Discover More: Evidence in the Remains

Conducting an Investigation: Introduction

The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) has been investigating genocide cases in Guatemala for over 10 years. The FAFG was started in response to the government’s unwillingness to set up its own task force in the early
1990s. Their work is challenging, can be dangerous and does not often result in positive identifications.

In Guatemala, where the majority of the victims of the military’s counterinsurgency campaign of the early 1980’s belonged to the rural peasant Mayan Indian population, positive identifications through dental or medical records are a rarity. It is extremely challenging to gather witness testimony that can help the forensic anthropologist identify the remains they exhume in circumstances where survivors are still threatened by the perpetrators who often live amongst them. Without the support of costly DNA identifications, such as those commonly used in places such as Kosovo or Bosnia, the forensic anthropologists in Guatemala have to rely on gaining the population’s trust in order to gather the information they need for identifications.

Faced with these challenges, investigators are forced to piece together the identity of the missing from interviews with family members and neighbors, clothing and jewelry found on the remains, and the estimated height and age of victims at the time of death. As FAFG President Freddy Pecerrelli says, “First we have to prove that people were alive before we can prove they are dead.”

The FAFG team members use social anthropology, physical anthropology and archaeology in their work. Read more about the investigative process on the following pages.