Skeletal Remains of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa and Fernando Miranda:<br/> Victims of a Dictatorial Regime in Uruguay

Skeletal Remains of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa and Fernando Miranda:
Victims of a Dictatorial Regime in Uruguay

Horacio E. Solla *, Poder Judicial, Instituto Técnico Forense, Departamento de Medicina Forense, Montevideo, Uruguay
Mehmet Yaşar İşcan, Istanbul University, Institute of Forensic Sciences (Adli Tıp Enstitüsü), Istanbul University, Cerrahpaşa, Turkey
Barbara Q. McCabe, Orange Park, Florida, U.S.A.

*Corresponding Author: Horacio E. Solla, Poder Judicial, Instituto Técnico Forense, Departamento de Medicina Forense, Montevideo, Uruguay.


Scientists make unique contributions to human rights cases through the application of scientific and forensic techniques to crime investigations.  In human rights cases, evidence is often based solely on verbal testimonies from victims or witnesses.  There is little doubt concerning the importance of oral testimonies; however, spoken evidence is much more effective when it is corroborated by physical confirmation.  Experts such as forensic anthropologists, pathologists, and archaeologists contribute to human rights cases by aiding in death investigations and in the identification of victims.  It is the forensic anthropologist who is often called in cases where trauma analysis and personal identification of human skeletal remains is necessary.  In March 2005, the Socialist Government of President Tabaré Vázquez Rosas sought to execute Article 4 of Law 15.848 concerning the investigation of the final destination of the persons missing during the last dictatorial regime in Uruguay (1973-1984).  The purpose of this study is to present forensic anthropological procedures used in the excavation (and later, the identification) of skeletal remains of missing individuals who are thought to have been killed during that period.  With the permission of the government, a team of archaeologists was finally assembled after four previous democratic administrations to carry out a scientific investigation to examine previously restricted areas.  The team entered the military headquarters where the offenses were presumed to have occurred and where the clandestine burials were assumed to be located.  This archaeological team was supported by forensic scientists of the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo and members of the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense.  Two nearly complete skeletons were recovered and identified.  A left radius, representing a third individual, was also found inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters.  Presented here is the study of the forensic anthropological identification of missing skeletal remains and skull-photograph superimposition assisted by the computer of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa and Fernando Miranda, both members of the Communist Bureau of Uruguay.

Keywords: human skeletal remains, Forensic Anthropology, human rights, Uruguay

Learning objetives:

  1. The reader will know what a forensic anthropologist is and what he or she contributes to the medico legal system in Uruguay and around the world.
  2. The reader will learn that forensic anthropologists contribute to the investigation of cases of violations of human rights in several Latin America countries and around the world.
  3. The reader will know that the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology of the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo City has contributed to human rights in Uruguay.
  4. The reader should understand the importance having a forensic anthropology laboratory where forensic anthropologists, pathologists, toxicologists and law enforcement officers work together as a team to identify human skeletal remains and solve a variety of types of crimes.

The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI) provides this article for 1 continuing education credit(s) for certified members, who are required to obtain 30 credits every 3 years to maintain their certification status.

CE Exam

Published in The Forensic Examiner - August, 2015


In February 1973, Juan María Bordaberry, President of the Republic of Uruguay, surrendered part of his administrative power to the Armed Forces.  The military took aggressive action against an urban group considered to be guerrillas, which caused a political clash between the President and congress.  Consequently, Bordaberry dissolved congress on June 27, 1973 and created a new legislative body comprised mainly of civilians with whom he had a close rapport.  In reaction to what was viewed as a dictatorial move, the National Confederation of Workers (CNT) initiated a general strike.  The strike ended with violence, and the CNT was declared illegal.  The autonomy of the trade unions ended.  Within a short time, military control spread throughout the country, thereby establishing the strongest dictatorial regime ever seen in the history of Uruguay.  In 1976, President Bordaberry canceled the election, which was to be held that year.  Following his decree, the military, in a coup, deposed Bordaberry and the national council and elected Aparicio Méndez as the new president.  By late 1976, more than 6,000 people had been detained as political prisoners and human rights violations were increasing.  In 1980, the people rejected a new constitution through referendum and the military regime canceled the next democratic election and installed General Gregorio Alvarez as the new dictatorial leader (Caetano and Rilla, 1987).

