Mercedes Doretti and Alicia Partnoy —
Laying the Dead to Rest

With an Argentinean scientist, we explore the human landscape of forensic sciences and its emergence as a tool for human rights. Doretti has unearthed bones and stories of the dead and "the disappeared" in more than 30 countries, including victims of Argentina's Dirty War, over two decades. She shares her perspective on reparation, the need to bury our dead, and the many facets of justice.

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Guests

is co-founder and senior researcher of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). She received a MacArthur "genius" grant for her work in 2007.

is an associate professor of Spanish at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a poet, memoirist, and human rights activist.

Pertinent Posts

Music may document history as accurately as any text. Songs from Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Calexico, The Clash, and Chuck Brodsky.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Children of the Disappeared

The legacy of Argentina's Dirty War lives on in the children of those who disappeared. Portraits of those who remain, and poetry from one who survived.

Selected Poems

Poems by Alicia Partnoy

We asked Argentinean poet Alicia Partnoy to recite several of her poems — in English and Spanish — reflecting on her experiences as one of the disappeared who survived.

Download the mp3 of each version and read the text of each poem.

How many times…

by Marjorie Agosín

About the Image

At a mass grave on the outskirts of Koreme in Iraqi Kurdistan, a woman mourns her brother and husband. Estimates of 60,000-80,000 people, mostly Kurdish, disappeared or were executed during the 1988 Iraqi Anfal campaign.

Photo courtesy of © Mercedes Doretti/EAAF Archive

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Reflections

I love Alicia Partnoy's work and it was wonderful to see it surface in your recent newsletter. Very important words to have in the world. Thank you. Paulette Warren

I am constantly struck by the theme of hope and loss and the healing reconciliation that can happen with time. This is a theme that SOF has explored in many shows. Thank you. The image I am sending is called Chrysalis - and as I was creating it a friend commented that sometimes the best gifts (maybe the gift of healing and reconciliation) are wrapped in barbed-wire. I connected with the image Doretti took of the woman mourning her losses and just wanted to share this image. Ann Klingensmith Mt Pleasant IA

I am constantly struck by the theme of hope and loss and the healing reconciliation that can happen with time. This is a theme that SOF has explored in many shows. Thank you. The image I am sending is called Chrysalis - and as I was creating it a friend commented that sometimes the best gifts (maybe the gift of healing and reconciliation) are wrapped in barbed-wire. I connected with the image Doretti took of the woman mourning her losses and just wanted to share this image.

As a psychologist who has worked with survivors of torture and other human rights violations, I appreciate the opportunity to hear from Ms. Doretti about her important work. It is crucial that we seek the truth about the past and demand accountability for crimes against humanity, for it is our silence about the past that enables its repetition in the future. Some recommendations that I've found extremely valuable: the book ANIL'S GHOST by Michael Ondaatje (about a forensic anthropologist in Sri Lanka); and the article Testimony as Ritual and Evidence in Psychotherapy for Political Refugees, by Inger Agger & Soren Buus Jensen, JOURNAL OF TRAUMATIC STRESS (1990), Vol. 3, pp. 115-130. We can support organizations that help survivors, such as the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis and the Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago.

Themes presented are of the utmost importance! I wish there had been some mention of the U.S. role in human rights violations both here and in other parts of the world. We need to be reminded at regular intervals, since there is little public acknowledgment, ample political obfuscation and great resistance to accept this reality. Systematic use of torture in the Chicago Police Dept. under Lt. Burge, for example. The late forensic pathologist Robert Kirschner provided vital expert testimony used by prosecutors to prove suspects were tortured. U.S. provision of money, training, warm diplomatic ties for brutal militaries in Latin American, etc. If we hope to unearth the truth about human rights violations, we need to consider all the responsible players, not only the nationals.

Thank you so much for your interview with Mercedes Doretti. I was born in Argentina, and came here after my marriage. My sister, Constanza, and my brother Fernando, as well as my cousin Horacio were kidnapped and killed by the military Junta government in Argentina. They dissappeared in 1974 and, like Mercedes says in her interview, my whole life froze. I was unable to finish college, my mother went into deep depression, my little sister left our home and moved in with her boyfriend's family. We could not stand the silence in the house, a house that had been filled with music and joy, since both my brother and my sister played the guitar. We all used to sing together, and our friends would drop by in the evenings just to make music with us. We were submitted to a subtle kind of torture: every once in a while there would be an anonymous phone call with "news" from our siblings. I will never forget that one year we were told that they "would be back for Christmas". That Chrismas Eve night (in Latin-America the big celebration happens on night that Christ was born) my mother refused to eat, to drink, to talk, waiting and waiting. Finally, she went to bed, heartbroken. After that day, we dreaded Christmas, because my mom would fall into her depression again. After about ten years I told my mother that they would not be coming back, and I offered to go through their belongings and decided what to do with them. I felt like I was burying them, going through my sister's make up, her ballet clothes, my little brohter's shoes (so big, he was seventeen when he was taken and had been growing so fast), his overcoat. So much pain, so little justice. Thank you for remembering them, thank you for the poetry and the beautiful music from my beautiful and wounded country.

Argentinean born forensic scientist Mercedes Doretti had the passion in helping people since her early age. She uses her knowledge and skills of anthropology to help people to find the mystery of their loved ones. She toured around the globe and visited over thirty countries in request of the family victims to find out what happened to their loved ones. Sometimes when family victims complain about the disappearance of their family members, people accuse them of lying or untrustworthiness. Doretti thinks it is important to hear the concerns of the people and getting to know them better. One of the hardest project Doretti underwent was in El Salvador, where she witnessed a mass murder of over 700 people mostly children. A lot of innocent people are victims of these killings and their family member do not know their whereabouts. Doretti also discusses the importance of knowing , the family victims way of life. People are different and have their own of life distinct from one another. For example Christians/Catholics burial ceremony might differ from othe other major religions such as Islam or Judaism. I think Doretti has done a great job in helping people finding out the mystery of their family members and bringing a sense of hope to the family. She had the courage and care for people's human rights. And I wish we have a lot of people like her that are willing to dare in changing peoples lives by bringing hopes and tranquility in their hearts.

My reaction to this topic was that this is part of story that I never think about after reading stories about genocide and other crimes against humanity. It alarming to realize that it took hearing the gruesome details of others death, to realize how serious of problem this is. It’s alarming to realize that I had lost compassion and that this could be anyone of us if we continue to fail at valuing human life.

I find this picture so much horrible in the sense when viewed from the angle of the humanitarian concerns that are being taken into account. This can be used as a tool for the human rights.