The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed Thursday that representatives from Argentina and the United Kingdom had asked them to launch a second mission to the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands to identify the remains of Argentine soldiers.
At a ceremony at the ICRC’s headquarters in Geneva, officials representing both nations signed an agreement to move into the second stage of what is known as the ‘Plan Proyecto Humanitario,’ which began in 2017 and has permitted the identification of 115 Argentine soldiers who died in the 1982 South Atlantic conflict.
Through a joint statement, the governments of Britain and Argentina and the Falkland Islands said the Red Cross would act as a neutral intermediary, in this case to identify the remains buried at tomb C.1.10 in the Argentine Cemetery at Darwin.
The ceremony in Geneva was headed by Red Cross International Committee chairman Peter Maurer and by the permanent representatives of Britain and Argentina before the United Nations and other international organisations based in the Swiss capital, ambassadors Julian Braithwaite and Federico Villegas.
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This ceremony gave continuation to the exchange of notes last September between British Ambassador to Argentina Mark Kent and Foreign Minister Felipe Solá.
The first phase of the Plan de Proyecto Humanitario (agreed in 2012) had enabled the exhumation of the remains of 122 soldiers buried in the Argentine Cemetery in Darwin between 2017 and 2018 with 115 identified thanks to cross-checking with DNA samples from their families, thus leaving seven corpses still to be identified.
It is estimated that the Red Cross team will return to the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands in August if general circumstances permit. The agreement stipulates that the costs of the operation be jointly met by Britain and Argentina.
"The ICRC undertook this unprecedented humanitarian forensic operation, strictly in accordance with its humanitarian mandate, with the sole aim of ending the suffering of the families whose loved ones remained unidentified," said the Red Cross in a communiqué, which said it was the first such project "with a specific joint mandate from two states that had been on opposite sides in an armed conflict."
Representatives from Argentina, the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands government hailed the news.
“The continuation of the Plan Proyecto Humanitario is excellent news. We yearn for this process to help families who lost a loved one in the conflict to find closure for their grief,” said UK Ambassador to Argentina Mark Kent. “Humanitarian questions should always prevail over any political difference. That was one of the keys of the success of the first stage and that is the spirit with which we approach this second stage.”
Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly Speaker Ian Hansen said he hoped the news would “bring relief” to families who have waited for years to know the final resting place of their relatives.
“Since 2017 we have maintained our commitment to the Geneva Convention requiring that those fallen in combat should be identified whenever possible,” he said.
“The Falkland Islands Government has not only permitted this work to go ahead but has sought to do so in a diplomatic and decent way so that the families of the fallen can see the names of their loved ones restored and remembered. We have received a series of visits from the Commission of Families since the work of DNA identification began and I feel proud of and honoured by the sensitivity and respect which the community of the Falkland Islands has shown on those occasions, even though those moments also bring back difficult and anguished memories for the local population.”
In Buenos Aires, Solá met up with the families and war veterans to celebrate the agreement.
"The sense of all this is ever stronger, rising ever more in our memory and our hearts. That land is sacred soil and that word perhaps expresses just how far the meaning of recovering the identity of those who gave their lives goes," said the minister in a press release.
A total of 237 war dead were buried in Darwin immediately after the 74-day conflict ended in 1982 but 122 of these graves were marked only by a paper reading: “Argentine Soldier Known Only By God.” The war claimed a total of 648 Argentine lives and 255 British on land, sea and air. They remained after British troops ended the 10-week occupation of the Argentine military junta, which refused to repatriate them.
Argentina claims sovereignty over the “usurped” islands on territorial and historical grounds while London argues the self-determination of the 4,000 inhabitants. A 1965 United Nations resolution calls on both countries to negotiate the sovereignty issue but this has yet to happen.