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ICRC: DNA Identification of Argentine War Dead – August 2017

The project team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has now completed the task of extracting samples for DNA testing from all the remains buried in the graves of unknown Argentine war dead in the Darwin cemetery in the Falkland Islands. The samples will be compared with those provided by family members and the work on formal identification should be concluded before the end of the year. 

Under the terms of the mandate agreed between the UK and Argentine Governments in December 2016, the ICRC began work in June to exhume the remains of 123 unidentified Argentine personnel killed in the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict from the graves marked ‘Soldado Argentino Solo Conocido por Dios’ (Argentine soldier known only to God) in the Darwin cemetery. 

The project team was led by Laurent Corbaz of the ICRC and included two representatives from Argentina and two from the UK, nominated by their respective Governments, plus other forensic experts. The relevant remains were disinterred and, once samples had been taken, were re-buried in new coffins in the same locations. This phase of the work was completed in early August. The samples will be analysed by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Centre (EAAF) in Cordoba, Argentina, with some randomly chosen samples sent for double-checking to forensic laboratories in the UK (University of Central Lancashire) and Spain (University of Santiago de Compostela). There will be an outreach programme to seek to persuade the 20 or so families who have not so far agreed to give DNA samples for comparison to doing so. The findings should be made available to the UK and Argentine Governments before the end of the year. 

Work at the Darwin cemetery was to have been carried out under strict privacy rules, with public access to the site denied. Unfortunately, some photographs of the disinterment process were, somewhat distastefully, published in the media. This is being investigated – but otherwise, the project seems so far to have been done well with full respect for the Argentine dead. 

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