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Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team


The number and nature of human rights violations committed under the government of Col. Mengistu Haile Marian (1974-1991) constitute one of the worst records of contemporary times. According to Amnesty International, "Hundreds of thousands have been killed in civil wars and political violence. A further million or more fled the country to escape not only hunger and bloodshed but also political persecution, military conscription and forced resettlement...Hundreds of political prisoners were executed after unfair trials, but thousands more 'disappeared' from detention and were secretly killed."

In May 1991, the Mengistu regime was overthrown by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and other armed groups. The Transitional Government that took power created a Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) to investigate and prosecute human rights crimes from the previous regime. The country has been renamed the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, in accordance with a new constitution established in December 1994.

The Transitional Government ended in March 1995, when general elections were held and in August 1995 a new government headed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front took office. In mid-1995 elections were also held for parliament, federal council, and regional state assemblies. Most of the opposition parties boycotted these elections, claiming that the government had restricted their campaigning activities and curtailed their freedom of association and expression.


The Role of EAAF

In 1993, the Carter Center contacted EAAF and asked it to provide forensic assistance to the Special Prosecutors Office in Addis Ababa. In August 1993, two EAAF members traveled to Ethiopia for two weeks on a preliminary mission sponsored by the Carter Center. The objective of this trip was to inspect several possible burial grounds, meet with the different research groups at the SPO, and plan future forensic research on cases under investigation by the SPO.

The second EAAF mission to Ethiopia took place between January 13 and April 26, 1994. Eight foreign consultants participated: Dr. Clyde Snow, as a representative of Physicians for Human Rights; Patricia Bernardi, Luis Fondebrider, Carlos Somigliana, Anahi Ginarte, and Mercedes Doretti as members of EAAF; Claudia Bernardi, an independent consultant; and Jose Pablo Baraybar as an independent physical anthropologist invited by EAAF.

Five local experts - Ato Abebe Debosch, technician in pathology; Dr. Tambrun Meles, pathologist; Ato Tekle Hagos, archaeologist; Ms. Kelemua Araya, archaeologist; and Ato Gibron Meles from the Police Department - also participated in the mission.


Kotebe: A Multiple Extra Judicial Execution

During March 1994, EAAF conducted the exhumation of one clandestine grave in a military compound located in Kotebe, an Addis Ababa suburb. The grave was located in a small forest inside the compound and contained the skeletal remains of 30 individuals. All except one had synthetic green ropes around their necks. While the excavation was in progress, the SPO invited officials from the Ethiopian government, members of the local diplomatic corps, and the international and national press, as well as the high officials from the Orthodox church, to observe the findings.

The SPO provided EAAF with a list of 30 individuals who disappeared from their cells while under custody during the Mengistu regime, and were thought to be buried in the grave. The SPO also managed to locate the families of 15 of these individuals. EAAF interviewed these families, as well as former prisoners who shared captivity with the disappeared persons. From these interviews we obtained physical information about the people thought to be buried in the grave at Kotebe. This information was compared with the remains exhumed from the grave. In this way eight individuals were positively identified while the forensic team was still in Addis Ababa. Blood samples from presumed relatives of the victims, and tooth samples from the non-identified skeletons are currently being analyzed at the genetic laboratory of Dr. Marie Claire King, in Seattle, Washington. The purpose of this analysis is to try to establish matches between genetic material (in this case, mitochondrial DNA) from the blood samples and from the tooth samples.

Posted on 1999-01-01


Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons
Asian Human Rights Commission

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