In the later months of 1984, critical changes were taking place within the country, including the legal reestablishment of the two traditional political parties, Partido Colorado and Partido Nacional.  For the first time in 13 years, open and truly democratic presidential elections were held.  A year later, Dr. Julio María Sanguientti was elected President for the 1984-1989 term.  Dr. Sanguientti was a veteran lawyer and the former Secretary of Culture.  During his administration, a new amnesty law was passed addressing human rights violations committed by military rulers between June 1973 and March, 1985.

After about 18 years of political stability, on December 3, 2003 (during the administration of President Jorge Batlle Ibáñez), Judge Dr. Alejandro Recarey, in charge of the Elena Quinteros case, asked the forensic anthropologist of the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo if it was possible to make a forensic study of the grounds of the 13th and 14th headquarters without entering the property, since a traditional survey was not yet possible.  Prior to the passage of constitutional law Nº 15.848, inspection of military installations without the express authorization of the President was forbidden.  The forensic anthropologist of the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo then assembled a team of experts including a geologist, Daniel Panario; a geomorphologist, Ofelia Gutierrez; and an archaeologist, Elizabeth Onega.  Their task was to determine whether human remains might be buried inside the facilities of the 13th Infantry Headquarters.  The multidisciplinary team reported to Judge Recarey and Prosecutor Dra. Mirtha Guianze that it was possible to make a study of the grounds of the headquarters using aerial photographs (Fig. 1).  Given the task of determining whether this site held burials, the team immediately began comparing several aerial photographs taken in the last 60 years.  Following the analysis, in February 2, 2003, a report by the multidisciplinary team was presented to Judge Recarey and Prosecutor Mirtha Guianze (Panario et al, 2004).

Figure 1
Fig. 1. Aerial view of the 13th Infantry Headquarters present day.

In June, 2004, the multidisciplinary team was asked by Judge Dr. Cavalli and Prosecutor Dra. Mirtha Guianze to explain several technical points of their report and as to whether a similar type of study could be done on the grounds of the 14th Headquarters. The analysis of the military grounds was made by digitizing several aerial photographs taken from 1940 to 2003.  They were studied using computerized imaging methods to detect changes on the grounds of the military headquarters between 1973 and 1984. Aerial photographs revealed several significant locations that might be excavated once the forensic team had permission to enter the military grounds.  Access to the sites suspected to contain clandestine burials was granted following the election of Dr. Tabaré Vázquez Rosas as the new President of the Republic.

On October, 31, 2004, the socialist candidate of the Encuentro Progresista Frente Amplio, Dr. Tabare Vazquez Rosas, won the presidential election and on March 1, 2005, he declared that the people who had disappeared during the last dictatorial regime should be found.  The search was to include places that had been previously off-limits but where some individuals were thought to have been held during the dictatorial governments between 1973 and 1984.

Later, a new team of archaeologists from the University of the Republic led by Professor José Maria Lopez Mazz was assembled to continue the work that was begun by the previous team.  The new team included two forensic anthropologists sent from the Argentinean Forensic Anthropology Team, EAAF.  Later, four medical examiners, as well as the forensic anthropologist of the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo, were added to the group to represent the Poder Judicial in the excavations (Fernandez Lecchini 2005a; Mirabal Bentos 2005).

Burial Grounds and the Victims

The grounds of the 13th Infantry Headquarters were scanned with aerial photographs to observe if there were any anomalous structures.  The images revealed there were five locations that needed to be investigated.  These sites were identified by the letters “A to E” demonstrating evidence of soil removal, which did not correspond to construction of buildings, roads, or any other facilities one would expect to find on a military installation (Fig. 2).

