FRIENDS OF FAFG – THE ISSUES AND SOLUTIONS

The Friends of FAFG, INC. work to support the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) to address issues of disappeared and missing people in Guatemala and elsewhere.

A disappeared or missing person affects multiples levels from the family, to community, to society. No matter the context in which the disappearance occurred, the ruptures in the family and social fabric are deep and permanent until the individual’s whereabouts and fate are known.

Cases of disappearances are especially disturbing for family members as there is no truth or answers for the fate of their loved one, if they are dead or alive, and the crime is continuously repeated as family members live with the ambiguity of the situation.

Disappeared and missing persons is the common thread through the FAFG’s four themes: Transitional Justice, Migration, Citizen Security, and Natural Disasters.

The FAFG’s solution to all types of disappeared and missing people and themes of investigation is their Multidisciplinary Identification System. This system, developed over 2 decades of work, is the main tool through which the FAFG investigates, analyses, and identifies victims. The approach includes Victim Documentation and Investigation, Forensic Archaeology, Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Genetics, and Victim Identification. Depending on the investigation and topic, the FAFG implements a different process and approach of the Multidisciplinary Identification System.

Transitional Justice
Over 200,000 people were killed in massacres, extra judicial executions, or disappeared during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. The Commission for Historical Clarification found that 83% of the victims were Indigenous and 93% of the crimes were committed by the State and armed forces, as well as 669 massacres and 40,000 victims of enforced disappearance were documented.
The State implemented various counter insurgency strategies across urban and rural landscapes which left relatives and survivors grieving over the immense loss of their loved one(s). The forensic investigations completed by the FAFG is grouped into two types of cases. Closed cases, for example massacres and extra judicial executions, are characterized due to their availability to information regarding who are the victims, how many are there, how they died, where and how they were buried, what happened and when, who did it, etc. The other type, open cases, related to missing, disappeared, and to the unwilling disappearance of a person by state forces, such as enforced disappearance. In these cases, the family members do not know the fate and whereabouts of their loved one, leaving them in a state of ambiguous loss.

All victims of the internal armed conflict are considered disappeared and missing as long as their families have not received their remains, know the truth, and have been issued an official death certificate. The search for the victims of the internal armed conflict is fuelled by family members requesting the return of their loved ones, the truth surrounding their death, and they are demanding justice for the crimes committed.

Since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 ending the conflict, it has not been possible to undertake an effective transitional justice process. This being understood as “(…) the variety of processes and mechanisms associated with the attempts of a society to solve problems that are derived from a past of great scale abuse in order for those responsible to be held accountable for their deeds, to serve justice and achieve reconciliation.”

Solution: For over 2 decades at the request of family members, FAFG has investigated Open and Closed cases from the internal armed conflict. The FAFG has developed into an organization that is empowering marginalized groups, especially indigenous groups, with access to truth, justice, and reparations; dignifying and reuniting victims with their relatives; and, strengthening the justice system with quality expert forensic reports. The four major components in the FAFG’s process is:
Truth: To answer the demands of thousands of families that want to know the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

Justice: To effectively enforce the right to justice of victims and their relatives, through investigations and substantive evidence of committed crimes, to assist facilitate the process of justice administration. FAFG’s approach is to document, preserve, and present the evidence and reports of the investigations, while including relatives, to strengthen legal processes and reinforce the relations of those actors involved in criminal justice cases.

Reparation: Exhumations and inhumations are in themselves means of reparation, in which the members of the community are present and participate to share their experiences. FAFG is committed to returning any information collected from relatives during the investigation and findings in an effort to promote feedback for the relatives so that they can request more processes encouraging reparations and democracy building.

Non Repetition: In an effort to avoid the repetition of the violations committed during the internal armed conflict, efforts are made so that society claims ownership of its history, that truth be known, that the extent of the victims and relatives problems from the conflict is known, as well as the acknowledgement that history has determined the marginalization and racism towards indigenous people.

Migrants
The migration flow of Central American citizens, including Guatemalans, towards the United States, in search of work, family reunifications, or other reasons, is a phenomenon that produces security problems all throughout the region. Stricter law enforcement and border patrol along the United States border with Mexico forces migrants to use isolated and desolate routes. Migrants are choosing to cross deserts where many of them die then disappear due to the climate and conditions.

In the cases in which people have disappeared during their migration, their families are strongly affected. On top of the absence of their loved ones, the relatives must face legal, financial, social, and economic problems that demand priority actions and need to be addressed by both the government and the civil society.

