I have participated in the summit as as a delegate as per the invitation received for a delegation in 3rd International Summit on Humanitarian Forensics Summit from Dr. G. Rajesh Babu, Head-ICHF, NFSU and Dr. Elif Gunce Eskikoy, Head ICHF, ICRC on behalf the International Centre for Humanitarian Forensics-ICHF dated 24th November, 2021. The aim of this summit was to discuss topical and cross-cutting issues of local relevance and global significance on subject of Humanitarian Forensics and the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Date and Venue
The summit took place on 01-02 December 2021 at National Forensic Sciences University Gandhinagar Campus, Gujarat in cooperation with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU). The mode of event was both On-Campus and virtual.
The major agendas of the Summit are as given below.
- Geopolitical and socio-cultural consideration in the Protection and Management of the Dead;
- Conceptualization of database management for successful forensic human identification;
- Pragmatic approach to address the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 deaths;
- Social, political and economic considerations for COVID-19 affected families.
Participants from South Asian countries like India, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives were participated in the summit.
Mr. Jan Miskoc, Acting Head of Regional Delegation, ICRC New Delhi started the session by welcoming the participants. He said that due to COVID Pandemic various socio economic and cultural problems had faced by all over the world and affected seriously the south Asian countries too. Due to this humanitarian crisis was increased. Keynote speech was presented by Dr. J.M. Vyas, Vice-Chancellor, NFSU saying humanitarian crisis has spread all over the world, by which India also got affected. He has mentioned one key saying that due to problem idea would generate and idea helps to solve the problem, which lead the progress as a whole. He expressed gratitude to ICRC for organizing the summit in the NFSU. Similarly, Keynote was addressed from Chief Guest-Hon. Justice Tripathi saying that such pandemic has affected the world in past too. This COVID pandemic has also affected India massively. India has overcome the problem by collective efforts of various stakeholders. He thanked team members for organizing such a summit. Finally, Prof. S.O. Junare, Campus Director, NFSU had given vote of thanks to all the national and foreign delegates, participants, teachers and students for being presented in the summit. He further said that such a pandemic is unavoidable and it will not affect only one nation but all over the world. Thus, it is hopeful that such summit will provide platform to share own countries ideas regarding the pandemic and all the participants would be benefited from this summit.
The main topic in day one was Geopolitical and socio-cultural consideration in the Management of the Dead. First session was instigated in Sub–theme 1- India’s response to COVID-19 pandemic-an overview which was taken by Dr. S Venkata Raghava, professor & Head, Dept. of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology. He mentioned that this pandemic was not accustomed in India. Many people had died due to this COVID-19. It has brought many challenges such as lack of enough health manpower, lack of sufficient bed in hospital and lack of motivation in frontline health workers. Despite facing all the challenges finally India has overcome from such crisis.
Secondly, session 2 on Challenges faced by forensic institutions in managing COVID-19 related death in Nepal began jointly with the speaker Dr. Pramod Shrestha, Hod, Department of Forensic Medicine, Nepalese Army Institute of Health Sciences (NAIHS), Nepal and Dr. Lee Budhathoki Nepalese Army Institute of Health Sciences (NAIHS), Nepal. The main theme of this session was Nepal has faced many challenges in this pandemic due to country geographical topography. Moreover, enough medicine could not be supplied in hospitals. There was not enough frontline health worker due to fear of being infected of the COVID. Nepal has reached death troll nearly 12000, which is higher in comparison with the population of Nepal in South Asia. Currently, we have managed the situation and working for next third variant Omicron.
Third session was on the topic Ethical aspects of protection & dignified management of COVID-19 death taken by Dr. Vina Vaswani, Professor & Head, Dept. of Forensic Medicine & toxicology, Director, Centre for Ethics, Yenepoya University, Mangalore, India. In this session, Dr. Vina Vaswani had expressed her experience regarding ethical aspect of deceased. In the pandemic period, there was discrimination in Covid patent deceased body and other. People were afraid of touching the deceased body due to fear. Family member of the deceased could not get deceased body to perform cremation rituals as per their culture. Trainings were given to the health workers and awareness programs were provided to the public and it is ensured that in future those discrimination will not be repeated.
