[Editor’s note: This document was released both as a State Department cable as part of its 1981 FOIA release, and as Serial 46 of the FBI’s RYMUR release. The text was released at https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1978STATE294528_d.html.]
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[listing of agencies receiving informational copy on PDF]
R 210052Z NOV 78
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN NIACT IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS STATE 294528
E.O. 11652: N/A
TAGS: CASC, GY
SUBJECT: DISPOSAL OF REMAINS AT THE JONESTOWN SITE
1. The Department’s consideration of the problem of ultimate disposition of the remains of American citizens at the Jonestown site has taken into account the following, among other, circumstances:
A) More than 48 hours have elapsed since the deaths occurred;
B) Resources necessary to identify and then transport these remains from Jonestown to Georgetown will not be
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available for at least 12 more hours and will not be operational at the Jonestown site until approximately 96 hours from the time of these deaths;
C) High temperatures and rainfall conditions at Jonestown since the time of deaths have already caused serious problems of decomposition;
D) There is no adequate refrigeration or retardant storage capacity either in Jonestown or Georgetown to accommodate the remains of more than 400 deceased persons; and,
E) The identification process is becoming increasingly difficult by the hour, and may not be completed for an extended period of time, in some instances perhaps not all.
2. The Department has reluctantly concluded that the only feasible solution is to provide adequate and dignified interment remains at the Jonestown site by prompt burial of identified remains, preferably at an established gravesite if one exists, and eventually interment of all deceased at Jonestown in such a grave site.
3. The Embassy should therefore advise the GOG that the USG requests, in compliance with local law, that for humane, sanitary, and practical reasons interment of the deceased at Jonestown should begin at once.
4. The Department requests that every effort be made to provide individual markers and relocatable grave
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sites. If identification cannot be established, burial should be delayed until every effort at forensic identification has been made. The Department also requests that Guyanese death certificates be issued in each possible case. It is argued that such certificates should not attempt to establish the causes of death except in cases where a thorough, conclusive autopsy or criminal investigation identifies the exact causes of death, including distinctions between homicide and suicide. The Embassy should suggest to the GOG that causes of death that cannot be determined should be certified as “unknown.”
5. Please advise immediately whether Embassy perceives difficulties in the foregoing procedures, or has additional considerations that should be brought to the Department’s attention.
Vance [Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State]