Since 1986, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has used medicine and science to document and call attention to mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. PHR was founded on the idea that physicians, scientists, and other health professionals possess unique skills that lend significant credibility to the investigation and documentation of human rights abuses. PHR’s specialized expertise is used to advocate for persecuted health workers, prevent torture, document mass atrocities, and hold those who violate human rights accountable. PHR’s work focuses on the physical and psychological effects of torture and sexual violence, the forensic documentation of attacks on civilians, the unnecessary and excessive use of force during civil unrest, and the protection of medical institutions and health professionals working on the frontline of human rights crises.
PHR teams exposed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Iraq and carried out historic exhumations of mass graves in Bosnia and Rwanda for international tribunals. During the past decade, these teams have also provided evidence for criminal investigations into torture and extrajudicial executions in numerous countries – including Colombia, Honduras, Libya, Mexico, Peru, and Sierra Leone – to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations and mass atrocities. PHR has also been at the forefront in developing standards for documentation, including playing the lead role in creating the Istanbul Protocol – the recognized international standard for documenting torture and ill-treatment. PHR’s forensic and research expertise is sought by governments, United Nations agencies, international and national courts, and other human rights organizations. In 1997, PHR shared the Nobel Peace Prize for medically documenting landmine injuries and serving as a leader in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
PHR strives to empower and support local communities in documenting and preventing human rights violations. We have developed partnerships with local health and human rights groups across the globe, forging strong alliances and sharing common frameworks and strategies. In response to the Syrian conflict, PHR worked with the Syrian American Medical Society to supply Syrian health care providers and human rights activists with important medical information on identifying, treating, and documenting exposure to chemical weapons. In Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, PHR partners with local organizations in the health, legal, and law enforcement sectors to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones. In Afghanistan, PHR experts helped to found a local group of forensic investigators, training and empowering them to produce comprehensive documentation of mass graves in several provinces in the country.
PHR’s Distinct Role
PHR has come to occupy an important position in the human rights movement. We focus on the critical role of forensic science, clinical medicine, and public health research in ensuring that human rights abuses are properly documented using the most rigorous scientific methodologies possible. Our experts use epidemiology, medical and psychological evaluations, autopsies, forensic anthropology, and crime scene analysis to document serious abuses, including murder, torture, rape, starvation, forced displacement, and civilian attacks. PHR’s human rights training and mentoring emphasize medicine and science as the foundation of every aspect of evidence collection, documentation, and implementation of international norms and standards. We provide credible evidence, data, and research to corroborate allegations of human rights violations not only to prevent future abuses, but also to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators by courts, tribunals, and truth commissions.