Clyde Snow Social Justice Award

Image provided by Paula Allen. Image provided by Paula Allen.  

In September, five representatives of the Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados y Detenidos Desaparecidos de Calama (AFEDDEP, the Association of Relatives of Executed and Missing Political Prisoners of Calama, Chile) came to Oklahoma to receive the 2014 Clyde Snow Social Justice Award. The President and one of the founding members of the AFEDDEP, Violeta Berríos, was accompanied by Lorena Hoyos, Ana Yueng, Teresa Berríos Contreras, and María Irmina Araya Tapia, a group composed of wives, sisters and daughters of the working men who were disappeared in the early days following the 1973 military coup in Chile. They were joined by photojournalist Paula Allen, who nominated the group for the award and who has documented their decades-long efforts to recover the remains of their loved ones and learn the truth about what happened to them. The title of Allen’s book about the women’s struggle and the pressure they put on the Chilean government to account for their missing relatives, Flowers in the Desert, refers to one of the ways the women mourned their losses and honored their dead: without knowledge of the location of the clandestine burials or graves to visit they scattered flowers in the desolate Atacama Desert.

The women’s four-day visit to OU was preceded by a screening of the film “Nostalgia for the Light,” by Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán, which includes the story of the women of Calama. During their visit, the women from Calama had numerous opportunities to speak to and meet with students, including a classroom visit and a moving presentation to an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students from across campus. Additionally, Paula Allen gave a public lecture about the women illustrated with her photographs, followed by a panel discussion with the representatives from the Agrupación. Allen also gave an interview for the World Views radio program, which aired in December on KGOU. Members of the OU community who attended these events were profoundly affected by the women’s story of strength and persistence in the face of profound loss and great personal danger. The Chilean women in turn were inspired by the positive responses they received from the students; upon returning to Chile, the women planned to reach out to students in their own country to work with them to continue their search for justice. While the goal of the Award is to recognize those who work to rehumanize victims of human rights abuses, an unintended consequence and positive outcome of the Award and the response from students on our campus was to further energize these women to continue to pursue their efforts.

The highlight of their visit was the award banquet and ceremony. Over one hundred invited guests, including members of the Whistler-Snow family and donors to the Clyde Snow Social Justice Award, attended the banquet. Among the speakers, Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal presented Dr. Snow’s widow, Jerry Whistler Snow, with an official document proclaiming the following day, September 27, 2014, Dr. Clyde Snow Social Justice Day in the City of Norman. This was the second Clyde Snow Social Justice Award; the first one was given to Dr. Snow himself. Sadly, it was also the first award given out after his passing. Dr. Snow had been an active participant in the evaluation of the nominees for the award in his name, and his presence was strongly felt at the Award ceremony. The following day, Dr. Snow’s family, friends, former students, and the recipients of the award in his honor gathered for a Celebration of Life, one of several gatherings that have been held in his honor from New York to Buenos Aires in the year following his death in May 2014. The biannual Clyde Snow Social Justice Award will continue for years to come as a tribute to Dr. Snow’s human rights work by recognizing the efforts of those who strive to restore the humanity and dignity of communities that have suffered human rights violations.

Interview with Paula Allen on KGOU World Views

Photojournalist Paula Allen was interviewed by Dr. Suzette Grillot, Dean of the OU College of International Studies, during her visit for the Presentation of the 2014 Clyde Snow Social Justice Award. The interview about her work with the women of Calama aired on the KGOU radio program World Views on December 25, 2014. You can listen to it here.

Who was Clyde Snow?

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."

After his retirement from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1979, Clyde Snow 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 countered the actions of violent regimes that attempted to reduce women, children, and men to nameless faceless victims. He rescued 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 wrote, "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.     

On May 18th, 2012 The University of Oklahoma Women's and Gender Studies Center for Social Justice honored Dr. Snow with the inaugural Clyde Snow Social Justice Award. 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.

So, it is with heavy hearts we mourn the May 16, 2014 passing of Dr. Clyde Snow. Dr. Snow impacted international courts, academia, the field of forensic anthropology, human rights organizations and activists, and families, friends, and communities of victims through his work in applying forensic science to investigations of human rights violations world wide. Hi legacy lives on in the teams he trained, the work they continue, and the justice he restored to families world wide.

It is in his honor that this bi-annual award goes to a person or groups whose work contributes to the re-humanization of victims of human rights abuses in keeping with Dr. Snow’s work. In March of 2016, the Center for Social Justice will award the third Clyde C. Snow Social Justice Award and honor the memory, work, and mission of the exceptional Dr. Clyde Snow.

Clyde Snow Social Justice Award May 18, 2012

Media Remembrances of Dr. Snow