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Forensic Sci Int. 2017 Nov;280:35-43. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2017.08.027. Epub 2017 Sep 1.

A psychosocial approach in humanitarian forensic action: The Latin American perspective.

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International Committee of the Red Cross - ICRC, ICRC Mexico Delegation, Avenue de la Paix 20, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Electronic address:
Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial - ECAP, Guatemala.


Forensic humanitarian action is aimed at alleviating suffering and maintaining human dignity, with the victims and their families at the core. International recommendations emphasize the importance of psychological support and psychosocial work as an integral part of forensic investigations into missing persons. Psychosocial action does not simply refer to emotional support but is based on the idea of the individual being the holder of rights, encouraging decision taking, affirming actions, and elaborating personal and collective histories. In this framework, forensics and psychosocial sciences need to work in complementary and coordinated interaction for the benefit of the families and communities. For forensic investigations to be restorative - their ultimate humanitarian objective - there are certain additional conditions apart from those of scientific quality and ethics: respect, information and coordination are among the main pillars for forensic action with a psychosocial approach, taking into account the need to treat on an individual and collective level the continuous psychological affectations caused by the disappearance of a loved one. On this basis, psychological and psychosocial accompaniment of the victims can contribute to the victims' healing process and also improve the forensic investigations themselves. This article, which is based on the experience of two decades of practical forensic and psychosocial work in the field, explains the main psychological effects of disappearances and the resulting needs. It gives a short historical overview of the origins and developments in psychosocial support and a perspective in relation to the search for missing persons and forensic interventions in Latin America. It goes on to demonstrate how coordinated interaction among the forensic and psychosocial fields strengthens both of them to the benefit of the affected families, groups and communities. Finally, it takes up some of the international recommendations of best practices with particular significance for the implementation of a psychosocial approach in forensic investigations.


Forensic human identification; Forensic humanitarian action; Missing persons; Psychosocial accompaniment; Psychosocial action

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