Colombia:the tragedy of unmarked graves in cemeteries

18-04-2012 Feature

The cemetery merges unexpectedly into the houses and shops of this small town on the Pacific coast. It is not clear where exactly the houses and warehouses end and the tombs, mausoleums and graves begin. Nor can you tell where you might be treading on unmarked graves – those nameless remains that abound in so many Colombian cemeteries.

In Bocas de Satinga cemetery in the Olaya Herrera municipality of Nariño department are buried, according to gravedigger Chaín, the bodies of 51 unidentified people (and there may be many more) which were swept down the river and ended up in the town. These people have no known parents or spouse. Their bodies were collected by Chaín and prepared for burial in the small cemetery's morgue with no light or resources of any kind. Most were buried in the cemetery grounds without being identified, separated or protected.

Although the names of the deceased are not known, there is information collected by the gravedigger that could one day help to identify their bodies and return them to their families, who must be searching for them somewhere in Colombia. In order to preserve this information, the ICRC, with the support of Chaín and the local council, has started laying blocks of cement to mark the locations where the bodies are reportedly buried. This is the first step in the identification process.

In addition, by studying the death certificates and the autopsy reports of more than 20 people, as well as information collected during fieldwork, the ICRC has gathered data that could be useful for the subsequent identification work. The idea is not just to mark the graves but also that the forensic authorities will record, exhume, identify and, finally, return the remains to the families. The ICRC has also taken on the task of refurbishing the morgue, fitting out blocks to process unidentified remains and building cold rooms.




© El Espectador / N. Sierra