Fourth session on day 1 was held on sub theme ICHF contribution to humanitarian aspects of COVID-19 deaths in India by Dr. Melahat Elif Gunce Eskikoy, ICRC-ICHF Head Forensic Specialist, ICRC New Delhi Regional Delegation, India. These sessions were chaired by Dr. Dharmesh Silajiya, Dean School of Forensic Sciences, National Forensic Science University, (NFSU), Gujarat, India (On-Campus) and Air Commodore K.R. Thakkar, Dean School of Police Science & Security Studies, National Forensic Science University, (NFSU), Gujarat, India (On-Campus). They have expressed their gratitude to the organizer for choosing the National Forensic Sciences University Gandhinagar Campus for this international summit. They thanked to the speaker for their valuable input in the session. This pandemic has affected many people not only India but all over the world. It was very serious time in health sector to manage the situation. This type of difficult situation made us more stronger and this summit will definitely provide guidelines to cope with the challenges of such pandemic in future.
Second main theme of day one was about Conceptualization of database management for successful forensic human identification. Sub-theme 2, first session presented by Dr. Kimmo Himberg, Rector, Police College Finland on the topic Importance of database in international collaborations. He shared his view that pandemic has affected thousands of people all over the world. It was very much important to keep database regarding the deceased, it provides information like how many people had died? What are the family history of those deceased? It helps world wide to reach in conclusion that what kinds of persons were mostly affected? What are the alternative solution to cope the situation.
Similarly, virtual session Sub-theme 2-Session 2 was on topic ICRC’s efforts in database management: Introducing RESOLVE was presented by Dr. Luis Bernardo Fondebrider, Head of Unit, Forensic, ICRC Geneva. This session was also related with the management of database of dead in COVID pandemic. Dr. Luis Bernardo Fondebrider has shared that ICRC has also managed database as per the available resources.
Likewise, third session on the topic Need of access to database for forensic human identification was presented by Dr. Abhishek Yadav, Additional Professor, Dept. of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, AIIMS, New Delhi, India. He said they have kept records of the deceased of COVID pandemic in AIIMS, New Delhi. Final session of day 1 had begun in the topic Standardization of dental records for human identification by the Dr. Ashith Acharya, professor and Head Department of Forensic Odontology SDM College of Dental Sciences & Hospital Dharwad, Karnataka, Honorary Secretary, IAFO. In this session, Dr. Ashith Acharya has said that dental records are very much vital to identify the deceased body. It is beneficial to find out the identification of the deceased and handover the body to related family member. He said they have been keeping dental records of the deceased to ensure dignified life of the deceased family.
After the completion of these sessions, closing remarks were presented by Prof. Harish Pathak, Head, Dept. of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, King Edward (VII) Memorial Hospital and Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College, Mumbai, India (On campus) and Dr. Naveen Chaudhary, Dean of School of Cyber Security & Digital Forensic, NFSU (On campus). Now the records have been keeping in I-clouds which is accessed all over the world. Dental record is crucial for the identification of the deceased. Those records have been keeping by India and it is necessary to gather all the records from all over the world. Finally, they thanked to all the key speakers of these sessions for their effective presentations.
The main theme of day 2 was Pragmatic approach to address the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 deaths. The first session on Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on frontline workers engaged in protection and dignified management of death in Asia Pacific region was delivered by Dr. Udo Krenzer, Regional Forensic Manager, ICRC Bangkok. The crux of this session was dignified management of death. Every person deserves the dignified life, Deceased body and their family have right to get deceased body for the cremation purpose as per their rituals. Hence, ICRC has also given direction to the frontline health worker for the protection of dignified life of the deceased family members.
After that second session began in topic as Psychosocial Impact of COVID-19 deaths on Maldivian frontline workers which was facilitated by Director Hishmath Ibrahim (Serious & Organized Crime Department, Crime Investigation Command, Maldives Police Service, Maldives. In this session, Director Hismath shared his views on the psychosocial impact in Maldivian front line workers on the pandemic situation. The front line workers who were involved in the treatment of covid patient, they were in fear of transmission of the covid to them. They got fear even to touch the covied-19 death body. Gradually, the health team were made aware to cope up the situation.
Likewise, third session was about Access and availability of Psychological support services for frontline workers handling the COVID-19 deaths in Bhutan facilitated by Dr. Norbu (Forensic Medicine Specialist, Head of Department of Forensic Medicine, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital, Thimphu, Bhutan). In this session Dr. Norbu shared that in Bhutan also frontline workers handling COVID-19 deaths have fear of death. They were provided appropriate training to handle the covid patient as well as deaths so that Bhutan has less suffered in the South Asia.
