For Immediate Release
(Cambridge, MA) – When Stefan Schmitt of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) first inspected a suspected mass grave at Dasht-e-Leili in Afghanistan, he realized he would need a team of experts to help interpret the scene. He knew that documenting the site properly was a key first step in securing evidence of a human rights violation.
"Securing a crime scene and collecting basic evidence, such as taking photos or making sketches, is vital. The biggest loss of evidence takes place when first responders disturb the area and information is documented in a shoddy way," says Schmitt, PHR's Forensic Director.
For over fifteen years, Schmitt has been providing forensic expertise to human rights investigations including work in Guatemala, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia and Afghanistan. As the director of the International Forensic Program at PHR, he leads an annual training program in Crime Scene and Evidence Documentation in Tallahassee, Florida. This year's course will be offered from April 20-24, 2010.
The course is designed for human rights field investigators, NGO workers, UN officers, ICC investigators, doctors, nurses, journalists, attorneys or anyone who might be a first responder to a human rights violation and is in a position to document evidence.
Over five days, students attend lectures and engage in practical training, including the documentation of mock crime scenes. They learn the essentials of digital forensic photography, basic sketching techniques and note taking. There is also a section on the photo documentation of evidence of alleged torture and abuse. Those who successfully complete the program will be qualified to document evidence of human rights violations in a manner which will be admissible in court.
"There are many small things that make up an effective investigation and I think it's very easy for the layman to miss out on some of the steps. This course fills in all of those small pieces, which together, makes an effective investigation." — James Welsh, Amnesty International, UK.
Physicians for Human Rights is a pioneer in the use of forensic science to investigate human rights violations and is uniquely positioned to help improve the quality of evidence documented at a crime scene. Since the 1980's PHR has mobilized forensic scientists and other experts worldwide to respond to inquiries by governments, organizations, families and individuals.
"The course helped me understand how and why we lost cases due to weak evidence collection and reporting." — Jusu Yarmah, ICTY Investigator, Sierra Leone.
"It was an excellent training exercise and a great opportunity to exchange information with colleagues from around the world." — John Somogyi, Archeologist, Canada.
And what happens to the evidence once it's collected from a crime scene and taken to a laboratory to be studied? Stefan Schmitt and the PHR Forensic team will hold a two-week course which provides an overview of how medical examiners work and how forensic laboratories operate. Students develop a working knowledge of forensic services and reporting, and gain an understanding of the quality control measures in producing court-usable evidence.
More information on the training programs and application forms are available online:
PHR's International Forensic Program (IFP) has conducted forensic assessments and investigations of human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, and genocide in many countries. 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.
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.