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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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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.

Tech & Human Rights Blog Series (May 26, 2015)

PHR's Tech & Human Rights Blog Series is meant to highlight the intersection between technology and human rights, and to examine the increasing role that technology can play in advancing human rights around the world.

Tech & Human Rights Blog Series: From the Exam Room to the Courtroom and the Bumpy Road in Between (May 26, 2015)

The idea was intriguing: create a mobile application that would allow clinicians to document physical findings during medical examinations of sexual violence victims.

Tech & Human Rights Blog Series: After Ushahidi – Using New Technologies to Prevent Mass Atrocities (May 19, 2015)

Kenya’s post-election violence was particularly remarkable given that it was witnessed and documented to an unprecedented degree by the country’s residents.

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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.

Fact Sheet: Rectal Hydration and Rectal Feeding (December 2014)

In light of the release of the executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on CIA enhanced interrogation techniques - which stated that rectal hydration or feeding was inflicted on at least five detainees - PHR compiled this fact sheet on rectal hydration and rectal feeding.

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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 »