Returning the Stolen

Argentina is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of dictatorships, yet the “Dirty War” of the late 1970s killed 10,000–30,000 citizens in an act of political repression by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. Among this figure includes some 13,000 people who disappeared overnight, sent to a network of hundreds of concentration camps.



Written by: Greg Emmerich, Promega Corporation



The political landscape of Argentina was hardly stable at the time—lending to the idea that this was a civil war between the AAA and guerrilla militants—however it soon became clear that countless human rights violations were being conducted on anyone who held a contrary political ideology. Left-wing activists, trade unionists, students and journalists were subject to abduction, torture and assassination.



Grieving Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo who have lost their children and grandchildren. Daniel Garcia / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images


Worse yet, babies were stolen from the suspected dissidents and raised by the very same people who helped to capture and torture their parents. The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo organization held weekly vigils for thirty years to bring awareness to this issue so that the 500 stolen children could be identified and returned to their real families.


#DNA testing reunites 100+ stolen Argentinian children with their families. Hear the story at #ISHI27! Click To Tweet




Citizen arrests made by the AAA. Click for full article from (Spanish)


Not everyone wants to be identified, however. Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera objected to DNA testing because they felt it was an attempt to slander their mother, a prominent figure in Argentinian media. Proponents claim all children adopted between 1976–1983 are obligated to be tested to reconcile their country’s past tragedy. When do national priorities outweigh an individual’s right to privacy? This debate spanned 10 years and finally received closure when a federal judge ordered police officers to enter the Noble Herrena home and gather objects, saliva and blood samples to perform the DNA testing. The results were only compared with a few families who lost their children in the specific range of dates when Marcela and Felipe were adopted, and the results were negative.



Plaza de Mayo and the weekly march by families who lost children. Click for more information about Las Abuelas y las Madres de Plaza de Mayo


David O’Shea is an investigative video journalist who has extensively covered the aftermath of the dictatorship. His documentary, Returning the Stolen, chronicles the efforts of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. DNA testing has helped more than 100 of the 500 stolen children become reunited with their families. David will be presenting the keynote lecture at the 27th International Symposium on Human Identification this year.



Greg Emmerich is a science writer at Promega striving to combine creativity with science. He lives off adrenaline rushes from skiing and discovering new music. He received his B.S. Microbiology and M.S. Biotechnology degrees from UW Madison.