Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Forensic Anthropology in Support of the Rule of Law

Contributors: Martin Evison

The ultimate aim of Evison’s research is to support the Rule of Law by investigating the role and use of science at the point of application in criminal justice and human rights abuse investigations. Forensic science is science applied in a fundamentally important social context. The Rule of Law is fundamental to liberty and liberty is the “bedrock of democracy”. Martin has contributed to alleged human rights abuse investigations in Kenya and Kosovo, but it is in Brazil where his collaboration with practitioners in legal medicine has been particularly fruitful. The practitioners concerned are members of the Centro de Medicina Legal (CEMEL) in Ribeirão Preto, a city in São Paulo State, which during the 1990s experienced a homicide rate comparable to that of the entire United Kingdom. Members of CEMEL—in particular forensic pathologist Dr Marco Guimarães—have trained in the methods of forensic human identification advanced in Evison’s research and applied them to criminal and human rights abuse investigations. This work has appeared in Science and Justice in a paper by Guimarães entitled “From Dictatorship to DNA” [1] and was reviewed in a “News and Views” article in Nature by David Adam entitled “Back from the Dead” [2].

In 2004-5 this partnership was advanced substantially with the support of a UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Global Opportunities Fund (FCO-GOF) award [3] to develop capacity for forensic human identification at CEMEL and an award to Guimarães from the Brazilian Education Ministry CAPES [4] to promote international postgraduate education by hosting a course in forensic human identification delivered by Evison in November 2007. The impact of this partnership has been wide ranging. The FCO-GOF programme involved training of Brazilian forensic pathologists, anthropologists, and technicians in the UK and Brazil [3]. New collaborative investigations in forensic anthropology were undertaken at CEMEL. As well as leading further methodological advances, these led to the development of a standardised web-based online computer system for processing forensic anthropological cases [5] formally registered and protected under Brazilian law [6]. Between 2005 and 2010 a backlog of cases of skeletonised and partially skeletonised human remains were investigated and findings promoted in the media [7-9] in Brazil, resulting in a number of successful identifications [10-11]. Forensic medicine in Brazil has only recently re-emerged from under the shadow of long periods of military dictatorship, during which time forensic pathology investigations were undertaken as part of the State policing and judicial apparatus.

As a consequence of Evison’s research and the capacity building partnership arising from it, academic forensic medicine has substantially grown in Ribeirão Preto and a number of victims of homicide, organised crime and extra-judicial executions have been identified. This work is likely to be one of a number of socio-economic factors contributing to a substantial fall in the homicide rate in the city.


[1] M.A. Guimarães. “The challenge of identifying deceased individuals in Brazil: from dictatorship to DNA analysis” Science & Justice, 43(4), pp. 215-217. (2003).
[2] D. Adam. “Brazilian forensic medicine: Back from the dead” Nature, 423(6935), pp. 13-4. (2003).
[3] UKFCO. “Brazil: Forensic Science Project”, Science and the International Priorities: Country Activities, p. 74. (2008).
[4] CAPES Escola de Altos Estudos. “Forensic Human Identification graduate school” Recipient: Dr MA Guimarães (USP-FMRP), Instructors: Dr MA Guimarães (USP-FMRP), Dr MP Evison (Toronto). (2007)
[5] L. Crocco, et al. “LAF 1.0: implantação de um sistema informatizado para laboratórios de antropologia forense” Medicina, Ribeirão Preto, 41(1), pp.12-6. (2008).
[6] M. Evison, et al. “Certificado de Registro de Programa Computador RS 08008-0”, I.e.C.E. Ministério do Desenvolvimento, Brasilia, Brazil. (2009).
[7] F. Colavitti. “Sherlocks de jaleco”. Online news article.,6993,ECT560687-1940,00.html. (2007).
[8] J. Coissi. “Ossadas encontradas em canaviais em Ribeirão Preto” (2011).
[9] S. Azevedo, S. Online news article.,,EDR70087-6014,00.html
[10] A. Soares & M. Guimarães. “Dois anos de antropologia forense no Centro de Medicina Legal (CEMEL) da Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto-USP” Medicina, Ribeirão Preto, 41(1), pp. 7-11. (2008),
[11] C.C.S. Martin, T.C.P. Silveira, M.A. Guimarães, & J.A.D. Melki. “Centro de Medicina Legal da FMRP-USP: Relato de sete anos de practica humanitaria com cadavares humanos nao-identificados” Medicina, Ribeirão Preto, 41(1), pp.3-6. (2008).