Focus Areas | The Istanbul Protocol

The global standard for torture documentation

One of the most effective tools for ending impunity related to torture is the “Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol, this UN document outlines international legal standards and sets out specific guidelines on how to conduct effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

PHR’s Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD was a lead author and project coordinator of the Istanbul Protocol, which was developed over the course of three years by more than 75 forensic physicians, psychologists, human rights monitors, and lawyers representing 40 organizations and institutions from 15 countries. In 1999, this ground-breaking resource was adopted as the United Nations’ recognized standard.

Forensic medical evaluations conducted in accordance with Istanbul Protocol standards constitute critically important evidence in torture cases. Trained clinicians examine all signs and sequelae of physical and psychological abuse and produce a medical-legal affidavit documenting their conclusions. These affidavits serve as key evidence to prosecute perpetrators of torture, to help victims obtain redress in civil courts, and to substantiate claims of asylum in new countries.

Since 1999, PHR has trained thousands of health professionals around the world using the Istanbul Protocol guidelines and principles. In 2012, working with three partner organizations, we developed an Istanbul Protocol Plan of Action, a set of practical guidelines which have been instrumental in helping a number of countries improve torture investigation and documentation.