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 prehistoric skeletons 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 against humanity. 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 behalf of 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 the victims 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 their skeletons. 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 she saw, 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 comes face-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 body of 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 geography synonymous 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 moral principles.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Bone Woman|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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The Bone Woman
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 préfecture, 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 préfet, 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 préfet 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 génocidaires 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 whisp