EAAF 2008 Missions
In 2008, EAAF members traveled to La Paz, Bolivia in order to conduct the exhumation and analysis of remains of individuals buried in 1986 in the ASOFAMD Mausoleum in the General Cemetery of La Paz. The remains belonged to victims of extradjudicial executions that occured in the 1970s, none of which had been identified scientifically.
As part of the technical agreement between the Argentine and Bolivian Government, the exhumation of 15 tombs was effected, and 13 skeletal remains recovered, 6 of which were complete. Genetic samples from the skeletal remains will be analyzed and compared with blood samples donated by potential family members of the remains.
EAAF conducted a preliminary investigation on the Teoponte Guerilla case. In July 1970, a guerilla group began operations in the northern section of the department of La Paz. The group was composed of approxiamately 42 guerillas, including Bolivians, Chileans, Argentines, Colombians, Brazilians, and an American. At least 26 of their remains were believed to be buried in the zone after the group was eliminated by Bolivian security forces.
The team interviewed witnesses during the work in the area in northern La Paz, and visited a total of 11 sites in 7 localities in the Departmentof La Paz. The sites included places where 19 persons were possibly buried. New interviews and sites evaluations are pending for a following trip.
On October, 2008, two EAAF members traveled to Pando, Bolivia, at the request of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). EAAF joined a group of experts participating in an investigation of violence occuring in Pando on September 11 and 12, 2008. The investigators visited Cobija, El Porvenir and La Paz to conduct interviews and review potential forensic sites.
A complete report of finding was presented by UNASUR to the government of Bolivia in December 2008.
At the request of Tutela Legal, the human rights office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, the team traveled to El Salvador in February 2008 to evaluate cases presented by this office, involving executions of the civilian population on the part of armed forces and civilian patrols during the civil war in San Gregorio, La Quesera, and Los Almendros. During the visit, the team conducted interviews with families of victims and witnesses, visited possible burial sites, and analyzed documentary sources.
In March 2008, EAAF participated in an advisory meeting with the Colombian non-governmental forensic team Equitas. EAAF shared information with Equitas on strategies for investigating burials of unidentified persons in municipal cemeteries. Victims of human rights violations and forced disappearances could potentially be located among these burials.
In June 2008, an EAAF member presented at the International Symposium about Forced Disappearances of Persons Without a Trace, organized by the Two Worlds Foundation, and hosted by Javeriana University in Bogota. The conference sought to evaluate working on this topic after the passing of the Justice and Peace law in 2005, from various legal, forensic, and psychological perspectives. Since the passing of this law, which reorganized the judicial system, nearly 1300 graves have been exhumed throughout the country. The involved parties meet at the symposium to discuss successes and controversies, and to assess methodologies used. EAAF discussed its experience in this regard.
In 2008, EAAF traveled East Timor to investigate the Santa Cruz massacre in cooperation with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine of Australia (VIFM). The two organizations formed the International Forensic Team (IFT) for this project. On November 12, 1991, in Dili, the capital of East Timor, nearly 3,000 unarmed civilians were marching to the Santa Cruz cemetery to commemorate the death of Sebastião Gomes Rangel, an activist who had been killed two weeks earlier by Indonesian troops. During the peaceful march, Indonesian troops reportedly opened fire on the crowd. Reports of this event estimate the death toll to range from 50 to over 200. From testimonies collected in 2006, IFT had located a potential burial site for some of the victims in Tibar outside of Dili. The EAAF and VIFM team conducted excavations and met with local representatives and UN officials. The investigation was suspended after no remains were found. Throughout the process, more than 60 families of the victims were present, and regular meetings were held with them. Also, as part of the project, 10 members of the East Timorese Police Force, as well 2 mortuary staff from the local hospital, received training.
For 2009, IFT will resume investigations at a potential burial site in a cemetery in the town of Hera, also outside of Dili. EAAF and VIFM will also continue training the East Timorese Police Force and hospital mortuary staff in the recovery and analysis of human remains.
For three weeks in June 2008, two team members traveled to Spain to launch the LIID-EAAF project. Although the majority of LIID-EAAF work takes place in Argentina, there are several other countries where EAAF is collecting blood samples from families of the disappeared. EAAF contacted, through the local Argentina embassy and consulates, both Argentine citizens living abroad in Spain and Spanish citizens, who had a family member disappeared in Argentina during the last military dictatorship. The team and the Argentine embassy and consulates scheduled dates in Madrid, Vigo, Barcelona, Tenerife, and Cadiz for those relatives wishing to donate blood.
EAAF also visited Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, the source of the majority of Spanish immigrants to Argentina, to meet with local authorities and hold a press conference about LIID-EAAF. Due to the close ties between this region and Argentina, the provincial government of Galicia has provided support for the work of LIID.
The team also participated in the training of local scientists in two forensic anthropology courses.
An EAAF member traveled to Lebanon at the request of the Documentation Center of the UMAM, the local NGO in charge of the investigations of mass graves from the period of the Lebanese civil war, from 1975-1991, and to collect testimonies from different sources. The ICTJ put EAAF in contact with UMAM and partially supported the trip.
UMAM is hosting a series of workshops for local organizations involved in the process. EAAF coordinated the third workshop, titled “Forensics and Mass Graves”. Groups attending the workshop included: members of victims’ families associations, forensic experts, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, the police chief in charge of human rights, journalists, representatives from the Red Cross, and victims of human rights abuse. Each workshop is coordinated by a foreign forensic experts sharing their experiences.
In 2008, an EAAF member participated on the Committee of International Experts (CIE) at two meetings in Santiago, Chile, a first between June 30 and July 3, and a second from November 10 to 12. This Committee assesses the reform of the Chilean Medical Legal Service (SML) in Santiago, including its renovation and accreditation process. EAAF has been involved in this process since August 2006, when it was first discovered that identifications made by SML of persons disappeared during Pinochet’s dictatorship had been incorrect, especially those associated with the Patio 29 burials.
The CIE reviewed the advances in sending bone and blood samples for re-testing outside of Chile, the state of the anthropological analysis for identifications under review, and the program to increase capacity at the Forensic Anthropology Unit, among others. During the trip, EAAF also participated in a workshop with the SML and the Chilean Investigatory Police, designed to share experiences and facilitate collaboration.