Figure 2
Fig. 2. Circles A to E showing evidence of soil removal inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters.

Journalistic investigations had exposed evidence that torture and interrogation had been carried out inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters during the period of tyrannical rule.  Previously classified data and witness testimonies confirmed rumors that several bodies had been buried inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters, the 14th Paratroop Infantry, and on a farm near Pando City property of the Uruguayan Air Force during the last dictatorial regime (Diario La República 1990; Diario La República 2003; Revista Postdata, 1997).

Based on confidential information, a new scientific team began its search at a farm near Pando City for the bodies of two missing persons, specifically Ubagesner Chaves Sosa and Jose Arpino Vega, who were said to have been buried at this location.

Ubagesner Chaves Sosa was born in Tranqueras, a small town near Rivera City, Uruguay on February 15, 1938.  He was married and had a daughter.  Chaves Sosa worked as a metallurgist and was an active member of the Communist Bureau.  He was arrested by the military near his home on May 28, 1976.  His wife, Isidora Musco, was also taken into custody and transported to the Air Force headquarters in Boizo Lanza.  While in custody, Isidora recognized her husband even though he was wearing a black hood.  When she inquired as to the whereabouts of her husband, she was told that he had been moved to a different location.  After her release, Isidora Musco wrote to several individuals of the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OEA) for assistance in locating her husband.  The Uruguayan Government reported that Chaves had been arrested but had escaped while being moved to another military facility.  Chaves had in fact been held at the Air Force Headquarters in Boizo Lanza, where he remained in seclusion until his death by torture on June 10, 1976.  His death was certified by a military medical examiner.  A false report was created as part of a military cover-up stating that Chaves had escaped on June 8, 1976 (Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, 2004).  The Commission for Peace (COPAZ), created by President Jorge Batlle, confirmed that Chaves had been confined.  According to information received by COPAZ, Chaves had been buried in an unmarked grave near Montevideo City, his remains later exhumed and thrown into the sea in 1984 (Comisión para la Paz, 2003).

Fernando Miranda was born in the town of José Batlle y Ordoñez, near Lavalleja, Uruguay, on July 4, 1919.  He was married and had two sons.  Miranda was a notary public and professor of Law at the University of the Republic at Montevideo City and was an active member of the Communist Bureau of Uruguay.  Fernando Miranda was arrested at his residence in Montevideo City and in the presence of his wife and sons on November 30, 1975, by four military officers wearing civilian clothes.  Miranda was in Punta Del Este when his wife telephoned him saying that four men were at his house.  He immediately returned home where he was arrested and moved to an undisclosed location.  When his relatives inquired as to his whereabouts, the authorities denied his arrest.  Later, a police report stated that according to a passenger list from the General Artigas Ferry Boat (Number 208), at 22:00 hours on February 11, 1976, Miranda had boarded the ferry and traveled to Buenos Aires (Madres y Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, 2004).  The Commission for Peace (COPAZ) later confirmed his kidnapping.  Their report stated that Miranda was arrested in his house at 1612 Somme Street on November 30, 1975.  He was taken to the Material and Weaponry (SMA) Division of the Armed Forces at the 13th Headquarters in Montevideo City.  On December 1 or 2, 1975, while being moved for the purpose of interrogation, he attempted to escape.  Captain Ferro responded with a karate blow to the nape of the neck, which caused his immediate death.  Captain Ferro was a renowned karate expert and owned a karate school where he taught the sport.  According to the Commission for Peace report, Miranda was buried at the 14th Paratroop Infantry Headquarters, and his remains were later exhumed, cremated, and spread into the sea in 1984 (Comisión para la Paz, 2003).

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the investigation of the recovery and identification of victims of human rights violations during a dark era in the history of Uruguay.  This discussion also illustrates how forensic scientists can make contributions to the understanding of human rights violations even after many years, through the application of archaeology, anthropology, and pathology as they have been applied to the recovery and subsequent identification of victims.

