Peace and Conflict

Date published: 2006-04-13 10:25:44 AM

A passion for justice has led archaeology professor Mark Skinner far from his base at Simon Fraser University. For five years now, he has worked with international authorities to investigate mass graves and human rights abuses in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, East Timor, and Yugoslavia.

"Over the past decade, we've seen too many discoveries of mass graves in troubled parts of the world," says Skinner. "Exhumation in order to identify victims and to obtain evidence for prosecution is a huge challenge. Forensic scientists must collect evidence in an unbiased manner to ensure that the punitive response by a democracy is both appropriate and justifiable."

SSHRC has recognized Skinner's dedication to excellence in research and his contribution to human rights by awarding him the 2002 Bora Laskin Fellowship. Established in 1985 by the Council to honour the late chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the twelve-month, $55,000 award supports multidisciplinary research that develops Canadian expertise in the field of human rights.

Skinner is using the sabbatical to monitor exhumations and autopsies from mass grave sites in Serbia for the International Commission on Missing Persons. The victims are thought to be Kosovars and Albanians who disappeared in 1999. Skinner will also be evaluating current international agency guidelines for the exhumation of mass graves.

Back in Canada, Skinner will work on creating a training centre for forensic archaeology, a task for which he is eminently qualified. Not only did he offer the first university course in Canada in forensic anthropology, but, during his 26 years of university teaching, he has helped law enforcement agencies investigate 53 homicides and 281 other crimes.

Recognized as a leading authority in mass grave investigations, Skinner was awarded SSHRC's Bora Laskin Fellowhip for 2002.