ICRC Identification of Argentine War Dead in the Falklands

Summary 

UK and Argentine Ministers signed the mandate on 20 December for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to undertake the forensic identification of unknown Argentine soldiers, killed during the 1982 conflict and buried in Darwin cemetery. The ICRC plans a further visit to the Falklands in January 2017. 

Preliminary talks between the UK and Argentine officials were held in Geneva on 9 December 2016 to discuss the mandate and project details for the identification of unknown Argentine soldiers buried at Darwin cemetery. The talks were chaired by the ICRC's Director of Operations, Dominik Stillhart, with Julian Braithwaite (UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva) leading the British delegation and Under-Secretary Maria Teresa Kralikas from the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) leading the Argentine side. Mike Summers, Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly (MLA) attended as part of the British delegation. 

Argentine casualties during the 1982 conflict amounted to 649 dead of whom 237 are buried in the Darwin cemetery. Of these, the remains of 123 unknown soldiers are buried in graves marked "Soldado Argentino Solo Conocido por Dios" (Argentine soldier known only to God). 

In April 2012, the ICRC received a formal request from the Argentine Government to facilitate the forensic identification of the Argentine remains. The ICRC sought reassurance from the Argentine Government that this was motivated solely on humanitarian and not political grounds and represented the wishes of the families. The UK and Falkland Islands Governments (FIG) indicated that they would abide by the obligations of the relevant Geneva Conventions. 

Following initial consultations with UK and FIG representatives in late 2015, the ICRC sent a four-person team on a scoping visit to the Falkland Islands from 27 June to 2 July 2016 to consider the logistical and technical requirements of the task, undertaking to send their report to both governments in September. 

In the Joint Communique signed during Sir Alan Duncan's visit to Buenos Aires on 13 September, both sides expressed their full support for the identification process. This led to the meeting in Geneva on 9 December which, after exhaustive talks, agreed in principle to the next steps and potential timing of the project, the forensic procedures to be followed, the logistical arrangements and the selection of the laboratory for the DNA sample testing. These were formally signed as a mandate for the ICRC by the UK and Argentine Governments (Sir Alan Duncan for the UK and Deputy Minister Pedro Villagra Delgado for Argentina) at the end of the Joint Communique follow-up meeting in London on 20 December 2016. This was attended by MLAs Phyl Rendell and Mike Summers for the FIG. 

Argentine sources subsequently indicated that the ICRC team of forensic experts would include two from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), an independent NGO which has a good international reputation for its work in identifying those killed during the Argentine military dictatorship's "Dirty War" in 1976-83. The samples would, they said, be analysed in the forensic laboratory in Cordoba, Argentina. They also indicated that the costs of the ICRC project would be borne jointly by the UK and Argentine Governments and that the logistical work would be carried out in the Falkland Islands between June and December 2017. The ICRC plan a further visit to the Falkland Islands in January 2017. 

Comment 

This remains a sensitive issue. Not all of the families are happy about the identification process: it is said that only about 80 of the 123 families have actually consented. Some also want the bodies repatriated but previous Argentine Governments have refused to allow this on the grounds that they are buried in what they regard as Argentine soil. In the Falklands, the ICRC has had to work hard to emphasise its impartiality, which was questioned during the 1982 conflict.