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The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovoby Clea Koff
Synopses & Reviews
THE blood's long gone
it took twenty-four hours to fly from california to Rwanda. I crossed ten time zones and ate two breakfasts, but there was one constant: my thoughts of Kibuye church and the job I had to do there. Most of the facts I knew were bounded by the dates of the genocide: the church was in Kibuye town, within the préeacute;fecture, or county, of Kibuye. During the three months of the 1994 genocide, this one county alone suffered the deaths or disappearances of almost 250,000 people. Several thousand of those had been killed in a single incident at Kibuye church.
According to the few Kibuye survivors, the préeacute;fet, or governor, of Kibuye organized gendarmes to direct people he had already targeted to be killed into two areas: the church and the stadium. The préeacute;fet told them that it was for their own safety, that they would be protected from the violence spreading through the country. But after two weeks of being directed to the "safe zones," those inside were attacked by the very police and militia who were supposed to be their protectors. This was a tactic typical of géeacute;nocidaires all over Rwanda: to round up large numbers of victims in well-contained buildings and grounds with few avenues of escape and then to kill them. In fact, more people were killed in churches than in any other location in Rwanda. Some priests tried to protect those who had sought refuge in their churches; others remained silent or even aided the killers.
I read the witness accounts of the attack on Kibuye church in "Death, Despair and Defiance," a publication of the organization African Rights. Reading them was like having the survivors whisper directly in my ear: they describe how the massacre took place primarily on April 17, a Sunday, on the peninsula where the church sits high above the shores of Lake Kivu. The attackers first threw a grenade among the hundreds of people gathered inside the church; then they fired shots to frighten or wound people. The small crater from the grenade explosion was still visible in the concrete floor almost two years later, along with the splintered pews. After the explosion, the attackers entered the church through the double wooden doors at the front. Using machetes, they began attacking anyone within arm's reach. A common farming implement became, in that moment, an instrument of mass killing, with a kind of simultaneity that bespeaks preplanning.
The massacre at the Kibuye church and in the surrounding buildings and land, where more than four thousand people had taken refuge, continued for several days, the killers stopping only for meals. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I learned that the killers fired tear gas to force those still alive to cough or sit up. They then went straight to those people and killed them. They left the bodies where they fell.
People living in Kibuye after the genocide eventually buried the bodies from the church in mass graves on the peninsula. The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had requested our forensic team to locate the graves, and to exhume the remains and analyze them to determine the number of bodies, their age, their sex, the nature of their injuries, and the causes of their deaths. The physical evidence would be used at the trial of those already indicted by the Tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity, to provide proof of the
Recounts seven important forensic fact-finding missions for the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal, a period during which the author, a Berkeley forensic anthropology graduate student, endured harrowing conditions while she investigated the disturbing killings of war victims. Reader's Guide included. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.
In the spring of 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 analyzing prehistoricskeletons in the safe confines of Berkeley, California, was one of sixteen scientists chosen by the UN International Criminal Tribunal to go to Rwanda to unearth the physical evidence of genocide and crimes againsthumanity. The Bone Woman is Koff's riveting, deeply personal account of that mission and the six subsequent missions she undertook-to Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo--on behalfof the UN.
In order to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, the UN needs to know the answer to one question: Are the bodies those of noncombatants? To answer this, one must learn who thevictims were, and how they were killed. Only one group of specialists in the world can make both those determinations: forensic anthropologists, trained to identify otherwise unidentifiable human remains by analyzing theirskeletons. Forensic anthropologists unlock the stories of people's lives, as well as of their last moments.
Koff's unflinching account of her years with the UN-what shesaw, how it affected her, who was prosecuted based on evidence she found, what she learned about the world-is alternately gripping, frightening, and miraculously hopeful. Readers join Koff as she comesface-to-face with the realities of genocide: nearly five hundred bodies exhumed from a single grave in Kibuye, Rwanda; the wire-bound wrists of Srebrenica massacre victims uncovered in Bosnia; the disinterment of the bodyof a young man in southwestern Kosovo as his grandfather looks on in silence.
Yet even as she recounts the hellish working conditions, the tangled bureaucracy of the UN, and the heartbreak of survivors, Koff imbues her story with purpose, humanity, and an unfailing sense of justice. This is a book only Clea Koff could have written, charting her journey from wide-eyed innocent to soul-weary veteran across geographysynonymous with some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century. A tale of science in the service of human rights, The Bone Woman is, even more profoundly, a story of hope and enduring moralprinciples.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
CLEA KOFF was born in 1972, and is the daughter of a Tanzanian mother and an American father, both documentary filmmakers focused on human rights issues. Koff spent her childhood in England, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and the United States. She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University and went on to the master’s program in forensic anthropology at the University of Arizona. At the age of twenty-three, she became a forensic expert for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and was the youngest member of the first team to arrive in Kibuye in 1996. After two missions in Africa, Koff participated in five missions for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo in 2000. Koff earned her master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and now divides her time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.
From the Hardcover edition.
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