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New standards in Brazilian forensics

Researchers at Northumbria University and the University of São Paulo have developed advanced protocols in forensic science, which are now routinely used in criminal case work tackling problems of homicide, people trafficking and violent crime in Brazil. The research is also having a significant impact on the country’s media, law and government policy.


Following decades of under-development, Brazil urgently needs to build forensic expertise in the country to help solve its high rate of homicide, people trafficking and violent crime cases, and human rights abuses. Methods of identification applied in western countries are often ineffective, therefore cutting-edge forensic skills and procedures specific to Brazil are required to help in ongoing investigations.


Professor Martin Paul Evison at Northumbria University, along with Professor Marco Guimarães at the University of São Paulo and Dr Edna Miazato Iwamura at the Federal University of São Paulo, are conducting pioneering research that aims to establish forensic science and medicine as subjects of academic inquiry and support the adoption of procedural best practice as suited to the Brazilian context. This has led to collaborative work on policy, procedure and methods with Brazilian scientists and forensic teams within the Federal police. The researchers have also engaged state police agencies, policy makers, the public, the media and other stakeholders.


The work is bearing fruit, notably, the team has developed new methods in forensic anthropology and human identification that are appropriate for the extensive admixture in the Brazilian population, as well as the country’s challenging tropical environment. They have also published new protocols for forensic anthropological investigation and made recommendations for procedural improvements. Importantly, they have built capacity by disseminating their new methods via a series of professional and postgraduate training and education courses, to forensic pathologists, anthropologists, odontologists and other scientists – including Brazilian Federal Police and State police agencies. Further education and outreach activities have included the dissemination of the team’s practice-based publication, Handbook of Missing Persons, at the Brazilian Interforensics Conference. Professor Evison and Dr Iwamura also serve on the editorial board of a practice-based Brazilian journal – Health, Ethics & Justice.


The new protocols and recommendations have been adopted by forensic departments at the highest level and applied in criminal case work, including murder investigations and missing person

cases. This work has made a major difference to investigations, improving both the quality of forensic anthropology and the frequency of identifications. “These procedures have been applied to the investigation of a number of forensic osteological cold cases in São Paulo State, allowing several victims to be identified,” says Professor Evison. “The methods are now routinely used in forensic investigation, where further identifications have been made. Thirty years ago, there were no such protocols – we can say, in the absence of these, that we were pioneers”.


The team continues to develop the use of forensic science and medicine in support of the rule of law. Further studies include the development of post mortem decomposition processes that befit Brazil’s tropical environment and an examination of the genetics of facial appearance – significant due to the country’s widespread intermarriage and admixture.

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