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Falkland/Malvinas Islands: ICRC presents results of humanitarian forensic identification project

“We are pleased that we can now match names to many of the unidentified soldiers, providing answers to many of the families who have been waiting for news for over three decades,” said ICRC Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart. Speaking on behalf of the organization, Mr Stillhart applauded the calibre of the process, the commitment and support of all those involved, and the results achieved.

The forensic team identified 88 soldiers – the high success rate being the result of the thorough forensic identification process.

The results were presented to delegations from Argentina and the United Kingdom at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva, during a meeting chaired by Mr Stillhart. The delegations were led by Ambassador Héctor Marcelo Cima from Argentina and Ambassador Julian Braithwaite from the United Kingdom. Also in attendance was Mr Claudio Avruj, secretary of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism of Argentina.

In December 2016, the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom agreed to do their utmost to identify the remains of the soldiers killed in the 1982 conflict, in accordance with their obligation under international humanitarian law to identify those killed on the battlefield. That agreement resulted in the Humanitarian Project Plan, which entrusted the ICRC with the task of identifying the soldiers’ remains.

The ICRC carried out this unprecedented humanitarian forensic operation work in accordance with its humanitarian mandate. Its aim was to identify the dead and help meet the needs of the bereaved families, drawing on its vast experience in conflict-related forensic work.

From 20 June to 7 August a team of 14 specialists – from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom – exhumed, analysed, sampled and documented the remains of each of the unidentified soldiers buried in graves bearing the inscription “Soldado argentino solo conocido por Dios” (Argentine soldier only known to God). The dignity of the dead was ensured throughout. Each of the bodies was exhumed, careful analyzed in a high-tech temporary mortuary built on-site and managed by the ICRC for the purposes of the operation, then placed in a new coffin and reburied on the same day in the original grave.

The genetic analysis of the samples and cross-referencing with the samples taken from the families were carried out in the forensic laboratory of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF) in Córdoba, Argentina. Two other laboratories, one in the United Kingdom and one in Spain, conducted quality control on the DNA analyses, which confirmed the reliability of the identification results.

The Argentine authorities will inform the families who requested the identification of their loved ones of the results directly and confidentially.

The designations employed in this statement do not imply official endorsement, nor the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the ICRC concerning the legal status of any territory, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Whenever a disputed territory is given different names by the parties concerned, the ICRC uses those names together, in French alphabetical order.

For further information, please contact:

Elodie Schindler, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 48 (French/Spanish/English)

Matthew Morris, ICRC London, tel: +44 7753 809 471 (English)

Sandra Lefcovich, ICRC Brasilia, tel: +41 79 218 76 10 or +55 619 81 75 15 99 (Spanish/Portuguese)

SHOTLIST

Location: Darwin cemetery Falkland/Malvinas islands and ICRC Headquarters /Geneva

Date: 19 June 2017 and 23 November 2017

0:00 – 0:19 Panning shot of the Darwin cemetery

SOUNDBITE Laurent Corbaz, Head of the Humanitarian Project Plan and the ICRC mission on Falklands/Malvinas islands (original in English)

0:19 -  0:39 This mandate, that has been given to us by Argentina and the UK, was about trying to identify as much as possible of the human remains inside the 121 tombs that remained unknown or not named in Darwin cemetery in the Falklands/Malvinas.

0:40 – 1:03 It has been a tough job, to work on this over the past months, especially in the austral winter, but eventually, we are really happy to have quite a success with this project, in the sense that more than 80 of the human remains that we have found in these tombs have been identified.

1:04 – 1:15 Regarding the families, that’s mainly a job that has to be implemented by the Argentinian government. Some families haven’t decided so far whether or not to join the project.

1:16 – 1:48 There are many issues that might still have to be worked on. However, the mandate of the ICRC is very limited, and is very clear – and it’s ending at the end of this year. There is no impossibility for the ICRC to continue to be involved, but that should be at the request of the concerned parties, in that case Argentina and the UK, and if they so wish to ask ICRC to continue to assist them in this endeavor, we will certainly be ready to assist them.

1:49 – 2:14 I would say, this has been a rather exceptional project for the ICRC, and for everybody involved. This is not so usual, this is not so frequent. In fact, to my knowledge, it’s maybe the first time, that there is such a precise diplomatic agreement giving a task to the ICRC, giving a very precise project to implement, within a timeframe that is already defined, with a budget that is already funded, and everything

2:15 – 2:31 The legal aspect is that, under IHL – International Humanitarian Law -, and Argentina and the UK are part of all IHL treaties, there is an obligation to give answers to the families of those concerned.

2:32. – 3:02 There is also another, I would say more ethical reason, and that’s part of ICRC work as well, working in the interest of the families. Not only is there an obligation for the States, under IHL, but there is also, I would say a moral, ethical obligation, to give answers to families, who are still waiting 35 years after the end of the hostilities, news regarding their loved ones.

3:03 – 3:32 Darwin cemetery, forensic work

SOUNDBITE Morris Tidball-Binz, Deputy, in charge of ICRC Forensics Team in charge of the implementation of the Humanitarian Project Plan (original in Spanish)

3:32 – 4:02 Our forensics team worked from dawn until dusk for seven weeks straight.

4:02 – 5:06 We carefully exhumed the bodies and analysed them one by one. We worked in a temporary but well-equipped morgue, set up especially for this project. Spending several hours on each case, we meticulously documented the whole process and took DNA samples for identification purposes, before returning the mortal remains and any associated belongings to the original grave.

5:06 – 5:20 I must emphasize that we treated the bodies and DNA samples with the utmost respect throughout the process.         

5:21 – 5:38 Most – or rather all – of the DNA samples were sent to the main laboratory of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, based in Cordoba, Argentina. That includes samples taken from the families who signed up to the project too.

5:38 – 6:30 Every family will receive a response. In many cases, we will be able to confirm positive identification of their loved one, sending a technical report to explain the process and outcome. Unfortunately, we will have to inform some families that we haven’t found the remains of their loved ones.

6:30 – 6:42 In a few cases, the DNA samples provided by the family are insufficient to produce conclusive results.

6:42 – 7:11 We’ve been able to determine the DNA profile of every single body that we analysed, so all the remains are, in theory, identifiable. In cases where the family has provided sufficient DNA samples, we are able to confirm the identity of the soldier in question.

7:12 – 7:50 In over 30 years of working in this field, I can safely say that this is one of the largest humanitarian forensic projects that I have ever organized and taken part in. It was amazing to work with such an extraordinary team. Everyone worked with great diligence and genuine care.

7:51 – 8:33 However, the real measure of success of the project is in the number of families who will now know exactly where their loved ones are buried – and of course in the number of gravestones that we can now mark with a name rather than “Argentine soldier known only unto God”.

8:33 – 8:56 The identifications we made are scientifically accurate and beyond any doubt. We achieved far more than expected.

8:56 – 9:15 Over 100 families signed up to the project, providing DNA samples and information about their loved ones. More than 80 of these families will receive a report of positive identification.

9:15 - 9:22 Graves bearing the inscription: ‘Soldado argentino solo conocido por Dios’ which means ‘Argentine soldier known only by God.’

9:22 – 9:39 Forensic team numbering graves

Length: 9:39

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