Colombian DNA Bank Helps to Identify Armed Conflict Victims

Uploaded by VJMEspanol on 13.11.2011

On this day, for a lot of mothers who had their sons missing,
their hope to find them alive dies.
The uncertainty ends with the delivery of their bony remains.
The identification of these bodies was possible thanks to genetic
comparisons made in forensic science laboratories in Colombia,
a process that has become the only hope for thousands of families
that search for the recovery of at least 60,000 missing people
in the entire country as a consequence of the armed conflict.
The crisis of missing people in Colombia has made the scientists of this country
consider creating a bank of genetic information bank,
which would be the first of its kind in America, and perhaps in the world.
We had go to all of the places that had been the center of all of this violence,
trying to get families to report these acts. And not only that, but we also obtained a
biological sample, which is usually a blood sample or a mouth swab,
to try to make a genetic profile. We put it in a database
and then made comparisons with all of the corpses
that were unidentifiable.
The task of identification starts in the forensic anthropologist laboratory.
They conduct a detailed inventory to try to rebuild the osseous structure.
Then the bio-anthropologist study begins, in which there is a diagnosis of each one
of the anthropologist variables: the age, sex, ancestral patron,
height and individual features to rebuild the biological profile
of the individual and to fully identify him.
The corpses come from mass graves in fields with different geological configurations.
These circumstances determined the state of conservation
of the corpse and the decomposition process.
This corpse was dismembered. It's incomplete. It was eroded by the burial
or inhumation method. On the other hand, that other corpse is well preserved.
It came from a non-acid field. This, however, is too acid, too clay-like, very close to the sea, which
makes the body decompose easily.
The majority of the corpses show fractures and clear signs of torture,
characteristics which enable the forensics to determine the circumstances surrounding the death.
This is a case in which the death was caused by a firearm projectile.
Here we have it in the skull. That is what we call -- or is called in the military media -- the finishing shot.
The firearm projectile entered by the occipital region and went out by the facial region,
destroying part of the zygomatic bone and the orbits.
But despite knowing the precise causes of the death, and establishing
the race, sex, height and age, they don't know who the victim is.
The problem that we have in our country is that since there are a lot of missing persons,
in order to identify them precisely with genetic tests, it is essential
to be able to count on the closest biological relatives of the victim.
It is only in this way that they can conduct a comparative DNA study.
DNA is an individual genetic registry that establishes specific
characteristics of the legacy from the chromosomes of the mother and the father.
The identification of each body is made from the DNA
extraction that is preserved on the osseous remains.
It is necessary to extract it principally from the long bones, mainly because
they allow the DNA to be more integral in the center of the long bones. If it is
better preserved, the DNA is less exposed to the adverse conditions of the
environment in the place where the corpses are buried.
The bone is pulverized and then some reactive
chemicals are added to the obtained sample, which separate the DNA.
In just one year in Colombia, nearly 2,000 corpses have been exhumed,
and 500 have been fully identified, thanks to the acquisition of genetic analysis equipment,
which can make multiple comparisons simultaneously.
For statistical analysis, we have software that is unique to Colombia.
It's called "DNA View." The training was conducted by the person
who created the software -- Doctor Charles Bremer -- and it truly allows
us to obtain more reliable and faster results in the laboratory.
The Colombian forensic teams have become respected authorities around the continent.
The complexity of their job has led them to
interchange experiences with forensics in Bosnia and Argentina.
There are some aggravating factors regarding this situation, which are different from what we have
seen in other countries, because we are still in the midst of
the conflicts that we see in our country. The armed conflicts have not ceased,
and that really limits a lot the work of retrieving bodies.
The Colombian forensics are aware that the task of identifying so many victims
is a process that will take many years, but they are
nonetheless ready to share their experience with specialists from other countries
where armed conflicts result in thousands of missing people.