Analysis and Identification of Skeletal Remains

All skeletal materials were exhumed using established archaeological methods of excavation.  At certain times, with the suggestion of the EAAF, a bulldozer and other heavy equipment were necessary to reduce the laborious work and expedite the excavation of the interment sites of military importance (Fig. 3).

All excavated materials were brought to the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology at the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo City following standard methods for handling forensic evidence (Karagioziz and Scaglio, 2005), where the remains were analyzed to determine stature, age at death, cause of death, racial affinity, gender, and eventually their identities.  The first excavation, Site A at the 13th Infantry Headquarters, started in early March with the authorization from President Dr. Tabaré Vázquez Rosas. This site yielded small fragments bones analyzed by university specialists and a pathologist from the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo City.  These tiny bone fragments were examined histologically, and none of the specialists could determine if they belonged to a human or animal.  The skeletal fragments were stored for a later analysis (Echenique, 2005; Troccoli, 2005).

Figure 3 a    Figure 3 b
Fig. 3. Photographs showing the bulldozer relieving overburden.

On November 29, 2005, the first complete skeleton was recovered on a private farm near the city of Pando about 30 km northeast of Montevideo.  This skeleton was later identified as Ubagesner Chaves Sosa by dental and anthropological analyses (Andina Lisboa, 2005; Solla, 2005b).  Ubagesner Chaves Sosa was tortured, killed, and buried on a farm that had been used by the Uruguayan Air Force (Fig. 4).

Figure 4
Fig. 4. View of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa´s skeletal remains found buried in a farm near Pando.

On December, 2, 2005, a second set of human skeletal remains was recovered from inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters in Montevideo City (Fig. 5).  These remains were later identified by anthropological methods and confirmed by DNA analysis to be those of Fernando Miranda (Solla, 2006; Presidencia, 2007).

Another discovery was made inside the 13th Infantry headquarters: a portion of a left radius that was situated next to the casing of a 9mm bullet.  The bone was analyzed by the staff radiologist and anthropologist at the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo City (Solla, 2005a; Taranto, 2005).  The excavated single radius with a missing proximal epiphysis was determined to be that of an adult female over 25 years of age at the time of death and a stature of about 155.0 cms +/- 4.0 cm.  The bone was missing its proximal end.  Sex was established by morphological traits (Krogman and Iscan, 1986), and the total length of the bone was calculated by the formulae for adult white females (Steele, 1970).  One of the individuals reported missing was a school teacher, Elena Quinteros.   The partial radius was suspected to have come from the missing school teacher, Elena Quinteros.  However, three DNA analyses were carried out: one at the EAAF laboratory of Cordoba City, Argentina (Vullo, 2006); a second analysis by the Technical Police of Montevideo City, Uruguay (Dominguez and Pagano, 2006); and a third was through the University of Granada, Spain (Lorente Acosta, 2006).  None of the DNA analyses gave definitive results to the identity of the individual due the inability to extract usable mitochondrial DNA material.

Neither the remains of Jose Arpino Vega nor any other human bones have been found at the 14th Paratroop Infantry location.  Once all skeletal remains were excavated, they were placed in a secure room to maintain the chain of custody.


Figure 5 a   Figure 5 b
Fig. 5. Photographs showing Miranda´s remains found buried inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters.

With the exception of the single radius, the excavated skeletons were nearly complete but badly preserved.  The long bones and skulls seemed the best-suited sections for identification.  Once the broken bones were repaired, photographs, anthropometric dimensions, and morphological observations were obtained from the skeletons.  The skull of Fernando Miranda was better reconstructed and revealed information about dental restorations (Fig. 6).

Figure 6 a    Figure 6 b         
Fig. 6. Reconstruction of Miranda´s skull.

The skull was further prepared for video superimposition with the photographs of the missing victims.  Anthropometric characteristics of the two skeletons are presented in Table 1.

Figure 7 a   Figure 7 b
Fig. 7. Miranda´s dental restorations.

