Building Local Capacity in Applying Forensic Science to Human Rights Investigations
Building Local Capacity in Applying Forensic Science to Human Rights Investigations


Countries in various parts of the world need to cooperate across methods and techniques of different branches of science to investigate and record cases of political, ethnic and/or religious violence, particularly with regard to human rights violations.

An estimated 30,000 people disappeared during the Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983). When democracy was restored, the country realized that it lacked a proper forensic system to investigate cases related to human rights violations and a system to conduct independent investigations. Furthermore, its relationships with the victims’families were weak. A strategy was thus needed to determine the whereabouts of the “disappeared” to enable the multidisciplinary use of forensic sciences in legal investigations.

Towards a Solution

To address this challenge, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a legally registered NGO, was created to provide a forensic alternative for the families of victims of enforced disappearance in the period 1974-1983. Since its inception in 1984, it has applied the methods and techniques of various branches of science to investigate and record cases of political, ethnic and/or religious violence in several parts of the world, particularly with regard to human rights violations. Over the last 34 years, EAAF has worked within the framework of the judicial system to exhume and analyse human remains to identify and return them to their loved ones, provide evidence to the courts and reconstruct our recent past.

Over the last 10 years, EAAF has also investigated femicides and crimes against migrants. In addition, for more than 25 years, within the framework of South-South cooperation, EAAF has trained public prosecutors, judges, lawyers, police officers, medical examiners, other forensic specialists and NGOs around the world that investigate cases involving violence, natural disasters, crimes against migrants and femicide. Additionally, since its creation, one of EAAF’s goals has been to transfer the Argentine experience to other countries that have lived through similar processes of violence, particularly outside of Latin America.

EAAF collaborates with the Argentine Fund for South-South and Triangular Cooperation (FO.AR) and the General Directorate of International Cooperation (DGCIN) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of the Argentine Republic. This collaboration occurs within the framework of the technical assistance that Argentina provides to various countries in the world. The objective of FO.AR is to build capacity by exchanging knowledge, technologies and best practices and creating instruments that enable more dynamic development process via technical assistance provided in the context of international cooperation projects.

Capacity-building in the South is compatible with Agenda 2030 and contributes to SDG 16 and SDG 17. The joint experience, which helped strengthen institutions that play a key role in the peacebuilding process, generates ideas for joint actions elsewhere in the region or the world that involve new applications of forensic genetics tools.

Thanks to the strategic alliance between FO.AR and EAAF, the State and civil society, the following countries have benefited from a South-South cooperation model: Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and Viet Nam.

For example, local authorities in Viet Nam requested assistance to identify the remains of Vietnamese soldiers who died during the conflict with the United States in the 1960s and 70s. With the support of the Argentine embassy in Viet Nam and in coordination with the FO.AR, an initial diagnostic visit was conducted. At that time, working with the local authorities, a specific plan was defined, with objectives, activities, implementation indicators, expected results and impacts, and periodic evaluations.

Assistance and collaboration can also have an impact at the regional level, as in the example of the School of Forensic Sciences and Human Rights, which EAAF created in South Africa in 2012, with the support of FO.AR. Approximately 15 African forensic specialists receive one month of training on applying forensic sciences to investigate human rights violations and share experiences, discussing common problems at the regional level. As a result, African experts are able to share knowledge and experiences, gather new expertise to apply in their own countries, and improve their abilities to investigate relevant areas.

This type of assistance, which is the result of 17 years of collaboration between the EAAF and FO.AR, has reached nearly 250 people in 25 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Another interesting aspect of this type of cooperation is that the relationships between the parties continue beyond the specific assistance, thereby creating new projects in the future.

This project has generated interest at the regional and local levels, as it is often one of the few option for those who want to improve the capacity of local forensic systems to improve services to victims of human rights violations and the administration of justice.

Sustainable Development Goal Target(s): 16.1, 17.1, 17.9

Contact Information

Mr. Luis Fonderbrider, EAAF

Countries involved

Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Colombia

Supported by

Argentina Fund for South-South and Triangular Cooperation (FO.AR.), General Directorate for International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship

Implementing Entities

Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), Republic of Argentina; African School of Humanitarian Forensic Action; State Prosecutor General – Institute of Forensic Investigation – Plurinational State of Bolivia; National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, Republic of Colombia; Forensic Service, Republic of Kenya; Institute of Legal Medicine, Republic of El Salvador; General Directorate of Truth and Justice, Republic of Paraguay; Central Institute of Forensic Science, Kingdom of Thailand; Military Institute of Forensic Medicine and Bureau of National Devotees from Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs – Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

Project Status


Project Period

9/2019 - 2020

URL of the practice

Primary SDG

16 - Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

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