Fourth session was on psychosocial impact of COVID-19 deaths on volunteers of Caritas India presented by Ms. Mungreiphy Shimray (Lead: Training and Development & Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Program, Caritas India). At the beginning of this pandemic lockdown was maintained in India. Due to this, people were living in fear. There were lack of doctors, nurses and other front line health workers in covid hospital. Many health worker had left the work. It was very difficult to get enough volunteers and those available volunteers were highly paid. In course of time the health workers were motivated by providing the extra financial benefits and other facilities. Finally, India has managed the pandemic successfully.
These sessions were chaired by Dr. Sasikala K. President-South India Medico Legal Association (SIMLA), HoD, Dept. of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, Government Medical College (GMC) Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India (Virtual) and Ms. Fathimath Himaya, Secretary-General, Maldives Red Crescent (MRC), Maldives (On-Campus). They have shared their opinions by supporting the above speakers. The main challenges of the pandemic were to manage the health worker which is natural too because Pandemic has created fear of death in every human being. Gradually the training was provided to the health workers to cope the situation now the situation has become normal in Maldives and it is hoped that other country has also followed those practices.
On the last day’s topic: Social, Political and Economic Considerations for COVID-19 affected families had several sub themes such as Digital imaging in Forensic Odontology-minimizing invasive techniques for the deceased, Socioeconomic difficulties faced by the family members of COVID-19 deceased in the Maldives, Challenges faced by forensic departments in dignified management of COVID-19 deaths in India and Importance of Death Certification for eligibility of deceased’s family for available benefits which were facilitated by Dr. Selina Leow (principal Dental Surgeon), Dr. Hassan Umar (Chief Inspector of Police), Dr. Shaiesh Mohite(Dean) and Dr. Rajesh Babu respectively. In these sessions, Dr. Selina Leow had focused on the importance of digital imaging in forensic Odontology. The main thing to identify the dead body is teeth so the record of odontology had been keeping properly in their system. Likewise, Dr. Hassan Umar explained how the family members of COVID-19 deceased were affected socially, politically and economically. There were challenges in forensic departments to handle dead body due to lack of enough health workers and paramedical workers. Another issue was regarding death certificates of the deceased. Death certificate is very much important for the eligibility of deceased’s family for providing available benefits. They have been providing various facilities to the family of the COVID-19 death.
Besides that, sessions were chaired by Prof Vinod Menon (Founder Member, National Disaster Management Authority) and Dr. Yogendra Singh Bansal (Professor & Head, Dept. of Forensic Medicine Toxicology). They had also shared same views on these sessions such as social, political and economic impact towards the COVID-19 death family and thanked the key speakers for their valuable input.
As a delegate of Nepal, I had presented brief note on this summit. The Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, Nepal (CIEDP) function marred by the COVID-19 pandemic since its inception. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic resulting from the restrictions, the CIEDP has continued its work and has made significant progress in the investigation of enforced disappearances.
In preparation for the forensic investigations, including recovery and analysis of clandestine graves, Medico-Legal Society of Nepal was contracted to analyse the Ante-Mortem Data from 2310 cases, where it had been collected. The analysis provided 59 cases where information regarding burial sites is suspected to be available. Additionally, the Forensic Coordination Committee has ratified the Standard Operating Procedures for Ante-mortem Data Collection, Forensic Exhumation, Forensic Anthropological Examination as well as DNA sample collection and profiling.
While the forensic field operations could not be undertaken due to the travel restrictions resulting from the ongoing pandemic, the Commission has collaborated with the International Commission of the Red Cross and Medico-Legal Society of Nepal in conducting multiple hands-on trainings on Ante-mortem Data Collection and Forensic Exhumation for capacity building and skill development of Commission personnel as well as Nepalese forensic practitioners.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CIEDP hopes for conducible environment for conducting the forensic field operations and starting the process of exhumation of enforced disappeared persons. Towards this goal, the CIEDP is in regular contact with government and the security forces. Along with the stakeholders in Nepal, the Commission is also in contact with ICRC, concerning providing international experts for guiding the Nepali forensic practitioners and ensuring adherence to international standards and practices.
At the end of the session audiences were handed over the floor to ask questions. Then, closing remarks were given by the chairpersons. Moreover, floor was open for Panel discussion. Finally, program was concluded with valedictory ceremony.
Some Images of the Summit
Date: December 7, 2021 Reporter,
Yub Raj Subedi
Commission on Investigation of Enforced Disappear