The team conducts forensic investigations in Argentina and internationally by answering the requests of local and international human rights organizations, local and international judicial bodies, tribunals, and special commissions of inquiry such as Truth Commissions.
The objective of the EAAF's Investigation Program is to determine the identity of victim(s), the cause and manner of death and the patterns of violations of human rights by applying forensic sciences, returning the remains of victims to their families and communities and presenting findings and evidence to relevant judicial and investigative bodies. In the course of these investigations, the EAAF has been able to disclose the fate of thousands of victims of abuses in the thirty-one countries where we have carried out direct casework. Since 1984 the team has worked in more than 30 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
The method developed and applied by the EAAF to investigate cases consists of three stages:
- 1) Research - the EAAF begins by collecting extensive background information on the case(s), involving conducting exhaustive historical research; interviews with relatives, witnesses and survivors; reviewing military, police and other official archives; gathering pre-mortem information about the victim(s); studying NGO, United Nations and other human rights reports; and analysing hospital and cemetery records, among others. The analysis of this information leads to the formulation of a hypothesis about the location of clandestine or anonymous burial sites, the possible whereabouts of victim(s) and the circumstances of the violation(s).
- 2) Scene investigation and recovery - once the site is located and appropriate permits obtained, EAAF applies archaeological and criminalistic techniques to investigating suspected killing and burial sites, analysis of the terrain, excavation and careful recovery of evidence such as skeletal remains, bullets, clothes, personal belongings, etc. We carefully document each stage of this process through written records, video and photography, in order to maintain a record of the findings.
- 3) Laboratory Analysis - the recovered remains are then analysed in a laboratory, applying forensic anthropology, pathology, radiology, odontology knowledge and techniques, among others, to attempt to establish the identity of the victim and determine the cause and manner of death and, by comparing these findings with the pre-mortem and other background information. Where possible, the remains of identified victims are then returned to relatives and the evidence presented to pertinent bodies.
Investigations are the core of the EAAF's work, on which all other activities are based. The results of investigations directly serve a two-fold purpose. Findings are first and foremost provided to victims' relatives and, where remains are recovered, these are returned to them. Knowing the truth about violations and conducting traditional ceremonies for their loved ones are an essential part of the mourning and healing process for families and communities affected by violence and repression.
Secondly, findings of investigations are provided to relevant judicial and/or investigative bodies. Since its first investigations in Argentina 20 years ago, the EAAF has presented its findings as scientific evidence and acted as expert witnesses in local courts, international tribunals and other investigative and judicial bodies world-wide, leading in many cases to the prosecution of perpetrators, the official acceptance of responsibility and the public recognition of these abuses.
The EAAF's investigations are usually undertaken at the request of an international or local organization or institution, such as NGOs, judicial bodies, truth commissions, the United Nations, international tribunals, special commissions of inquiry, or others. Throughout the investigations, the EAAF works closely with victims' relatives and communities, ensuring their accompaniment of the process, including their participation in research and their presence at exhumations. The EAAF also collaborates extensively with local human rights organisations, as they play a pivotal role in the search for truth and justice in their countries and have usually conducted extensive background research on cases, gaining access to and the trust of survivors, witnesses and relatives. The EAAF also has a policy of involving local professionals and activists in the investigative process in order to strengthen local capacity.
The mechanics of our international work involves, whenever possible, conducting a preliminary mission to new countries to explain the role and evaluate the viability of applying the forensic sciences to document abuses in view of technical, political and historical considerations. Preliminary missions are also a way of establishing contact with the local human rights movement and scientific community, exchanging views and perspectives and planning any future missions. If feasible, the work continues during subsequent missions by the EAAF members, usually lasting from one to three months.
The feasibility and timing of each international mission depends on a wide range of political, logistical and financial circumstances. The exact dates of the international missions are therefore usually difficult to fix far in advance. Missions may be delayed for extended periods or cancelled entirely due to security concerns, climatic factors, resources limitations, among other variables. EAAF also usually receives several unanticipated requests for assistance over the course of a year.