In its ambition to develop a pioneering and comprehensive human rights framework for engagement with mass graves, MaGPIE has three overarching objectives:

  1. To produce a global quantitative and qualitative assessment of the scale of the phenomena that are mass graves;
  2. To remedy associated blindspots within the existing human rights framework; and
  3. To create policies that innovate, consolidate and implement a coherent human rights approach to mass grave engagement.


MAGPIE addresses three pressing issues, structured into the following three Pillars:

In blue: The scale and nature of mass graves worldwide is presently unknown, Pillar One will therefore identify and map mass graves across the globe; capture the legal protections afforded by all affected States; examine the quality of forensic investigations of mass graves and analyse the extent to which justice efforts have been realised.

In orange then are our human rights gaps. Here Pillar Two addresses a number of specific areas where insufficient consideration has been given to the fundamental human rights issues and challenges arising as a result of the existence of mass graves.

Thirdly, Pillar Three concerns the indispensable translation of knowledge into policy and practice. The MaGPIE team are world-experts on this subject and are ideally placed to further expand our collaborative policy expertise to mass graves that arise as a result of migration – both on land and via the sea. Finally, MaGPIE will revisit and update the international standard-setting Bournemouth Protocol to reflect new findings and the most up-to-date practice.







Introductory Videos to MaGPIE Pillars:


Pillar One



Workpackage 1.1 is concerned with production of a global, open source mass grave map. Currently, there is no global record of mass grave sites, nor has the scale of mass graves and their victims worldwide been quantified. The information that mass graves exist, where they are situated and who the dead are, is essential to the realisation of justice and accountability goals at multiple levels: for victims, affected communities, States in transition and the international community. Open source mapping of mass grave sites has the potential to provide a form of protection (in and of itself, while also providing prerequisite information for the imposition of other forms of protection), as well as an avenue for victim commemoration and remembrance.

Workpackage 1.2 is concerned with the assessment of the quality of protection through indicators, is underpinned by an ongoing collaborative research project with the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP). The Missing Persons Indicator Project is developing a comprehensive data-set regarding how states deal with missing persons cases. Such indicator data is necessary for MaGPIE, to understand the quality of protection of mass graves through the commitment of states, including the degree of legislative protection.



Workpackage 1.3 examines the scientific investigative approach taken to mass grave investigation and the results ascertained through the processes employed, by undertaking a qualitative assessment of investigations in five (5) country case studies. The assessed investigations will be compared to the relevant legal parameters to determine what constitutes an ‘effective investigation’. Subsequent reports will be produced that comprehensively summarise each case study, offering invaluable insights into investigations spanning diverse geographic reasons. These summaries will culminate in an overarching report that delves into the quality of forensic investigations surrounding mass graves, serving as the foundation for a publication aimed at enhancing comprehension of the global landscape of investigation and its efficacy.


Workpackage 1.4 involves the conduct of the same five (5) case study countries, instead, seeking to achieve a qualitative understanding of justice measures in those countries. Through these findings MaGPIE seeks to uncover prospects, and lived experiences, associated with the pursuit of justice in practical contexts. Similarly to 1.3, these individual case studies will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive report, shedding light on the practical implementation of justice measures.

Pillar Two




Workpackages 2.1 – 2.3 acknowledge that mass graves are often associated with conflict and gross human rights violations, where affected countries and communities are already ravaged by poverty and inequality. These inequalities and vulnerabilities are particularly pronounced where cultural and Indigenous rights; issues of access, consent and data protection; participatory rights and vulnerabilities due to climate change are at issue. These workpackages are being conducted as three PhDs and will commence in September 2024.


Workpackage 2.4 acknowledges that it is highly likely that climate change will increasingly result in mass fatalities, due to the rise of sea water, flash flooding, devastation of forests, bushfires, pollution, contamination, toxic poisoning, droughts, crop failure and starvation. Whilst such mass fatalities are likely to result in mass burials, international law increasingly is attributing the causation of these events to (foreseeable) actions and actors. The ‘right to science’ concept requires governments to adopt measures to prevent exposure to environmental toxins and to protect human life. This concept is ripe for extension to, and analysis within, the context of environmental mass graves – it is necessary to anticipate this newly-emerging legal landscape where mass burials arising as a result of climate change and man-made environmental disaster will fall within the legal ambit of mass graves, with significant implications for States and polluting companies.

Pillar Three


With the development of the Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation, a cohesive and universal set of rules, procedures and standards was created relating to the full life cycle of the mass grave, for all actors engaged by the process(es). The Protocol identifies the many complexities, interactions, context-specificities and resources required for an effective mass grave investigation with a view to informing decision-makers prior to the initiation of such an endeavour. Yet the Protocol is confined in scope to mass graves arising directly as a result of gross human rights abuses and conflict: other contexts, including those with differing legal regimes, may qualify as mass graves and are currently not encompassed by the mass grave protection framework.


Workpackage 3.1 is concerned with people who go missing as a result of migration and trafficking, and both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) explicitly recognise migration as a causal factor in their definition of missing persons. The issue is a complex one, and potentially engages many different legal fields: migration may arise as a result of gross human rights violations, conflict or environmental catastrophe. International refugee law is also potentially engaged, as are the domestic criminal law provisions of States where people die or are buried. Despite this, however, there is currently no instrument or Protocol examining and unifying the various branches of law that may come into play within the specific context of migration for the benefit of migrants who die a suspicious death enroute or whose bodies are disposed of unlawfully.


Such research will produce a Protocol for on-land migratory mass graves for improved policy action.


Workpackage 3.2 is concerned with the even more protracted issue of the mass graves associated with migration that are hidden at sea. Conceptualising parts of the sea as mass graves provides an opportunity to revise, consolidate and unify present legal theory and practice with a view to bringing their handling in line with human rights standards and best practice. There is a risk that disparate standards and responses may be applied to missing migrants compared with, say, passengers onboard a sunken cruise ship, indicative of an inequality in death.

Different information levels may be available to the authorities, affecting their ability to respond, but from a human rights perspective the net result of investigating, retrieving and identifying dead cruise ship passengers when fatalities from a migrant ship do not receive similar attention, is legally (and morally) troubling. Levering existing mass grave theory, knowledge and expertise beyond its present-day application will highlight the theoretical and practical areas where greater convergence of legal principles with practice is needed to inform and drive the innovative policy development required to ensure the equal enjoyment of human rights and equality in the treatment of the dead. Grounded in legal principles and embedded in a mass graves human rights framework will help spur on the innovative policy development required for the equal enjoyment of human rights, including mass graves hidden at sea.




Workpackage 3.3, the final workpackage of MaGPIE, seeks to update the existing Bournemouth Protocol on Mass Grave Protection and Investigation, so that it can remain ‘state of the art’. Such revisions will be informed by findings from Pillar 2 research, and through engagement with experts and practitioners. It will also present an opportunity to critically review and update the 14 translated versions of the protocol. Continuous and sustained reviews of this nature are vital for the longevity and continued applicability and practicability of prior research. Ensuring that efforts to synthesise the legal basis, policy and practice for mass grave investigation and international standards on the subject are maintained also secures the continued buy-in and support of stakeholders, thereby validating prior research investment.

Pillar 3 will develop policy to innovate, where possible consolidate, and implement a comprehensive human rights framework.