ICMP Helps Brazilian Authorities Identify Missing Persons

The Hague, 14 September 2017: ICMP is assisting the Brazilian authorities with the identification of victims of enforced disappearance from the 1964-85 military dictatorship. Under a contract signed earlier this month with the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances, which is part of the Brazilian Ministry of Human Rights, ICMP will help to identify the remains of persons who went missing as a result of the dictatorship’s security policies.

The first set of post-mortem samples and family members’ samples to be analyzed under the program, which is supported by the UN Development Program, were brought to ICMP today by Dr. Samuel Ferreira, the Scientific Coordinator of the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances and of the working group responsible for identifying bodies that were interred in a clandestine mass grave at the Dom Bosco Cemetery in Perus, Sao Paulo between 1971 and 1975. Dr. Ferreira was accompanied by Mr. Helder Duarte, the nephew of one of the victims believed to have been buried in the Perus cemetery.

“The working group brings together all of the relevant agencies involved in the identification process in an effort to provide an answer to families who have been waiting for more than 40 years for the location and identification of their loved ones,” Dr. Ferreira said. “At the moment, some 700 human remains were submitted to forensic anthropological analysis in Brazil and about 77 family members have already donated samples for DNA tests. From now on, we start the genetic analysis stage. ICMP was selected as a partner because it has developed an impressive international reputation in the field of DNA-led identification, including cases arising from enforced disappearance. We believe that through this partnership with ICMP, the working group will be able to complement the skills and capacity that exist in Brazil.”

“In the case of the unidentified remains from the Perus cemetery, ICMP will apply its unparalleled expertise in extracting DNA profiles from severely degraded bone samples,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today. “It will also place at the disposal of the authorities and families of the missing in Brazil its extensive experience in developing administrative and civil society capacity to sustain an effective missing persons identification strategy.”

ICMP will provide family members and members of the working group with access to its Online Inquiry Center, which means they will be able to see in real time the status of individual samples. Today, the first set of post-mortem samples and family members‘ samples arrived in ICMP’s current laboratory in Sarajevo; additional samples will be processed at ICMP’s new laboratory at its headquarters in The Hague. Funding for the analyses of the samples came as a result of a Brazilian parliamentary amendment.

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About the Perus cemetery

A clandestine mass grave was discovered in the Perus cemetery in 1990. The remains of about 1,047 individuals were found in the grave. They were subsequently moved, and some were kept in suboptimal conditions at an ossuary in Sao Paulo. Identification efforts over the last 25 years have been haphazard and have not been documented in a systematic way. As a result, it has not been possible to make conclusive identifications.

The Perus Working Group was established in September 2014, bringing legal, and scientific personnel together with families of the missing to spearhead a coordinated attempt to identify the remains. In Brazil, a qualified multidisciplinary forensic team was created specifically to work on this case. ICMP’s capacity to process such a large number of post-mortem samples, and samples that have been subject to the severe degradation that results from improper storage and the passage of time, will help Brazil in this complex case, in which a very large number of degraded bone samples will have to be processed.

About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based international organization with headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.