Technology and Forensic Evidence Chilean Human Rights Investigations

13 Apr 2017
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Eden Medina
Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Affiliated Associate Professor of Law, and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington

In 1991, Chilean forensic scientists began the exhumation of 126 skeletons from Patio 29, a plot in the General Cemetery where the military ordered the burial of hundreds the disappeared and executed. The exhumations began shortly after Chile returned to democracy and provided proof of the human rights crimes that had taken place during the Pinochet dictatorship. By 2002, the Chilean government had identified 96 of these skeletons and returned them to the families. However, in 2006 the Chilean government announced that the scientists had misidentified at least half of these skeletons. The causes of the errors were multiple and arguably systemic. However, part of the blame can be attributed to a technique the SML used in its many of its identifications: craniofacial superimposition. This paper tells the story of how craniofacial superimposition became an advanced identification technique used by the SML and why SML scientists opted to put their trust in this technique instead of techniques grounded in the emerging field of DNA analysis. Telling this story requires broadening the frame of analysis to study the transnational movement of techniques, technologies, and experts. It connects the history of forensic identification in Chile to that of China, Scotland, Brazil, Spain, and the United States and uses this history to shed new light on why mistakes were made.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  Berkeley Center for New Media • CSTMS