The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team says it is struggling into identify the remains of around 600 bodies dating back to the years of the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship and has called on relatives on the disappeared to come forward and provide blood samples to aid their efforts.
The EAAF, respected across the world for its expertise in such work, said the remains were found in individual and mass graves across Buenos Aires Province and that investigators need genetic information from relatives in order to carry out DNA tests and finally identify the fallen.
“We lack blood from the family of these disappeared persons," said Patricia Bernardi, one of the EAAF’s co-founders.
The investigator said that a similar 2017 campaign asking for relatives to come forward had been helpful but that the group needed more samples.
The EAAF "has 600 bodies exhumed in different cemeteries in the province of Buenos Aires that have not been identified," confirmed Bernardi, adding that the skeletal remains showed signs of traumatic injuries and were from both men and women.
In an interview with state news agency Télam, the investigator warned that "due to the time that has elapsed, it is very likely that in many cases the blood line has been cut – that is to say that the parents are no longer alive to check their DNA with the genetic profile of the remains."
Bernardi said the EAAF was seeking samples from all relatives, not just the parents of those disappeared.
"What relatives can donate? Ideally, first-generation relatives, that is, parents, children and siblings. The closer the kinship, the more effective the comparison with the genetic profile of the remains. However cousins, uncles and grandchildren can also contribute," she added. "The certainty of the identification increases as the number of relatives of the disappeared who provide blood samples increases."
Bernardi said the process was “very simple” and not “invasive or dramatic,” involving a “finger prick.
Once a sample was taken, it would be checked against the genetic profile of the 600 bodies loaded on the EAAF’s system, searching for comparison. If a match is turned up, the relatives would be the first to be notified, said the expert.
Underlining the importance and relevance of the work being carried out by the NGO, Bernardi explained that the EAAF’s identification efforts have helped secure convictions for crimes against humanity.
Just a few weeks ago, she in a trial involving 18 human rights violators which detailed torture, kidnapping and sexual abuse carried out at three clandestine detention centres during the military dictatorship.
Bernardi served as an expert witness in the trial, explaining how the victims were found at mass graves in Avellaneda, Lomas de Zamora, La Plata and General Villegas and what the discovery of remains revealed about an individual’s death.
"Living with doubt is much more damaging than facing the truth, knowing that this missing person was killed helps a lot [of people] to move on," said Bernardi.
* To find out more about the campaign and how blood samples can be provided, call the EAAF’s information line on 0800 345 3236.