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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.

American Psychological Association Maintains Ban on Psychologists at Guantanámo (August 8, 2018)

The American Psychological Association (APA) today voted to keep a ban on military psychologists at Guantanámo Bay prison, maintaining its firm ethical standards at detention sites that violate international law. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called the vote a resounding victory for human rights.

Letter from former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez urging APA to maintain ban on military psychologists at Guantanamo (August 6, 2018)

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Juan E. Méndez has issued a letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) in advance of its August 2018 annual meeting, urging it to reject the proposed amendment to its policy on the role of military and operational psychologists in detention facilities.

PHR Signs Joint NGO Letter to APA Opposing Proposal to Weaken Anti-Torture Ethics Protections in National Security Detention for Psychologists (August 6, 2018)

We, the undersigned human rights and civil liberties organizations, are deeply concerned that the American Psychological Association (APA) is considering rolling back critical protections instituted to safeguard psychologists from complicity in torture and abuse and to facilitate ethical and independent mental health care for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.1 We urge the APA not to take that step.

Letter to APA Opposing Proposal to Weaken Anti-Torture Ethics Protections in National Security Detention for Psychologists (August 6, 2018)

We write to express our deep concern over proposed changes to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) policy on the role of psychologists in national security detention settings. This resolution, scheduled for a Council vote at the August 2018 meeting and closely monitored by the human rights community, would undermine APA’s hard-won position against torture and ill-treatment. We therefore urge you to reject NBI 35B and instead continue on the path of supporting ethical practice and human rights protections for national security detainees.

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The Facts About Gina Haspel and Why We Should Oppose Her Appointment as CIA Head (May 9, 2018)

On the morning of her confirmation hearing, virtually nothing is known about Gina Haspel, President Trump’s choice to lead the CIA. The agency has kept nearly every detail of her background a secret from the public and from Congress – an effort ultimately overseen by Haspel herself, as acting CIA director. But based on public sources, we know this: Haspel held leadership roles in the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program and, as such, holds the shameful distinction of having helped the United States physically and mentally break human beings.

We have evaluated torture survivors. Gina Haspel cannot head the CIA. (May 7, 2018)

For years, much has been reported on the abhorrent practice of waterboarding during the United States’ “War on Terror” – but, until recently, less has been said about other forms of torture that were perpetrated by Americans on CIA detainees. With the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director, the spotlight has now been shone on a notorious CIA “black site” prison, the name and location of which are widely known in open sources but which officially remain classified.

10 Reasons Health Professionals Should Oppose Gina Haspel as CIA Director (April 27, 2018)

On May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing to consider Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA. A fair hearing is impossible, given the agency’s campaign to ensure Haspel’s promotion and conceal her involvement in its post-9/11 torture program.

A torturer as CIA boss? Never (March 14, 2018)

President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to serve as CIA director sends a destructive message to the world at the worst possible time. Haspel supervised the use of torture, then took part in destroying evidence of that crime.

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Beyond Imagination: Seven Years of Conflict in Syria (March 2018)

The seventh anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict brings no sign of the fighting abating. In its latest issue brief, Physicians for Human Rights shows how a pattern of targeted attacks on health care in the war-torn country are generating a lethal context.

Urgent Need for Independent International Inquiry on Yemen (August 2017)

PHR urges permanent representatives of member and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to support the creation of an independent international investigation into violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Yemen since the start of the current conflict.

Joint Letter to Mattis, Pompeo and McCabe. Re: US Cooperation with Abusive Allied Forces in Yemen (August 2017)

We, the undersigned human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations, write to urge you to make public to the fullest extent possible without disclosing sources and methods, any reviews conducted by your agencies into allegations that US-allied forces of the United Arab Emirates and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have been responsible for serious abuses in Yemen.

PHR Warns Against Excessive Use of Force at Standing Rock (February 2017)

In a letter to Douglas J. Burgum, governor of North Dakota, and acting Attorney General Dana Boente, PHR voices concerns over reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement toward protestors in the context of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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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 »