Using a combination of morphological and metric characteristics, it was determined that the remains found inside a farm near Pando City belonged to a Caucasoid male (Giles, 1970; Krogman and Iscan, 1986).  Stature was calculated to be about 166.0 +/-3.0 using Trotter regression tables (Trotter, 1970).  Racial affinity was determined using discriminant function analysis (Giles and Elliot, 1962); there was no obvious evidence of prior injury that might aid in identification; the methods to determine age at death were suture closure (Solla, 1994); the medullary cavity involution of the humerus (Soto et al 1989); dental attrition (Lovejoy, 1985); multiple component analysis (Acsadi and Nemeskeri, 1970); and pubic symphysis analysis (Todd, 1920; Snow, 1983; Katz and Suchey, 1986).  Approximately one month later, after the anthropological examination confirmed that the victim was Ubagesner Chaves Sosa, the DNA analysis reconfirmed the identity (Presidencia de la República, 2007).

The condition of the post-cranial bones of Miranda´s skeleton was not as good as those of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa, even though the grave itself was covered by a concrete slab.  The humidity of the soil and the time since burial, combined with the fact that the bones were in an area that was frequently in use as a roadway for military equipment, sending vibrations deep into the ground, damaged the bones.  However, the concrete slab may have provided a small amount of protection for the body.  Several bones, specifically those of the chest, were completely fragmented.  A small cord was found around the victim´s neck, possibly from an identification tag, which may have been used as a means of cataloging the prisoners.  Any tag containing a form of identification had long since disintegrated due the length of the burial time and environmental conditions. The hands and feet did not reveal any information that could lead to identification.  The vertebral column was also badly preserved, only the lumbar vertebrae were available for analysis.  The arms and legs were of a condition that also allowed inspection.  Overall assessment revealed that the remains belonged to a white adult male with an age range of 45 to 60 years.

All the measurable dimensions obtained at the Forensic Anthropology Laboratory from the skeletal remains of Fernando Miranda are given in Table 1.  The sex of the skeleton was determined by morphological and discriminant functions analysis (Giles, 1970; Krogman and Iscan, 1986).  Stature was calculated by appropriate long bone lengths applied to the regression formulae listed in Trotter´s tables (Trotter, 1970)
(Table 1).  Anthropometric values, indices, and stature of the skeletons of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa found in a farm near Pando City and of Fernando Miranda found in the 13th Infantry Headquarters.

Skeletal measurements



Skull dimensions



Glabella-occipital length



Cranial breadth



Basion-bregma height






Bizygomatic diameter



Nasal breadth






Nasion-prosthion height






Mandibular dimensions



Symphysis height



Body height at M1 and M2



Corpus length



Corpus thickness at M2



Min ramus breadth



Max ramus breadth



Ramus height



Bigonial diameter






Long bone dimensions



Humeral length



Humeral head



Humeral distal epiphysis breadth



Radial length



Ulnar length



Max Femur length



Tibial length



Fibular length






Stature +/- SEE


168.0 +/-3.0

It was estimated that the victim was about 168.0 +/- 3.0 cm tall.  Race was determined to be Caucasoid, according to one of the discriminant function formulae developed by Giles’ formulae (Giles and Elliot, 1962).  Estimation of age at death was calculated using bones and the appropriate age techniques.  The suture closure suggested an age between 50 and 60 years (Solla, 1994); medullary cavity of the humerus an average of 57.58 years (Soto et al, 1989); dental attrition between 45-55 years (Lovejoy, 1985); pubic symphysis analysis about 50 years old (Todd, 1920; Snow, 1983; Katz and Suchey, 1986).  A more complex method by Acsadi and Nemeskeri (Acsadi and Nemeskeri, 1970) indicated an average age of 57.7 years old.

Identification of the Skeletons

In each case, the skeletons were identified by the method of photo-to-skull comparison by digital video superimposition.  The identities of the two skeletons were later confirmed by DNA analysis (Presidencia de la República, 2007).

