Focus Areas | Killings/ Mass Atrocities

Forensic science is applied in nearly every area of our work and is crucial to document mass crimes.

Mass atrocities — including certain war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide — are among the most extreme human rights violations against the human body and mind occurring on a large scale, in armed conflict and other crises. Since the 1980s, PHR has mobilized forensic scientists and other experts worldwide to respond to inquiries by governments, organizations, families, and individuals. PHR investigated mass crimes for prosecutions in Croatia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the former Yugoslavia.

Forensic science is applied in nearly every area of our work and is particularly critical in documentation of mass crimes. PHR forensic experts exhumed and documented mass graves and provided expert testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Former director of the PHR International Forensic Program Dr. William Haglund testified in the trial of Radovan Karadzic, a main orchestrator of the campaign of murdering, raping, and forcibly displacing Bosnians. In 2016 Karadzic was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Physicians for Human Rights advocates that victims of human rights and/or humanitarian law violations have a right to comprehensive justice: the right to know the truth, to acknowledgment, and to have incidents and their experience recorded accurately in order to establish the historical record grounded in science and resistant to revisionism. We advocate for criminal accountability according to internationally recognized standards and for reparation for survivors.

PHR offers teaching, training, and capacity-building with and for partners. Topics include crime scene documentation and photography that have taken place in Afghanistan, Iraq, and with African partners. PHR is dedicated to sharing our expertise with professionals and building a network of human rights defenders, one person at a time.

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