground, but keep them in an above-ground sepulchre,
so that remains will not be affected by the organic activity of
the soil. If this is not possible, due to economic or cultural constraints,
remains should be reburied in the hardest possible container so
that they could be retrieved and re analysed if necessary.
6.Protection of the sites: sites should be protected
from tampering. Those living close to sites should know who to inform
if there is a sudden interest in them.
7.Establishment of a Symbolic Shrine: the existence of a place where
the remains of missing or disappeared or unidentified people are
buried or commemmorated has a symbolic value in many countries.
Relatives of victims often express the strong need to have a place
where they can remember their loved ones, pray, or follow other
cultural practices of mourning. Communities in Zimbabwe may - or
may not - decide after consultation that they would like to establish
such a shrine, or shrines.
The establishment of such public places has,
in other countries, implied a social and national recognition of
what happened: in Zimbabwe, the current clandestine or "abandoned"
graves do not allow for this. The lack of broader acknowledgement
is apparently a source of deep disturbance for the relatives and
witnesses of the tragic events.
Such a shrine would break the secrecy. The unspeakable,
currently limited to secret memories, would be brought out into
the realm of historical and social reality.