The identification of a victim from skeletal remains is one of the most challenging aspects of forensic sciences (Iscan, 1988a; Iscan, 1990; Iscan, 1995c; Iscan and Loth, 1997; Iscan, 1998; Iscan and Solla, 2000; Solla, 1991; Solla, 1994; Solla, 1998).  The technique of skull-photo superimposition has been used to assist in the identification of numerous victims and is accepted in courts in a number of countries (Glaister and Brash, 1937; Basauri, 1967; Koelmeyer, 1982; Cai and Lan, 1982; Hagemeier, 1983; Dorion, 1983; Helmer, 1986; Helmer, 1987; Cai et al, 1989; Yoshino and Seta, 1989; Ivanov and Abramov, 1991; Ubelaker, 1996; Solla, 1999; Solla and Iscan, 2001).  The use of a computer in this technique has added a number of advantages to the process (Pesce Delfino et al, 1986; Nickerson et al, 1991).  One person can accomplish the whole procedure.  The technique requires great experience and standard equipment consisting of one Panasonic digital video camera, a Panasonic standard high resolution monitor, a tripod for the video camera, a Panasonic digital video mixer, a skull positioning stand, a photo stand to hold the photo for comparison, several white fluorescent lamps, a Dell personal computer, a DVD recorder unit, a Pinnacle Studio DC 10 video capture and editing card (jpg format is recommended), and a Cannon printer unit.

The first photograph used in the comparison was that of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa in lateral view.  It was placed under the video camera and illuminated by a white fluorescent lamp.  The image was adjusted on both screens (a conventional high resolution monitor and personal computer monitor).  This image was digitized by the digital video mixer and stored in the computer as a jpg file.  Next, a transparent plastic sheet was taped to both monitors.  Key anatomical landmarks on the face were traced on these sheets.  The image of the first photo was removed from both monitors.  Using the digital mixer controls, it was placed under the video camera that was focused on the unknown skull, which had been prepared with tissue markers and illuminated by white fluorescent lamps.  The skull was manipulated manually or by a servo-motor until the position approximated that of the individual in the photograph.  After the skull had been correctly oriented, using the video camera zoom, the size of the skull image was adjusted so that it was as close as possible to that individual in the photograph.  After comparing anatomical landmarks in the skull with their counterparts marked on the plastic overlays, the image of the skull was digitalized using the digital video mixer unit and then stored as jpg files on the computer hard drive.  Both images (photo and skull) were then superimposed on both monitors for a detailed comparison.  The digital mixer unit permitted the desired combinations of photo-skull comparison, including removal of soft tissue to view the underlying skeletal structures such as the auditory canal, zygomatics and jaw bones, nasal root, dentition, chin, skull contours, and so forth.  The entire process was recorded by a DVD unit.  Good quality photographs can be made by the computer printer to attach to a forensic report or sent by electronic mail to other experts.  The same procedure was followed using all photographic evidence obtained for comparison (Fig. 8).

Figure 8 a     Figure 8 b
Fig. 8. Known photographs of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa in lateral view with the electronic superimposed image on the unknown skull.

Each of the fragmented skulls and mandibles had to be reconstructed in order to compare them with the submitted photographs by video superimposition.

The identification of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa was aided by information provided by his wife indicating that in his youth he had received a trauma to his upper right central incisor resulting in the tooth becoming discolored (Fig. 9).

Figure 9 a     Figure 9 b
Fig. 9. Superimposition of Chaves’ maxilla on that of the unknown remains.


       Figure 10 a      Figure 10 b

      Figure 10 c      Figure 10 d
Fig. 10. Miranda photographs, frontal and lateral views, demonstrating the agreement between the victim’s facial image and cranium.


Fernando Miranda was also identified by the method of photo-skull comparison by digital video superimposition.  Two good photographs were submitted by the Presidential Secretary for comparison, with the skeletal materials recovered.  While his height, race, sex, and age at death were known, identification was more difficult since characterizing information was not provided to the forensic anthropologist by his family or by his dentist that might aid in the analysis (Fig. 10).


