International & Humanitarian Work
VIFM has a 20 year history of providing forensic medical training, and seeks to actively engage with forensic medical experts around the world to develop and improve its own knowledge and practices. Medical graduates from around the world travel to VIFM to train with its professional staff in order to take that knowledge and experience back to their home countries. Institute staff also travel overseas to train, and be trained by, forensic medical practitioners in other countries.
Our training activities have covered topics as diverse as management of sexual assault, homicide investigation, paediatric forensic medicine, advanced forensic toxicology techniques, tissue transplantation, Disaster Victim Identification, postmortem radiology and medical law.
Some recent examples of international training activities include:
VIFM/Australian Federal Police- Forensic Medical Capacity Development in Africa
VIFM has partnered with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on a number of forensic medical capacity development activities in East and South Africa as part of a broader program to support law and justice systems. VIFM and the AFP facilitated the formation of the African Network for Forensic Medicine (ANFM) in Gaborone, Botswana in May 2010. The new regional forum is building pan-African professional and personal networks, and supporting mutual understanding of forensic medical services, problems and issues. The ANFM was further supported by the AFP with the establishment of a four year scholarship program for doctors from eligible African nations which is delivered by VIFM (details below).
VIFM/ANFM Forensic Medical Investigation of Sexual Violence Workshop Namibia -14-18 March, 2010
This week-long workshop organised by VIFM and the African Network for Forensic Medicine (ANFM) was funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The workshop was a great success with excellent feedback from the 12 participating clinicians from eight African nations. VIFM presenters included Dr David Wells and Dr Paul Bedford who also interviewed a Nigerian VIFM/Monash University Masters of Forensic Medicine candidate for the AFP –funded scholarship Program.
AFP African Masters in Forensic Medicine Program –4 year program commenced Semester 2, 2010
This Australian Federal Police (AFP) program provides funding for eight doctors from eligible African nations to undertake the VIFM/Monash Masters in Forensic Medicine with a focus on Forensic Pathology. Four doctors have enrolled to date.
African Medico Legal Network-Second Meeting Uganda 18-20 November 2011
This meeting will build on the September 2010 Botswana meeting and will involve other relevant agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, WHO, UNICEF, the AFP and the International Criminal Court as well as African medico-legal policy makers. The Australian Federal Police will provide funding support for this Forum.
United Arab Emirates
Capacity Development in Forensic Medicine.
VIFM provided a two week intensive Forensic Odontology workshop for five UAE police dentists in January 2011.
The VIFM in collaboration with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) completed a three-year AusAID funded project in East Timor in March 2011. Members of the local police force and hospital staff were trained in aspects of human identification. In addition, investigations were undertaken to locate clandestine graves and recover human remains. The VIFM/EAAF also worked with families with missing relatives collecting ante-mortem information for attempted identification. A total of 16 deceased individuals were recovered with 12 identified and returned to their families who were finally able to perform the relevant funeral rites.
National and International Partners
VIFM’s international disaster response work and capacity development work is largely funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and AusAID with some project support from international humanitarian agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or international governments.
VIFM is working with the AFP on a project aimed at enhancing the forensic medical capacity of African nations. A network of forensic clinicians from some 12 African nations has been formed and VIFM and the AFP have run workshops on forensic investigative techniques and identification processes for network participants. The AFP is also sponsoring eight African clinicians to undertake postgraduate studies in forensic medicine at VIFM/Monash University over a four year period.
Since 2005 the VIFM has collaborated with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) in a number of training and investigation projects. In 2008 the VIFM was successful in obtaining funding from AusAID under the Public Sector Linkages Program to provide technical assistance and training in human identification for the Timor-Leste National Police and the Forensic Department of the Hospital Nacionale Guido Valladares.
Additional funding was provided by the Argentine Government and a private donor through the EAAF. The training included a practical component based on a humanitarian investigation into the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili. The VIFM and EAAF have subsequently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Timor-Leste “to pursue additional investigations to enable the identification of victims who fought for national liberation and independence up to September 1999″.
Responding to Disasters
VIFM has significant experience in temporary mortuary management and disaster victim identification in the aftermath of disasters. Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) is the INTERPOL-authorised formal and organised process of identifying multiple bodies after a mass fatality. It requires a number of skilled professionals working together to amass the evidence required to clearly identify victims and release them to their families. The professionals involved include the police and medical experts including forensic pathologists and technicians and, depending on the nature of the incident, forensic odontologists, forensic anthropologists, toxicologists and molecular biologists (DNA).
In major disasters such as the tsunami in Thailand there may be thousands of bodies requiring identification. International DVI procedures are set out by INTERPOL with local authorities generally having control over the site(s) of the disaster and local staff, sometimes with assistance from outside organizations. Internationally accepted INTERPOL Guidelines provide the basis for collecting and recording both ante-mortem and post-mortem data. DVI responses involving VIFM staff include recent natural disasters such as Black Saturday bush fires, terrorist actions such as the Bali bombings, and events that have happened some time ago, such as the exhumations of mass graves from armed conflicts.
Operating in an external jurisdiction brings with it complex legal and cultural issues. Cultural sensitivities are extremely important and our teams have to be briefed on local religious beliefs, cultural attitudes and practices and political systems. A multidisciplinary approach is essential to the success of these operations with input from representatives of all major professional groups.
Victim identification is painstaking work as it is paramount that accurate victim identification is made based on all available information. This may entail DNA sampling, odontological (dental) examination, review of personal property and reference to medical records.
Asia and the Pacific
VIFM has been active in responding to natural and human-induced disasters that have resulted in mass casualties in South East Asia and the Pacific.
We have had a particular involvement where Australian citizens were victims, such as in the Bali bombings, the Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta, the tsunami in Thailand and aviation crashes in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
VIFM’s Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team has also worked in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. The Institute strengthens its capacity to respond to Australian mass casualty events, teach forensic medicine and contribute to research in the field through its international humanitarian capacity development and DVI work.
VIFM has a number of highly specialised staff who have honed and broadened their niche skills through international humanitarian work in testing conditions in the aftermath of human induced (war, terrorism) or natural disasters. We saw first hand how invaluable this international experience was when our staff worked for three months to care for and identify the 173 Black Saturday bushfire victims for their families.
Our ability to rapidly deploy the infrastructure and logistics required to manage the large number of casualties was informed by our staff members’ experiences in working in the aftermath of the Bali Bombings, Kosovo following the NATO intervention, and Thailand following the Indian Ocean Tsunami. We were able to rapidly deploy processes and systems which enabled the bushfire victims to be identified as quickly as possible so they could be released to their families for burial.
VIFM has an established network of contacts with forensic medical professionals throughout the Pacific and South East Asia. We are part of a project to foster a collaborative network of forensic institutes in Asia which will focus on capacity development through training and information exchange.