Saturday, January 17, 2009

Human Rights of Dead People

Graveyard of Barzan Anfal victims.

Do dead people have human rights? According to Finnish Dr Helena Ranta they have three basic rights: a grave, their name in it and funeral ceremonies according their religion or belief.

Last September I visited the graveyard of the Anfalized Barzan men near Bile. It was a big victory in the search of the Anfal victims when the bodies of five hundred Barzanis were found. They were buried with Islamic funeral ceremonies in their home region.

Any way, the first thing which came to my mind in this graveyard was the statement by Helena Ranta of the rights of the dead people. Five hundred victims of Barzan Anfal have got two of the three rights: a grave and funeral ceremonies. But they do not have their name in their grave. No one knows whose bodies were found and who are still missing.

Dr Helena Ranta is forensic odontologist and Team Leader of the Finnish Forensic Expert Team. She has written several articles about the human rights of dead people. The latest of them was published last November in an essay collection in Finland. She writes there:

”The lawyer’s view, unwavering in logic but simultaneously narrow in focus, is that human rights belong only to the living. My personal view is that even the dead have human rights.
I regard being buried according to one’s religion and traditions in a grave that bears one’s own name a human right. That right is closely related to the rights of the relatives; namely, they have right to know how their loved ones died.
Only this information and the existence of a grave can help them to close the door to the past and build their life again in a damaged society”, writes Dr. Helena Ranta.

When I read these lines I remembered a view from the movie ”All my mothers” which tells about Barzan Anfal and the brave Barzan widows: The funeral convoy carrying the five hundred Anfal victims to their funeral travelled through the Barzan villages. Roads were full of mourning people, who joined the convoy. One elderly Barzan lady refused to believe that the body of her husband was among those to be buried. She refused to believe the death of her husband. She still waits him to return, for more than twenty years. Her waiting will end only if she gets documents stating the death of her husband. She is living in her memories.

Dr Ranta’s text about the importance of the grave continues:
”At the grave the relatives can remember and pay tribute to them who have gone before them. The forensic research community agrees that the dead also have human rights. This way of thinking springs from the ethical code of the discipline and is indirectly supported by Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Convention from 1977.”

Dr. Helena Ranta is coordinator at the department of Forensic Medicine Helsinki University for Disaster Victim Identification and International Missions.

She has been leading the forensic investigations of deceased found in mass graves since 1996 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Cameroon, Peru and Iraq.

March 2003 Mrs. Ranta was Chamber Witness in Haag International Tribunal at the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) at the court case of Slobodan Milosevic.

Mrs Ranta was advisor of the Truth and Conciliation Commission in Peru. She has coordinated Master of Science education in forensic sciences and human rights at the Catholic University of Lima in Peru, South-America.

I interviewed Dr Ranta two years ago about the difficulties in searching disappeared persons:

”There are lots of problems in accomplishing these basic rights in the battle fields all around the world. Despite situations are different the circumstances are always the same: there is a country which is breaking down and it turning against its own citizen.”

Quotations: Dr. Helena Ranta: The Right to be buried, in Suomalainen-Karvinen: The Ahtisaari legacy: Resolve and Negotiate. Tammi 2008

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