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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.

PHR Denounces ICC Decision to Vacate Charges Against Kenya’s Deputy President (April 5, 2016)

PHR denounced the decision by the International Criminal Court to declare a mistrial in the case against Kenyan Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and journalist Joshua Arap Sang.

PHR Welcomes Guilty Verdict Against Radovan Karadzic, Key Figure in Bosnia’s Genocide (March 24, 2016)

PHR hailed today’s landmark guilty verdict against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. After almost six years of proceedings, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found the former political leader responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

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.

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Who's Afraid of the ICC? (December 8, 2016)

The rising critique of the ICC is not about bias; it’s about fear. Fear that the court is actually doing its job. Fear that heads of states may actually be held to account for violating human rights, disappearing civilians who protest against them, and occupying neighboring states.

Standing Up for Women and Girls in Afghanistan: PHR and Allies Challenge "Virginity Testing" (September 28, 2016)

Afghan physician Dr. Tamana Asey finds hymen examinations to be "total abuse." She is at the forefront of change on this issue.

Assad, Beware the Long Arm of Justice (April 13, 2016)

As a shaky ceasefire in Syria appears on the verge of collapse, peace talks are set to resume in Geneva this week. It’s a harrowing time for Syrians, made all the worse by the Syrian government continuing to willfully cut off deliveries of food and medicine to civilians.

What Does 2016 Hold for Ukraine? (February 16, 2016)

Nearly two years ago, Ukraine’s winter of revolution was melting into an unsteady spring. As the Ukraine crisis moved into 2015, the Early Warning Project put the formerly stable country in the top 20 on its at-risk countries list.

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Statement on Anal Examinations in Cases of Alleged Homosexuality (May 2016)

The Independent Forensic Expert Group, of which PHR’s Medical Director, Dr. Vincent Iacopino, is a member, released this statement on anal examinations in cases of alleged homosexuality.

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.

Virginity and Hymen Testing: No Factual, Scientific, or Medical Basis (May 2015)

This forensic brief examines the validity of the use of hymen examinations to determine a women’s “virginity.”

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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 »