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Death Investigations

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

Current Investigations:

PHR Calls on Honduran Government to Address Impunity for Ill-Treatment and Torture (February 12, 2014)

PHR issued a report today, finding that the Honduran authorities failed to ensure justice in cases involving torture and/or ill-treatment following the 2009 coup d’état, and called on the Honduran government to ensure that these cases are prosecuted and the judicial system is restored.

PHR Welcomes Confirmation of Charles Taylor’s Sentence (September 26, 2013)

PHR today welcomed the confirmation of a 50-year sentence for former Liberia President Charles Taylor for his role in encouraging rebels in Sierra Leone to commit war crimes and planning some of the attacks during the country’s civil war.

White House Closes Inquiry Into Afghan Massacre – and Will Release No Details (ProPublica, July 31, 2013)

Soon after taking office, President Obama pledged to open a new inquiry into the deaths of perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan fighters in late 2001. Last month, the White House told ProPublica it was still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Now it says it has concluded its investigation – but won’t make it public.

PHR Responds to White House Comment on Reported Afghan Massacre (July 31, 2013)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today responded to a White House official’s remarks indicating the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 incident at Dasht-e-Leili that may have claimed as many as 2,000 lives.

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The Rwandan Genocide: An Indelible Stain (April 7, 2014)

PHR's director of international policy and partnerships/senior advisor, Susannah Sirkin, discusses the Rwandan genocide 20 years later, highlighting that "never again" has not been adhered to. Conflicts in Syria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic continue, and the world is incapable of an effective response.

PHR Joins Coalition to Arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (March 6, 2013)

Four years ago today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including killings, rape, and torture. On July 12, 2010, Bashir was also charged with three counts of genocide.

Colombia: Fair Bernal Porras Case Update (June 19, 2012)

Earlier this month, PHR reported on the issue of “false positives”; civilians who were kidnapped and executed by Colombian military forces with the intent of identifying them as either members of the FARC guerrilla movement or other illegal armed groups. Specifically, we focused on the case of Mr. Fair Bernal Leonardo Porras, a 26-year old builder who was forcibly disappeared from a rural town in northern Colombia. Since that time, the judicial process has continued to move forward.

In Colombia, Evidence Proves Extrajudicial Executions by Military (June 1, 2012)

In 2008, the Colombian government acknowledged the extrajudicial executions of 11 young men from a working class municipality near Bogota. These victims are among those known as “false positives”; civilians who were kidnapped by Colombian military forces with the intent of identifying them as either members of the FARC guerrilla movement or other illegal armed groups. This practice allows the military to inflate the number of enemies they’ve killed.

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Impunity in Honduras (February 2014)

PHR sent a team of forensic experts to Honduras to investigate cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment by the country’s security forces that had occurred in the aftermath of the 2009 coup d’état.

Securing Afghanistan's Past: Human Remains Identification Needs and Gap Analysis (April 2013)

PHR's report outlines steps that Afghanistan can take if it is to make progress in addressing the right to truth of victims of more than three decades of violent conflict by identifying missing and disappeared persons.

Libyan Human Identification Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis (March 2013)

The identification and repatriation of individuals killed and “disappeared” during the recent conflict in Libya and the previous regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi constitute one of the most urgent challenges facing the interim government of Libya.

Forensic Review of Sergei Magnitsky documents (July 2011)

After reporting an alleged $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by a group of Russian government officials and senior police officers, Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer stationed in Russia for the UK‐based investment firm Hermitage Fund, was arrested and jailed on November 24, 2008. Magnitsky died following 358 days in prison under progressively worsening conditions. PHR's International Forensic Program reviewed documents relating to Magnitsky's death in order to identify key irregularities, inconsistencies or gaps in the medical investigations carried out by the Russian authorities into the cause and manner of his death.

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Featured Investigation

Sergei Magnitsky, Russia

During his time in Russian police custody, Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year old Russian anti-corruption lawyer, suffered calculated and deliberate neglect and inhumane treatment which ultimately lead to his death. 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 »