Forensic Project

About the project

By enabling the identification of remains, forensic analysis of DNA can be an important tool for establishing evidence of mass atrocities. Such identifications can also help establish a historical record and provide answers to survivors whose loved ones disappeared during conflict. Additionally, forensic DNA analysis can help reunite families, especially in situations where children were separated from their parents at a young age. The Forensic Project aims to improve the use of forensic DNA analysis both to hold perpetrators accountable and to help families separated by conflict. Funded by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the project is composed of two primary project.

El Salvador DNA Reunification Project

Since 2006, the Human Rights Center has helped to reunite families torn apart by the armed conflict in El Salvador (1980-1992), seeking to hold the Salvadoran government accountable for its military policy of abducting children from families who resided in villages where the fighting occurred. The genesis of this effort and HRC’s partnership with Asociación Pro Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos (Association for Disappeared Children), an NGO in San Salvador, reunites families with children who were abducted or surrendered under duress during the war. 

Extending the Human Rights Center’s history of supporting efforts to identify children removed from their parents during El Salvador’s civil war, the current project: 

  • Provides technical and financial support to the Asociación Pro Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos. HRC is working with Pro Búsqueda to expand the organization’s scientific capacity, strengthen its investigative abilities, and enhance its provision of legal and psychological counseling to family members. 
  • Reaches out to Salvadorans living in the United States who may have been separated from their loved ones during the war. The Human Rights Center and Pro-Búsqueda have launched a public information campaign to reach the Salvadoran diaspora in the United States and, in particular, to reach the families—the mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents—that lost a child during the war. Many of these immigrant families simply do not know about the existence of Pro-Búsqueda as the only organization that can offer effective hope of finding their lost child. The campaign uses traditional media (radio, TV, newspapers), as well as social media (Facebook and Twitter) and texting. Learn more and join the El Salvador: Children of War campaign on Facebook.

The project involves collaborations with the International Commission on Missing Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and coordinates its activities with the Guatemala Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG, Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala), which is providing additional training to Pro Búsqueda’s head geneticist, and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF, Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense), the organization responsible for the exhumations. 


Read former director Cristián Orrego’s letter in the Huffington Post to US Secretary of State Kerry and Salvadoran President Funes to help in the search for El Salvador’s missing children.

Email the Human Rights Center’s Forensic Project or Pro-Búsqueda if you or someone you know is adopted from El Salvador and would like more information or to participate in the project. Call 510.643.2709 or text FIND to 99000. Contact the Forensic Project at the Human Rights Center, Berkeley Law, 2850 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705 or 510.642.0965. 


International Investigations and Prosecutions

The Human Rights Center is establishing collaborations with the Investigations Division of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the International Criminal Court, including providing technical assistance in support of three goals:  

  • Improve OTP’s capacity to collect and analyze evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide
  • Establish an ongoing exchange of ideas, expertise, and strategies for the application of new and emerging forensic technologies to judicial investigations of international crimes
  • Produce a list of strategic and technological resources and recommendations for practical applications by investigators and prosecutors to improve their success in holding accountable those responsible for international crimes.  

A number of publications in the form of manuals, to be defined jointly between the HRC and OTP’s Investigations Division should result from these efforts.