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Providing dignity for war victims and their families.

 

Annuka Bathija, Associate in Forensic Unit

 

1.      Hello Annuka, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I was raised in Geneva, born to international parents from Finland and Afghanistan. My education was in Swiss public schools in French until high school, when I switched to an international school to finish my studies mainly in English. I undertook my undergraduate degree in forensic anthropology, with the knowledge from the beginning that I would like to pursue a career in this in the humanitarian sector. After obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Forensic Anthropology, I felt that in order to fully understand the topic at hand, I needed to further explore, academically as well as through field work, the sociocultural understanding of the need for identification. I continued my studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, where I received a Master of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology of Development. The topic of my master’s thesis was the politics of memory in relation to absent bodies in humanitarian contexts.

After my master’s degree, it seemed as if the best career prospect out there was to do unpaid internships. However, I had already done a few (in forensic anthropology, gender equality, medical research and education, transhumanism), so this no longer seemed like a sound option for my mental health. Instead, I decided to focus on what I hadn’t been able to give my undivided attention to: creativity. I explored travelling, music, videomaking and theatre and made an audiovisual project out of it – from start to finish (including directing videos and talent, editing the videos, coordinating with my friend the sound engineer, devising a public relations and social media plan).

I also worked as a consultant for a start-up project called Better Body Bags, aimed at improving the current body bag, which was collaborating with the ICRC’s Innovation and Forensic Units. I had encountered the project when volunteering for a social innovation festival in Lausanne, Switzerland.

2.      When did you join the ICRC? In which department/unit?

I joined the Forensic Unit in May 2018.

3.      As an associate, can you describe the scope of your responsibilities? What projects did you work on?

The ICRC is a key player in the development of humanitarian forensic action. I really admired the ICRC’s capacity to support local authorities and forensic practitioners in searching for, recovering, analysing, identifying and managing the remains of large numbers of victims of armed conflict, disasters, migration and other situations.

 

"I always knew that I was interested in humanitarian forensics, before I even knew about humanitarian forensic action."

 

4.      What does your traineeship entail? What are your responsibilities?

My responsibilities included supporting the promotion and mainstreaming of humanitarian forensic action, internally and externally; compiling information on forensic operations globally, for analysis and programme-development purposes; and working on the Better Body Bags project. I also acted as coordinating focal point for the publication of ‟Medicolegal Facilities: Guidelines for Architectural Programming and Construction Assistance”. Last but not least, I contributed to developing the Resolve Platform, a web-based application tool to collect and process information on missing persons and unidentified human remains, and was part of the Gender, Inclusion and Diversity Committee (which has come a long way since I first joined, and since I left too!).

5.      Do you have any special memories or anecdotes to share with us?

I truly appreciated meeting the mobile team of the Forensic Unit during the annual team meeting. I had to keep it cool but deep down I had stars in my eyes to have colleagues with such amazing careers and backgrounds. The fact that they were all kind, positive, intelligent, professional and most importantly honest and critical definitely nurtured my will to stay in this organization.  

 

"I felt that I was part of one big international family."

 

I also had a great and patient supervisor, who really took the time to train me when I needed it, drown me in tasks when I could handle it and discuss with me when I needed support in my task prioritization. Also, the Head of Unit’s expertise and years of experience in humanitarian forensic action gave me an insight that no book or publication ever could.

6.      What are your future plans?

Following my work on the Resolve Platform, which was positively received by the head of project, I was offered a position in deploying the tool in June 2019. I have already had the opportunity since to be part of the pilot deployment. It’s been an amazing, intense and very educational experience. Now, on to the next deployments! (it seems so easy and simple when written this way…)

7.      Any advice for future associates?

Something that my supervisor was open to, which worked out great for me, was to have a weekly meeting where I would list the tasks I had set out for myself for the week - he would give me constructive feedback and redirect me when required.