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Justice and Forensic Science

Physicians for Human Rights advocates that victims of violations of human rights and/or humanitarian law have a right to justice, the right to know the truth, and to have history recorded accurately in order to establish a historic record grounded in science and resistant to revisionism. Forensic science touches on nearly every area of our work, from our International Forensic Program (IFP), to our Asylum Program, to our work in gender violence and rape as a weapon of war.

The IFP is dedicated to providing independent forensic expertise to document and collect evidence of human rights violations and of violations of international humanitarian law. Since the 1980s, PHR has mobilized forensic scientists and other experts worldwide to respond to inquiries by governments, organizations, families, and individuals. Our experts come from all forensic science disciplines, ranging from forensic pathology to forensic anthropology, and include experts from analytical sciences in forensic laboratories, such as firearm examiners.

Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

PHR has been documenting human rights abuses in Afghanistan since 1997. As part of the grassroots push for transitional justice, we have partnered with Afghan civil society organizations and national stakeholders in a multi-year program to develop forensic capabilities to help Afghanistan address human rights violations and abuses as the country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing.

Death Investigations

The International Forensic Program uses forensic science to investigate both mass graves and, sometimes, individual deaths.

Environmental Assessments

The IFP participates in environmental assessments using forensic science to discover the effects of toxins on local populations.

Torture Investigations

PHR uses forensic science to investigate, document, and advocate against torture of US-held detainees, and through its Asylum Program, to conduct medical and psychological forensic evaluations of survivors of torture and abuse who seek asylum in the US.

Forensic Training

The International Forensic Program offers courses and online training in forensic science, human identification, DNA analysis, and international forensic investigations. Our online course is open to the public.

France Opens Investigation into Torture in Syria (October 1, 2015)

PHR today welcomed an announcement that France has opened the world’s first criminal inquiry into torture in Syria.

U.S. Justice Department Must Investigate American Psychological Association’s Role in U.S. Torture Program (July 10, 2015)

PHR called for a federal criminal probe into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in the U.S. torture program following the release of a damning new report that confirms the APA colluded with the Bush administration to enable psychologists to design, implement, and defend a program of torture.

Physicians for Human Rights Releases Expert Analysis of CIA Torture Report, Calls for Federal Commission to Hold Health Professionals Accountable (December 16, 2014)

Health professionals played an essential role at every stage of the CIA’s torture program, committing at least eight violations of ethics and law, PHR said today in an analysis of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report summary on CIA torture.

U.S. Senate Report Confirms Health Professionals’ Complicity in CIA Torture (December 9, 2014)

In the wake of the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for accountability for all those who designed, authorized, implemented, and enabled the systematic torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

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Who Will Identify Ukraine’s Dead? (February 3, 2016)

Since 2014, 9,098 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine. To date, 1,164 bodies, all of them soldiers, have been recovered from these battlefields. Every week, more bodies—and parts of bodies—are delivered to the morgues in Dnepropetrovsk for identification and burial.

The Dark Side of Forensics in Tunisia (December 18, 2015)

This week, Tunisia celebrates the fifth anniversary of the uprising that led to the Arab Spring. It is, however, concerning to observe that, five years after the start of the revolution, human rights violations are still taking place, and abusive laws dating back to the dictatorship are still in effect.

A Grave on the Road to Justice in Rwanda (December 11, 2015)

As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) wraps up its dockets in Arusha, Tanzania on December 14 and hands over cases to other processes, we reflect on landmark “firsts” accomplished by the tribunal: the first international prosecution for the crime of genocide, and the first conviction for rape and sexual violence as forms of genocide.

Tech & Human Rights Blog Series: Bringing Low-Resourced Areas Out of Darkness (June 9, 2015)

Power cuts are a daily reality of working in low-resourced, conflict-affected countries like the DRC, and are only one of many such hurdles. These challenges are not insurmountable.

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Enhancing a Regional Response to Crimes of Sexual Violence (December 2015)

PHR convened a three-day regional roundtable discussion between February 25 and 27, 2015 at the Lukenya Getaway in Athi River, Kenya. This report summarizes major points of discussion from this workshop.

Preliminary Statement on the Hoffman Report (August 2015)

PHR’s statement outlines key findings of the Hoffman report and provides recommendations for accountability, policy reform, and justice.

The Crisis in Syria Turns Four (March 2015)

Ahead of the four-year anniversary of the crisis in Syria, Physicians for Human Rights and partner organizations call on permanent members of the UN Security Council to refrain from using their veto power when confronted with a crisis in which civilians are at impending risk of atrocity crimes.

Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role in the CIA Torture Program (December 2014)

This analysis by PHR of the SSCI report’s executive summary builds on years of investigation and research documenting the systematic use of torture by the United States.

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Featured Investigation

Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

Transitional justice refers to the process of addressing human rights violations and abuses as a country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing. Read More »

Featured Expert

Stefan Schmitt

Stefan Schmitt, MS

Stefan Schmitt directs PHR’s International Forensic Program. Most recently, Schmitt documented a massacre by Qaddafi forces in Tripoli for Libyan authorities and the International Criminal Court. Subsequently, the authorities asked him to assemble a team of forensic and legal experts to conduct a human identification needs assessment and gap analysis to advise on identifying the dead from Libya’s revolution. Read More »