In the 21st century, the exhumations of mass graves linked to human rights violations have experienced an unexpected boom all over the world. These graves have gradually become tools of truth, justice and reparation and are now radically transforming the ways in which a traumatic past is managed. SUBTIERRO is born of two previous RD&I projects (CSO2009-09681 and CSO2012-32709). The first of these is based on the interdisciplinary analysis of the Spanish Civil War since 2000, and the second on research into exhumations set in a comparative global context, and on work undertaken in the FP7-PEOPLE-ITN 2008 programme entitled “Sustainable Peacebuilding” (SPBUILD). SUBTIERRO takes this research substrate one step further, defining a framework in which to study a new analytical paradigm that has been called “the forensic turn”—the predominance of forensic practice and rationale when confronting a past linked to war and human rights violations.
With many positions in between, a main divide occurs between those prefering to ignore the process or do it discretely and move forward, and those defending the importance of a deep public debate with legislative and legal consequences in order to incease the quality of Spanish democracy. In this sense, the analysis of the impact of exhumations has a relevant diagnostic capacity to help us understand the current social, political and historical moment in contemporary Spain.
The researchers in SUBTIERRO are pioneers in the debate on this global academic realm and are responsible for two of the most influential publications in the field in 2015: “Necropolitics: Mass Graves and Exhumations in the Age of Human Rights” (U Penn Press, coedited F. Ferrándiz and A. Robben), which is a direct result of CSO2012, and “Disturbing Bodies: Perspectives on Forensic Anthropology” (SAR Press, coedited by Z. Crossland). These books, which have placed the team in the centre of academic debate on the issue, lay theoretical and methodological foundations to tackle SUBTIERRO’s aims from a new perspective. What are the reasons behind this growing predominance of forensic sciences in the processes of contemporary reception of a violent past? What are the historical roots and how are these deployed in the contemporary age? What are the consequences on 21st-century human rights discourse and practice? In what contexts, with what legal and/or institutional procedures and structures, and for what reasons are mass graves now being opened in many places all over the world? What mechanisms of reparation to victims are being implemented?
Adopting an international, interdisciplinary and comparative analytical model to analyse the issues, SUBTIERRO organises its enquiry both synchronically and diachronically. Using the exhumations of the Spanish Civil War as a test case—in both their contemporary and their historical dimensions—and with the involvement of the major specialists in the field, the project aims: (a) firstly to deepen comparative analysis of the Spanish case alongside other contemporary exhumations worldwide and, in particular, in Europe and Latin America; and (b) to launch a comparative historical model enabling comparison between the Spanish mass graves of Francoism, the post-war period and the transition on the one hand, and on the other those that took place in other parts of Europe in the wake of the Second World War, both linked to the battlefield, with the focus on the massacre of civilians, and in concentration camps.
SUBTIERRO seeks to consolidate an international, interdisciplinary team with a proven track record on a complex, cross-cutting issue now on the rise and directly related to the challenges identified in the RD&I system and in H2020 and HERA.