In this context, FAFG focuses its work on the identification of disappeared migrants, giving priority to cases of disappeared children, women, and indigenous people, given their higher vulnerability.

Solution: In this context, FAFG focuses its work on the identification of disappeared migrants using the Multidisciplinary Identification System, giving priority to cases of disappeared children, women, and indigenous people, given their higher vulnerability condition. FAFG promotes greater respect and protection migrant rights and the rights of their families.

Citizen security
Guatemala is a country with high rates of violence. During 2013, 6,032 victims – 5,277 men and 755 women – died violently, averaging to 17 violent deaths per day. Among these deaths, 89% were caused by gunfire.

Impunity associated with criminal events worsens the situation for citizens and victims and must be the main focus of attention. With an impunity rate of 70%, according the Ministerio Publico official report for 2013, Guatemala is in one of the worse situations of democratic conflict, while the country is not immersed in conflict. Impunity is shown both by the lack of solving and sentencing for violent crimes, as well as by the lack of identification of people that are victims of crimes or accidents. During the last 15 years, the number of people buried as “XX” (unidentified) at the La Verbena cemetery in Guatemala City amounts to 21 thousand, among which 8 thousand are victims of violence. Each day between 8 and 10 relatives visit the INACIF morgue in search of a loved one, which illustrates the extent of the search that relatives face to look for their loved ones.

Women are a highly vulnerable group as violence against them is a social problem that is reaching concerning levels. In all of Latin America, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are the three countries with the highest femicide rates. In Guatemala, the National Civilian Police reported that 631 women were murdered in 2011 and very few perpetrators are sentenced for the crime.

Solution: FAFG contributes to the realization of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law, by activity promoting and participating with the State, specifically with the justice system.

FAFG provides its services to State institutions (Ministerio Publico, Judiciary, and INACIF) mainly in three fundamental aspects; i) criminal policies; ii) treatment of the crime scenes; and iii) treatment of XX cases, aiming to establish, mechanisms, procedures, deficiencies, and strengths of the institutions in charge of performing criminal investigations in the country. Likewise, FAFG is an option for relatives when official investigations are not enough or when it is necessary to have a different opinion to support the possibilities of solving cases.

Additionally, FAFG devotes special efforts to two issues striving for the realization of the human rights of the most vulnerable groups, especially women and children:

– To promote Citizen Security, FAFG facilitates Forensic investigation specifically to prevent violence against women. As well, fight against irresponsible fatherhood by empowering women and confirm paternity by applying scientific methods facilitated by the FAFG Genetic Lab.

– Contribution to children’s rights and mitigation of human trafficking by strengthening the system of adoptions and the National Adoptions Council.

Natural Disasters
In recent decades, Guatemala has suffered several natural disasters, which have generated emergency situations, damaged homes and crops, seriously injured victims and even resulted in deaths and cases of missing people. Guatemala is vulnerable to natural disasters due to its geography and land management, such as landslides, collapses due to rains, volcano eruptions or earthquakes.

Disasters require immediate, coordinated, and effective response from multiple government, non-government, and private sector organizations in order to satisfy the medical, logistical, and emotional needs it produces, in order to achieve the recovery of those affected by this occurrence. It is the duty of the State and responsibility of society to respond to these emergencies, as well as assist in the search for disaster victims’ search and promote the identification processes.

When natural disasters result in human casualties, it is fundamental to ensure there are established plans and processes for locating, recovering, transporting, identifying and returning the victims’ bodies to their families. A correct management of these actions will result in respect to the human rights of the victims and their families. All processes must be done according to plans, protocols, and techniques that ensure full respect of human dignity.

Solution: FAFG gained important natural disaster recovery experience when working in the landslide cases from tropical storm Stan (2005) in the villages of Cuá and Tacaná, in San Marcos, and in Panabaj, Santiago Atitlán, Sololá. In these cases, FAFG recovered and identified 85% of all reported victims, or 111 deceased out of the 136 people that were reported missing because of the tropical storm. These identifications support the reconstruction of society after the catastrophe and provide families the opportunity to give their relatives a proper burial.

Based on this, FAFG offers their expertise to State institutions, non-government organizations, and society in general to contribute in post-disaster search efforts in: a) Management of the affected area; b) Gathering of antemortem information; c) Recovery of bodies; d) Attention to relatives; e) Postmortem analysis of recovered victims; f) DNA analysis and cross checking and; g) Returning of victims to their relatives to receive a proper burial.