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PHR Celebrates UK Ruling That Sets Precedent on Use of Medical Evidence in Asylum Cases

UK Supreme Court ruling acknowledges role of “Istanbul Protocol,” global torture investigation standard spearheaded by PHR

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is celebrating an important step toward justice in the United Kingdom that has global implications for the use of medical evidence in asylum claims. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom today issued a decision that affirms the application of the Istanbul Protocol in cases of alleged torture.

The 1999 protocol, known formally as the “Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” guides clinical experts on how to investigate and document physical and psychological evidence of torture.

The UK court’s decision relies on expert medical evidence and references the Istanbul Protocol in determining that an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka did in fact suffer torture, which was the basis for his claim to obtain refuge in the UK. The decision overturned a previous decision from a lower court, which rejected medical evidence demonstrating that the 36-year-oldTamil man had experienced torture at the hands of Sri Lankan authorities.

In its support for the application of the Istanbul Protocol, the court decision reads, “In their difficult task of analyzing whether scars are the result of torture, decision-makers can legitimately receive assistance from medical experts who feel able to offer an opinion about the consistency of their findings with the asylum-seeker’s account about the circumstances in which the scarring was sustained, not limited to the mechanism by which it was sustained.”

Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical advisor for Physicians for Human Rights, who spearheaded the international effort to develop theIstanbul Protocol and served as an expert witness in the UK case, shared the following response to the decision: “The UK court’s decision sets a precedent for the path forward on the treatment of medical evidence in asylum seekers’ claims. Clinical experts have long known the critical role that medical and psychological evaluations can have in proving the case for those fleeing persecution in their home countries. Now, we can expect British and other courts to also apply Istanbul Protocol standards  in the adjudication of alleged torture, which can mean the difference between life and death for those seeking safe haven.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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