“Here everything is possible”: forensic specialists' work with human remains in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Szkil, Andrea Michelle (2013)
  • Subject: DR1652 | JZ6385 | RA1001

This thesis explores the work carried out by forensic specialists employed by the\ud International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). Headquartered in Sarajevo, Bosnia\ud and Herzegovina (BiH), ICMP assists the work of local governments around the world in\ud addressing the issue of missing persons following armed conflict, atrocities, and natural\ud disasters. This thesis focuses on ICMP’s efforts to aid the Bosnian government in locating,\ud exhuming, and identifying the remains of the individuals who went missing during the\ud country’s recent war (1992-1995). Utilising data obtained via interviews with and\ud observations of ICMP staff members, it primarily represents a study of the management of\ud professional identity in emotionally charged situations, examining the experiences of the\ud forensic specialists who work in the organisation’s three mortuary facilities throughout\ud BiH. It explores forensic specialists’ work with human remains, their interactions with\ud victims’ family members, and their attendance at events in which victims are\ud commemorated and/or buried. Discussion of forensic specialists’ experiences with the\ud deceased brings into consideration their varying responses to the remains, emphasising the\ud prevalence and perceived importance of emotional detachment. Situations in which\ud emotional detachment from the remains may prove challenging are considered, as are the\ud varying techniques forensic specialists utilise in managing emotional responses to their\ud work. Examination of forensic specialists’ interactions with the living suggests their\ud general dislike of these encounters, although the positive aspects of these interactions are\ud also examined. Exploration of forensic specialists’ opinions of attending burials and/or\ud commemorations brings into further consideration the balance between emotional\ud attachment and detachment. While respondents noted the importance of maintaining an\ud emotional connection to their work, they nevertheless emphasised the importance of\ud avoiding such responses while in the mortuary. Commemorations and/or burials become\ud ‘safe spaces’ for forensic specialists to express and experience emotional responses to their work that are not overtly professional.
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