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20 February 2023

Falklands veterans visit King's to discuss the project that identified over 100 unknown Argentine soldiers

The event 'Known Soldier – Soldado Conocido' brought together a former British Army Colonel and an Argentine ex-conscript soldier to share their memories of the project they carried out to identify soldiers' bodies after the Falklands/Malvinas War.

Known Soldier 1

Geoffrey Cardozo, former British Army Colonel, and Julio Aro, Argentine ex-conscript soldier, discussed their joint project to identify soldiers’ bodies, post-conflict best practices and the importance of adherence to international humanitarian law at an event at King’s last week.

During the event organised by the Latin American Security Research Group at King’s, and attended by Argentina’s Ambassador to the UK Javier Figueroa, both veterans talked about their experiences in the war and the main challenges they faced in carrying out the project that identified the bodies of 115 unknown soldiers during the post-war period and nominated them for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.

In conversation with Dr Eleonora Natale, Lecturer in International History, Cardozo talked about his experiences in 1982, when he was Army Captain serving in London and the motivations that led him to join the identification project.

"The central figure, in my opinion, is the mother. Of course, wives and sisters are also important, but what is the name of a mother who loses a child? Many mothers did not know where their children were and thanks to this project they could see, for the first time after 37 years, the grave where their son, husband or brother lay”

Geoffrey Cardozo.

Aro also shared his memories, pointing out that he met Cardozo in London when SAMA 82 invited him and other colleagues to discuss the post-traumatic consequences for the mothers and families of soldiers. From that meeting, they built the Foundation ‘No Me Olvides’, the Malvinas Humanitarian Project Plan. 

"In 2008, I went back to the Islands for the first time since 1982 because I needed to look for Julio, who had been there and never come back. It was distressing to go through the 232 graves that are there today as I couldn't see the names and found my comrades and friends I had in the Army. So, when I returned to my city, I told my mother about my experience, and she told me she would never get tired of looking for me. That's why I wanted to develop a project that would give an answer to mothers, fathers and me about the unknown soldiers"

Julio Aro.

In the Falklands/Malvinas War, almost 900 soldiers died, but 122 fallen Argentine soldiers remained unidentified for decades. They were buried without naming their graves on the Darwin Cemetary under headstones that read "Known Only by God", so 35 years later, Argentina and the UK signed an agreement for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to undertake the Humanitarian Project Plan.

During the event, Morris Tidball-Binz, former Head of Forensics at ICRC, explained how this joint initiative by the UK and Argentina involved design planning and the implementation of a forensic operation by using the Geneva Conventions and the Minnesota Protocol, two key instruments in forensics best practice standards. For Tidball-Binz, the project demanded exceptional quality assurance and control requirements as each of the remains had to be exhumed, analysed, documented and buried on the same day.

"Geoffrey and his team did an extraordinary job in searching for and recovering personal items of intrinsic and emotional value from the remains found in the field, which helped in identification. However, many small objects were inevitably missed due to the difficult conditions. During a later investigation, we found personal objects that had been overlooked and weren’t foreseen in the project, such as an ID card and a ring with an inscription"

Morris Tidball-Binz.

The event also included with a Q&A session involving students and researchers from the Department of War Studies, Foreign Office and UK ICRC members, the Falkland Islands Representative in the UK, and Argentine organisations based in London.   

In this story

Eleonora Natale

Lecturer in International History & Grand Strategy