July 30 - Scientists want to aid in the search for hidden mass graves in Colombia. The researchers are conducting an experiment aimed at combining different geophysical technologies in the hopes of perfecting a new technique to locate bodies underground. Ben Gruber reports.
On a farm on the outskirts of Bogota, a team of researchers are digging a grave site. It's part of an experiment aimed at providing new techniques to locate tens of thousands of missing people in Colombia, most of whom are presumed dead due to a decades long internal conflict between the government and rebel forces. In these graves the scientists are burying human skeletons as well as pig cadavers, which they say decompose in much the same way as human bodies do. Researcher Miguel Saumett says that over the course of the next 18 months, the team will attempt to find which combination of detection technologies is best suited to accurately sense the remains. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) MIGUEL SAUMETT, SYSTEMS ENGINEER WORKING ON THE EXPERIMENT, SAYING: "The novelty of this experiment is that we are using other equipment like susceptibility meters, magnetometers, equipment that measures geo-electricity in conjunction with the ground-penetrating radar. It's a technique that is being used for the search of buried remains." The scientists are using a host of sensing technologies, including ground penetrating radar which detects objects using electromagnetic waves...and a magnetometer which detects items like coins and phones...objects a victim might have been buried with. The scientists believe that by combining the data of these different technologies they will be able to pinpoint the locations of mass graves. Elsa Maria Moyano, the head of the attorney general's unit that is charged with searching for missing people, says grave hunting is difficult business. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ELSA MARIA MOYANO, HEAD OF THE UNIT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE CHARGED WITH SEARCHING FOR DISAPPEARED, SAYING: "Anything to support the search for missing people isn't only timely, but has very important repercussions regarding the issue of atonement for victims. I think that the most acute injury is the uncertainty that victims have surrounding what happened to their loved ones and where they are, and the peace that it gives them to identify them s crucial. So all these things, all these works or studies that they are doing for us are very important in the context of justice." Lead researcher Carlos Molina says the implications of the experiment could be huge in Colombia and other nations where victims of widespread violence have long remained missing. (SOUNDBITE) CARLOS MARTIN MOLINA, FORENSIC GEOLOGIST AND LEADER OF THE RESEARCH TEAM, SAYING: "We hope that with effective results, the Colombian judicial system will realise the need to implement this type of technique and as such they can apply it in all of the country in a way that speeds up the search for the people who are buried in our territory." In 2012, the Red Cross estimated that there were more than 51,000 missing persons in Colombia. Molina hopes to provide a powerful tool to start reducing that number in the years to come.