Head of the Humanitarian Project Plan (HPP) team to identify Argentine soldiers buried at Darwin Cemetery confident to complete on-site operations in August, full task by end of year, speaks of “good understanding” with Islanders.
Just two days before departing for the islands, the Humanitarian Project Plan (HPP) team assembled under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to undertake the identification of the bodies buried in 123 graves at the Argentine Military Cemetery in Darwin under a plaque that reads “Argentine Soldier Only Known by God,” held a press conference Thursday in Buenos Aires to discuss the details of the mission, which is a part of the agreement signed last 20 December in London between Argentina's Deputy Foreign Minister Pedro Villagra Delgado, Alan Duncan on behalf of the UK's Foreign Ministry and ICRC President Peter Maurer, with the consent and presence of Falkland Islands government representatives.
Speaking at the conference were Laurent Corbaz, head of the Plan, Brasilia-based ICRC Regional Delegate for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay Lorenzo Caraffi and ICRC Buenos Aires office head Diego Alonso Rojas Coronel.
One of the things Corbaz was quick to make clear was that although there are 123 unidentified graves of the total 237, it is known from British Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo's report that there is at least one grave if not more where there are more than one body, so the total number of bodies is still not available.
Colonel Cardozo was in charge of burying the Argentine dead in 1983 and is expected to be at Darwin next week to assist the ICRC during the early stages of the humanitarian operation which is expected to commence on June 19 and last until late August, Corbaz mentioned.
Regarding controversies about the forensic experts chosen, both Corbaz and Caraffi stressed that it was done by the ICRC's Human Resources Department, based solely on their professional background and credentials. Caraffi went even further to point out that even those experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team will be under contract from the ICRC and therefore subject to ICRC's rules for the entire duration of the process. There will be experts from other countries as well, mainly from the United Kingdom and Spain.
Corbaz said he expected his team to be able to “start the second phase”, that is to open between one and three graves each day, take bone samples and rebury the remains in proper coffins -they are currently in body bags- with all the human dignity that is rightfully theirs, by June 19.
The samples will be then processed at the ICRC's onsite mobile laboratory and the final matching between those samples and those supplied voluntarily by the presumed relatives of the soldiers will be carried out at the Argentine Forensic Anthropology laboratory in Cordoba, with random checks in similar facilities in Britain and Spain, in what Corbaz defined as “the third phase.”
All three speakers agreed that it is not entirely accurate to believe that this is all about ADN. “There's a lot of ante mortem information such as previous fractures or dental records to be checked as well,” Caraffi said.
Corbaz was also particularly focused on the fact that from a realistic viewpoint, a 100 percent identification success is not likely and that “for some families who will not receive a positive match, will be the last chance they had to know exactly what happened to their dear ones,” he said.
“The operation costs of 1.5 million Swiss francs has already been paid by the Argentine and British governments and that's reassuring,” Corbaz pointed out. “There will be two types of reporting, one for the families if we happen to have a match and of course a final report for the states concerned, that is Argentina and the United Kingdom and I expect this to be over by the end of the year,” Corbaz underlined.
About the fate of the bodies that are eventually identified, Rojas Coronel explained that the information will be handed over to the Argentine Human Rights Secretariat which will be in charge of conveying it to the involved relatives who will have the final word on whether to leave them at Darwin or have them shipped to the mainland, but it would not happen in the framework of this operation.
And it will be the duty of the Argentine government, because the task of the HPP is in Corbaz words “to identify those who are not identified yet in that cemetery.” Corbaz stressed that the bodies are to be reburied the very same day they are exhumed and “there is no task given to us with regards to any other transfer of bodies anywhere else.” The ulterior fate of the bodies “is not a part of my mandate and it has not been discussed between the two states,” Corbaz went on to say. He also explained that even replacing the “Argentine soldier... ” plaque for one with the real name will be an issue for further diplomatic negotiations among the two countries and the ICRC.
In response to a question from MercoPress, Rojas Coronel added that when that time comes he feared no foul play or undue influencing on the relatives because although the Argentine authorities have been and will continue to be in charge of interviewing them, they always did it under ICRC monitoring and the minutes were recorded by the Office of the Notary General.
Asked about how the Islanders are feeling about the current operation, Cordaz replied that “we took all the time to answer their questions and I'm confident right now that there is no resistance, that there is a full acceptance and I think there is a very good understanding” with them.