The investigation was delayed for a long time due to legal issues and military autonomy barring the examination of armed forces facilities suspected to be involved in the disappearance of many individuals during the period of 1973-1984.

In the present study the analysis of both individuals indicated that conformity was found between the skull and all recognizable proportions of head, face, eyes, nose, and mouth on the photographs.  The outlines of the soft tissue on the skulls were congruent with the facial contours in each of the photographs.  Therefore, the comparisons failed to exclude these skulls as being those of Ubagesner Chaves Sosa and Fernando Miranda.    Several images of superimpositions and pictures sections (vertical and horizontal) were obtained showing excellent matches between all photographs and the unknown skulls.   A positive identification could be made by comparison of photo-skull.

Discovery of human skeletal remains inside the 13th Infantry Headquarters and a civilian location near Pando City demonstrate that the information given by the Commission for Peace (COPAZ) about the final destination of missing persons during the last dictatorial regime was false, or at least incorrect.  The COPAZ in its Final Report said that “all the remains have been cremated and thrown into the sea in 1984” (Comisión para la Paz, 2003).

Inquiry into the widespread lack of protection for human rights continues on a global level without any sign of resolution.  Two things, however, are obvious: 1) there are no easy answers to this problem, and 2) solutions cannot be discovered without information and evidence collection.  This is where the scientist is not only useful, but essential.  The work must begin by acknowledging the relationship between science and human rights.  Scientists make unique contributions to human rights through the application of scientific methods and techniques of investigation into these kinds of abuses, as well as other violations.  In such cases, evidence is often based solely on verbal testimony from victims or other eye witnesses.  There is no doubt about the importance of verbal testimony.  However, this form of evidence is far more effective when corroborated by material proof.  Physical evidence has an even greater value when there are conflicting testimonies from several different parties.  It can be used to support, contradict, or further explain other circumstances.

The most critical need for material verification is when no other evidence exists.  Either the events in question were not witnessed by any living person, or the witnesses are unwilling to testify.  In these situations, the material evidence is the only path to the truth.  Scientific analysis is essential for evaluation of physical evidence.  A well-trained forensic scientist maintains a careful chain of custody, preserves the security of the evidence, explains the methods used in analysis, reports any and all results, and testifies about the methods, results, and conclusions within a court of law.

Human rights work for the professional forensic scientists, in their daily routines.   In cases of human rights violations, forensic scientists are the people in authority, cultural assumptions just do not apply, and the scale of the work is far greater.  One unexpected difference is the lack of support disciplines.  In many parts of the world, these individuals find that it is necessary to become “jacks-of-all trades.”

Within the most industrialized countries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is largely upheld by domestic law.  Therefore, on home soil, human rights tend to be identified with law enforcement and forensic investigations.  In many other parts of the world, however, human rights are not upheld by civil or criminal law.  The only recourse for action is through the application of international human rights covenants.   Under such conditions, the only people available to enforce human rights covenants are the people employed by private and international human rights organizations.  The application of the forensic sciences to human rights investigations can be crucial in proving that such violations occurred, and in obtaining judicial redress for criminal activity (Hannibal, 1992; Amnesty International, 1994)

Forensic anthropologists, both physical anthropologists and archaeologists, contribute to Human Rights primarily by aiding in death investigations.  All of them join with other forensic scientists in revealing evidence of mass murder, genocide, torture, execution, and in cases of political disappearances.  Forensic anthropologists are called in especially in cases where trauma analysis and personal identification of human skeletal remains is required.  Sometimes the bodies require careful archaeological excavation in order to expose the remains and associated evidence such as clothes, coins, personal documents, and so on.  Generally, the entire site must be treated like a crime scene, and the archaeologist must be careful to obtain the greatest amount of information from the site.  This is crucial, since an excavation destroys the site.  Identification and other studies must be done in the laboratory to interpret the events surrounding the death.  In Uruguay, the local judge must always be present at the scene of a crime.

