The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo

The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo

Clea Koff

Language: English

Pages: 198

ISBN: 2:00109227

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of the first acts since World War II to be legally defined as genocide. Two years later, Clea Koff, a twenty-three-year-old forensic anthropologist, left the safe confines of a lab in Berkeley, California, to serve as one of sixteen scientists chosen by the United Nations to unearth the physical evidence of the Rwandan genocide. Over the next four years, Koff’s grueling investigations took her across geography synonymous with some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.

The Bone Woman is Koff’s unflinching, riveting account of her seven UN missions to Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Rwanda, as she shares what she saw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, and what she learned about the world. Yet even as she recounts the hellish nature of her work and the heartbreak of the survivors, she imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and a sense of justice. A tale of science in service of human rights, The Bone Woman is, even more profoundly, a story of hope and enduring moral principles.

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thousand people were killed during the genocide in 1994. Some of their bodies were later buried in a mass grave that we were asked to investigate. Physicians for Human Rights The interior of Kibuye church, with body bags between the pews. Whenever I carried in body bags, I was more disturbed by the remains of violence— like blood splatters on the ceiling—than by the human remains. Physicians for Human Rights Part of our work at Kibuye was cleaning and documenting clothing and other personal

combination with our hypothesized grave edges, allowed us to start excavating in earnest. Within three days, we already knew we had at least two layers of bodies. In the northeast quadrant, Becky uncovered Blue-and-White Sweater Man with Turquoise-and-Black Sweater Man underneath, and I uncovered another boot. Over in the northwest quadrant were very smelly pants and tennis shoes: something was decomposing underneath them. We decided to start digging out our second test trench to use as a working

tureen in the back of their jeep, along with bread and butter. They had no idea how grateful we were for this soup: on a cold day, it was absolutely wonderful to have warm chicken broth with two carrot slices and a huge chunk of bread spread thick with butter. The tent arrived as well. It wasn’t like any tent I’d ever seen. It was constructed on-site by about twenty Slovak engineers and their Australian foreman, Bryan. All the Slovaks were wearing dark green, baggy trousers with paper-bag waists

began their work was a talk by James Mills, the ICTY welfare officer. This was the first mission I’d been part of where ICTY had brought in a counselor of sorts; I was looking forward to hearing him and seeing others’ reaction to him. Eamonn introduced James thus: “I think what this man has to say is of the utmost importance, so I ask you, even if you don’t think you need to hear it, please, just keep your opinions to yourself so those who want to hear him can do so.” James began by explaining

all the physiological aspects of stress: increased blood pressure, for instance, and the unconscious clenching of muscles. He described “critical incident stress” and the fight-or-flight reaction. Naturally, I thought about the night of the lake shooting in Rwanda: my hands shaking even hours later, my loss of appetite, the way I had held my hand over my heart and my sense of increased hearing capacity. Other symptoms had persisted after that night, and I tensed up each time I heard a speedboat.

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