THE ARGENTINE FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY TEAM


Earlier this month it was recommended by Mr. Nigel Hughes, the lawyer representing Joel Henry, Isaiah Henry and Haresh Singh, three teenagers who were brutally murdered and two of whose bodies were found on 6 September at No. 3 Village, Cotton Tree, West Coast Berbice, that an organization known as the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Anthropologio Forensica – EAAF), a non-profit organization, be invited to Guyana to assist in the investigation. The team would include a forensic anthropologist, two forensic pathologists and a “criminalist.” The cost would be $4 million. The Government has shown reluctance. The Guyana Human Rights Association has launched a fundraising drive. In the absence of cooperation from the Government, and presumably the Police Force, it is not known how the work of the EAAF will be facilitated.

The EAAF emerged out of the “Dirty War” in Argentina between 1973 and 1983 when Argentina was under military rule and 30,000 persons were ‘disappeared.” After the struggle of the “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” gained prominence and scientific investigations commenced, the EAAF was established to expand the work of identifying the discoveries in mass graves. The application of scientific investigative methods, including the collection of evidence and the study of documents and genetic investigation based on DNA testing were developed and applied. The EAAF has since gained worldwide fame and assists in many difficult cases, particularly where the identifying of remains is the issue.

Forensic Anthropology is defined and explained as “a special sub-field of physical anthropology (the study of human remains) that involves applying skeletal analysis and techniques to solving crime. When human remains or a suspected burial are found, forensic anthropologists gather information from the bone to determine who died and how and when they died. Forensic anthropologists specialize in analyzing bones. With their training in archeology, they are also knowledgeable about excavating buried remains and meticulously recording the evidence.” (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History).

Another source, the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center, confirms the above. In its explanation of “What is Forensic Anthropology,” it says that forensic anthropologists are commonly portrayed in the media as forensic scientists and/or crime scene technicians. This, of course, is not the case, it emphasises. Essentially, they examine human skeletal remains for law enforcement agencies to help with the recovery of human remains, determine the identity of unidentified human remains, interpret trauma, and estimate time since death.

The publication explains that physical anthropologists have developed methods to evaluate bones to understand people who lived in the past. Issues to be resolved may include gender, age, height and general health. Forensic anthropologists apply the methods developed by physical anthropologists to assist law enforcement by determining sex, age, ancestry, height, length of time since death and the evaluation of the trauma observed on the bones.

The team from EAAF proposes to include a forensic pathologist. This skill is a subspecialty of pathology whose area of competence is the examination of persons who die suddenly, unexpectedly or violently in order to determine the manner and cause of death. The forensic pathologist is specially trained: to perform autopsies to determine the presence or absence of disease, injury or poisoning; to evaluate historical and law-enforcement investigative information relating to manner of death; to collect medical evidence such as trace evidence and secretions, to document sexual assault; and to reconstruct how a person received injuries. (University of New Mexico-Office of the Medical Investigator).

Police around the world solve most, though not all, crimes. In Guyana, the failure to solve particular crimes attracts special considerations. Because the killing of the Henry cousins, occurred at a particular time of ethnic tension in the country, it was widely assumed that Indian Guyanese killed them and, as a consequence, significant ethnic violence was instigated and took place against Indian Guyanese in West Coast Berbice. One of the consequences is that the largely African Guyanese Police Force is not trusted to investigate the crimes because it might be assumed that they are biased in favour of the allegedly Indian Guyanese dominated government and would not impartially investigate the crimes. It is not quite clear how the so far unsolved, apparently revenge, murder of Haresh Singh, an Indian Guyanese, a few days after and during the height of the anti-Indian ethnic violence, fits into this picture.

Responding to public pressure the Government invited the Caricom Regional Security System (RSS) to send a team to assist in the investigation. In its edition of 27 October, SN reported that the RSS Team recognized the “extensive” work done by the Guyana Police Force. The RSS Team visited the crime scene, checked files, examined evidence and interviewed relatives of the victims. They were satisfied with the work the local police did and recommended additional work. Having regard to this report, it is not known what the “criminalist” on the EAAF team will do. Review the RSS review?

In view of the fact that the Minister of Home Affairs has explicitly rejected the EAAF, the promoters of the team’s visit ought to explain to the Guyanese public what exactly the forensic anthropologist and the forensic pathologist would achieve.

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