Rapid Response Ukraine: Real-time Mass Grave Recording

Authors: Klinkner, M., Whittle, J., Nwagu, C., Garcia-Campo, N. and Biggins, D.

Conference: 17th annual Social Simulation Conference


News reports from Ukraine and elsewhere on the discovery of mass graves can raise two major concerns: firstly, whether the individuals contained in the mass grave died due to an illegal act and secondly whether bodies were disposed of without observing the applicable legal and socio-cultural norms. In the context of the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, mass graves are seemingly becoming synonymous with the possible commission of war crimes. Our institution is at the forefront of mass grave protection and investigation research (e.g. the Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation) and this project sits within this broader ambit. This research is premised on the assumption that documentation and protection go hand in hand and can lead to effective investigations.

This poster presentation consists of the following expositions: (1) The purpose is to catalogue, in real-time, mass graves reported in Ukraine. In doing so, we are tracking what protection and investigation, if any, is afforded to mass grave sites capturing relevant information in relation to the effective identification and return of mortal remains as well as evidence collection for prosecutorial purposes.

(2) The method comprises of open source research in media outlets, including social media, also through the help of google translate function on the subject of mass graves. (3) Our visualisation provides a visual, geographical and temporal representation of the data to highlight the key aspects of mass grave location, number of victims, nationality of victims, data credibility, protection and excavation information (where available).

(4) Preliminary findings reveal the speed at which investigations are conducted. But there are also risks of contamination and the destruction of evidence. Through accurate recording, our research data provides an important overview of the complexity of mass graves and the associated level of evidence collection and analysis required. This in turn may assist identification of human remains, leading to their return and reburials, as well as future prosecution efforts. (5) This research sits within a massive effort to collect and preserve digital evidence in Ukraine by numerous entities (they include, for example, Bellingcat; UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission; Truth Hounds; Mnemonic; and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab). If forms part of wider Leverhulme Trust funded foundational research (called MaGMap) on the benefits and risks of open source mass grave mapping.

The project is an example of co-creation whereby student-researchers and staff are working together for the benefit of collating societally relevant information. Through this, the project has an explicit link to the UN sustainable development Goals (UNSDG 16).

Source: Manual