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Falklands / Malvinas conflict: "We felt that visiting the graves would help the families come to terms with their grief"

02-04-2007 Interview

In 1991, several years after the war in the South Atlantic had ended, the families of Argentine soldiers killed in battle travelled for the first time to the Falkland / Malvinas Islands, under ICRC auspices, to visit the military cemetery in Darwin. Edmond Corthésy, an ICRC delegate who took part in the operation, explains why the ICRC supported this initiative.

 Why did the ICRC decide to facilitate the visit?  

The idea came from the families and it was they who suggested that the ICRC facilitate the visit. We urged the parties to agree to the proposal, for humanitarian reasons. We felt that visiting the graves would help the families come to terms with their grief.

    

As deputy delegate-general for Latin America, I personally supervised the operation. It took several months for the parties to agree on the procedures. Once again, the ICRC served as a neutral intermediary.

On the appointed day, over 300 people arrived at Ezeize airport in Buenos Aires at around 3 a.m. to board an Aerolíneas Argentinas 747 jumbo jet chartered by the Argentine government. The flight was scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. but was somewhat delayed as we struggled in the misty dawn to affix adhesive red cross emblems to the side of the aircraft. It was crucial that the plane be clearly identified as the flight was going to take place under the ICRC's responsibility.
 
   
  ©ICRC/C. Fedele/fk-d-00006    
 
  Falklands / Malvinas. Relatives of Argentine soldiers killed during the conflict in the South Atlantic visiting a cemetery in Darwin under ICRC auspices.    
    When we landed at the airport in Port Stanley / Puerto Argentino, British helicopters were waiting to take us to Darwin, on the other side of the island. With winds gusting at 100 km per hour, it was impossible to walk around the cemetery, but we saw the graves marked with the names of fallen soldiers – and many others that were unidentified. We were accompanied by three psychologists whose task was to help the families cope with the painful emotions that would come to the surface.

Although the negotiations had begun early on, the families had waited 10 years for this day. When it came, they were deeply moved – it was clear that visiting the graves meant a great deal to them. Judging by the comments they made and the gratitude they expressed to us on their return to the mainland, it had brought them a measure of solace.

From the point of view of the ICRC, as the facilitator, the operation wa s highly successful. It proceeded as agreed with the authorities of both countries and, above all, it took place in a spirit of dignity and respect fostered by careful preparations on the part of all those concerned.