Perhaps the first use of forensic anthropology in a human rights mission occurred in 1984 when a group of scientists from the Unites States were asked to aid in the location and identification of victims of the 1976-1983 Argentinean Junta regimes.  Forensic anthropologist, Dr. Clyde Snow, was asked to be a consultant representing the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.  This is a group of grandmothers and mothers of the “disappeared people” during the last Argentinean dictatorial regime (EAAF, 1990a; EAAF, 1990b).  In Uruguay, the first set of skeletal remains of a disappeared person to be recovered and identified from the time of the dictatorial regime was that of the late Roberto Gomensoro Josman.  His remains were analyzed and identified in early July, 2002 (Solla et al 2005).


The authors wish to thank: Dr. Alejandro Recarey, former Judge in charge of the Elena Quinteros Case; Dr. Juan Carlos Fernandez Lecchini, Judge in charge of the Elena Quinteros Case; Dr. Gustavo Mirabal, Judge in charge of the María Claudia de Gelman Case; Dra. Mirtha Guianze, Prosecutor in charge of the Elena Quinteros Case; Tte. Gral Angel Bertolotti, former Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; and Col. Raúl Glodosky, former Secretary to the Commander in Chief; Dr José María López Mazz, Director in Chief of the Forensic Archaeologist Team; Dra. Maris Rivoira, Director in Chief of the Instituto Técnico Forense; and Dra. Mónica Etcheverry, Vice Director in Chief of the Instituto Técnico Forense for their support and assistance in the investigation and analyses of these cases. Without their cooperation and interest in these projects, a resolution of the disappearance of the discovered remains and their subsequent identification would not have been possible.


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About the Author

Horacio E. Solla, PhD received his graduate degree in Anthropological Sciences in 1991 from the University of the Republic, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, in Uruguay.  He has made several post-graduate degree courses in Forensic Anthropology in 1992, in 1995, and in 2003 by Dr. Douglas H. Ubelaker of the Smithsonian Institution.  He received a Certificate of Inclusion in 2000 Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century (First Edition), an Honor of an Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Forensic Anthropology in Uruguay as Founder of Forensic Anthropology in that country.  He has a Master’s Degree in Human Sciences from the University of the Republic, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences.  He has a Doctorate Degree of Merit from the International Biographical Institute at Cambridge, England and a Doctorate Degree with a Major in Forensic Sciences from the Atlantic International University.  He has published more than fifty scientific papers and three books.  Dr. Solla is Member of the Uruguayan Society of Forensic Sciences (1991), the Uruguayan Society of History of the Medicine (1992), the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (1995), the American College of Forensic Examiners (2000), and the Spanish College of Forensic Experts (2002).  He was also Curator at the National Museum of Anthropology (1990-1992), Assistant of Physical Anthropology at the University of the Republic, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, Uruguay (1989-1995), and Forensic Anthropologist at the National Institute of Criminology (1992-1995).  Presently, he has a full-time position as Forensic Anthropologist at the Judicial Morgue of Montevideo City (Secretary of Justice), where he has solved more than 870 forensic anthropology cases and identified more than 150 human skeletal remains.  He has also worked as an advisory forensic anthropologist in several important private cases.

Mehmet Yaşar İşcan, PhD received his doctorate from Cornell University.  He is a diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, was a professor at Florida Atlantic University, and served as consultant to the Palm Beach Broward County Medical Examiner´s Offices.  Dr. İşcan is a member of numerous scientific organizations, including the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association, and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.  His work has appeared in many specialized journals.  One of Dr. İşcan’s most noteworthy books is The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine, which he coauthored with Wilton Marion Krogman.

Barbara McCabe, BA graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's Degree in anthropology and attended Florida Atlantic University as a graduate student under Dr. Mehmet Yaşar İşcan.  McCabe has published papers on the effects of animals on human remains and the human skeletal system.  She is interested in human dentition, occupational stress, and skeletal trauma caused by animal attacks.

Publisher Dr. Robert O'Block, American College of Forensic Examiners.