One day in 1984, Fabiola Galindo’s 27-year-old son told her he was taking a short trip to a nearby town. The Colombian mother of three never imagined that the October day she got his message would mark the beginning of a journey that was to take her through detention centers, police headquarters, jails, human rights organizations, and international courts. Sometime during this "short trip" to a nearby town in 1984 Fabiola's son was detained and disappeared by the Colombian armed forces. Since learning of his disappearance, Fabiola has dedicated all her time, energy, and resources to finding her son, or at least his remains. In retribution for her tireless questioning, the army planted a package of cocaine in the closet of the single mother’s middle-class home in Medellín, landing her in jail. An Inter-American Human Rights Court resolution declared the Colombian state guilty of Fabiola's son’s detention and subsequent death, but not even this decree resulted in the return of her son’s remains. Twelve years later, in May 1996, Fabiola was able to finally recover the remains of her son, thanks to the pro bono work of forensic anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow. In recounting her story, Fabiola compares herself to a "sirirí" a small Colombian bird known for insistently harassing much bigger and stronger birds, even hawks. A frequent Colombian saying states: "sooner or later every hawk has to reckon with its sirirí."
Since his retirement from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1979, Clyde Snow has used his skills as a forensic anthropologist, working tirelessly to reveal the fates of thousands of victims of violent regimes that routinely operated in violation of basic human rights. In 1984, under the sponsorship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Dr. Snow traveled to Argentina to help the National Commission of Disappeared Persons. Dr. Snow found the corpses of thousands of the young women and men, who had been tortured and assassinated by the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, in mass graves awaiting identification, proper burial, and justice. Many of the graves Dr. Snow encountered had been excavated with bulldozers, destroying key evidence.
The forensic work of Clyde Snow counters the actions of violent regimes that attempted to reduce women, children, and men to nameless faceless victims. He rescues their personal histories and stories, their humanity. In his own words: "You're presented with a puzzle and you have to find answers through the evidence preserved in the skeleton--who they were, how they died, what injuries and diseases they suffered. We're basically trying to construct the life history of the person from the evidence in the skeleton" (Snow cited by Vaughn 2005).
As a result of his investigations, Dr. Snow was asked to testify as an expert witness in the trial of the Junta members who ruled Argentina during the period of military repression. Dr. Snow and his team also helped train local forensic anthropology teams in Chile, Guatemala, and Peru. He writes, "the hardest thing is to deal with the skeletal remains of children. For example in El Salvador several years ago I worked with an Argentine team investigating a massacre in the village of El Mozote. We found in that village that all of the children had been brought to a single building next to the church and kept there all day while their parents and grandparents were being interrogated and executed. At the end of the day a couple of soldiers just stepped in and mowed them all down with machine pistol fire and a rocket-propelled grenade. Many years later we found the skeletons of 136 children ranging in age from birth to 13 and 14 years old. That's difficult. But you have to always remember when you're working, you can't become too emotionally involved. It affects our objectivity – we have to conduct our investigation in such a way that it should be accepted not only by whichever side you are testifying for, but the other side too" (Snow, 2009).
In 1992 Clyde Snow served in Geneva as a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In 1998, Dr. Snow testified as an expert witness at the Tribunal in the trial of the Serb defendant charged with the extrajudicial execution of nearly 200 unarmed Croat hospital patients. Dr. Snow found the remains of these patients in a mass grave near Vukovar, Croatia in 1992. This discovery was significant because this mass grave was the first forensically documented incident of "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia, and Dr. Snow's 1998 testimony was the first testimony given by a forensic expert witness before a UN War Crimes Tribunal. Clyde Snow also testified as an expert witness in the 2006 trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants for their genocidal campaign against Iraqi Kurds.
We believe the time is right for the University of Oklahoma to honor Clyde Snow's exceptional work in the field of human rights and social justice. Dr. Snow's commitment to recovering humanity for thousands of victims of brutal regimes around the world, his generosity in training dozens of forensic anthropologists in human rights investigation, and his humane attitude toward victims, their families, and their communities make him an exceptional member of our University family. Without a doubt, Clyde Snow is the most distinguished forensic anthropologist in the world. He is currently recognized as one of the most renowned anthropologists in history, and one of the most prominent figures in the world of human rights. The U.S. academy is late in coming to recognize the work of Dr. Clyde Snow, and The University of Oklahoma now has the unique opportunity to be the first to create a Clyde Snow Award.
Written by: Professor Clemencia Rodríguez-University of Oklahoma