It’s been thirty-five years since 649 Argentine combatants died fighting to seize sovereignty from the British over the Islas Malvinas. For the families of the 123 fallen soldiers who remain unidentified, there is finally hope. Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross begins the forensic identification of these “soldiers only known by God,” as marked in Darwin Cemetery. Once identified, their tombstones will be rewritten with first and last names.
The ICRC treats the mission as strictly humanitarian, as it will not affect Argentine claims to sovereignty over the islands. But the motivation has political undertones. In 2012, an interdisciplinary government team, including the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism, pleaded with the ICRC to open the investigation. Ex-President Cristina Kirchner masterminded this decision, as she sought to consider unidentified soldiers victims of the last military government. “The investigation at Malvinas should not be politicized,” said Argentine Secretary of Human Rights Claudio Avruj. “But the cause involves all Argentines.”
Since 2012, Secretary Avruj has interviewed 110 families of unidentified soldiers. 93 families have already donated DNA samples. 17 declined to participate. The ICRC is launching a public campaign to locate the remaining 13 families, whose contact information is out of date. “We hope that as the work of the Red Cross progresses, some families that have refused will be motivated to join,” said Avruj.
Last week, Avruj traveled to Geneva to meet with ICRC Vice-President Christine Beerli; Coordinator of Operations for America Martienus de Boer; and ICRC Diplomatic Advisor Guela Sekhniachvili to commence the investigation. The team finalized details of the fieldwork, which is a joint effort among laboratories in Spain and the United Kingdom and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team. The ICRC just installed mobile DNA laboratories around Darwin Cemetery, where researchers will collate excavated samples with reference samples from relatives.
Once researchers complete the investigation, they will return the graves and cemetery to their original state, in consultation with the authorized cemetery maintenance officer. They will not transfer the remains to mainland Argentina. What’s important, according to Avruj, is the peace of mind that the investigation itself will bring to families. “At the meeting in Geneva, we reaffirmed once again our commitment to the identification of fallen heroes in Malvinas,” he said.