Murdoch University forensic scientist leading identification efforts at Kosovan mass grave site

Murdoch University forensic scientist James Speers, centre, with Valon Hyseni and Ditir Haliti from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine examine human remains in Kosovo.
Murdoch University forensic scientist James Speers, centre, with Valon Hyseni and Ditir Haliti from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine examine human remains in Kosovo.

A MURDOCH University forensic scientist has been helping to find human remains in Kosovo as part of efforts to identify missing people from the 1998-99 war.

Associate Professor James Speers has been in the Balkan state training staff from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) Kosovo in forensic anthropology and archaeology, over the course of three trips since February.

The team will continue the difficult task of exhuming and identifying human remains resulting from horrific acts of genocide in the war.

The Kosovo War was fought by the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of more than 13,000 people.

In August 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 1600 people remained missing.

Murdoch University forensic scientist James Speers is helping with the process to find human remains in Kosovo.

Using intelligence reports from NATO, the Kosovo Liberation Army and police forces during the conflict – as well as local knowledge – a potential gravesite was recently identified near the Kosovo-Albanian border.

Dr Speers has been working with forensic experts from the European Union and staff from IFM Kosovo to excavate the site.

The group has been able to identify a number of human bones ranging from an adolescent boy to several old men.

“Although it is a difficult process, it is critical for families to recover their loved ones,” he said.

“Sadly in some cases, whole families have been killed and it may not be possible to reconcile the victims but it is important to know for sure.

“The Kosovo government sees this as vital to the reconciliation process and so I have met with them a number of times to accelerate the project.”

Dr Speers said the process of finding the mass graves was long and complex, and since 2014, only two have been found and excavated so far in Kosovo.

He will be working in the country for up to three years on a FIFO basis, and is hoping to bring Master of Forensic Science students from Murdoch across for internships.

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