Conference Highlights Importance of Forensic Evidence to Asylum Seekers

Approximately 200 people from around the world gathered in Washington, DC on February 15-16 to participate in the “Forensic Evidence in the Fight Against Torture” conference. Participants, including PHR staff, shared experiences, challenges, emerging developments, and best practices from around the world.

While it’s impossible to capture the all the lessons learned in one blog post, there were a few noticeable trends across presentations that bear repeating.

First, there is a critical shortage of health professionals trained to do forensic evaluations. Forensic evaluations, both physical and psychological, provide compelling evidence—often the only evidence—in cases where human rights have been violated. They are submitted to court for a variety of reasons—to prosecute perpetrators, to secure redress for victims, and to obtain asylum—all of which contribute to healing the victim and ending the atmosphere of impunity that has allowed so many torturers to escape punishment for their heinous crimes.

The number of cases requiring evaluations to document and investigate human rights violations far exceeds the number of available clinicians in most countries, and the gap continues to widen around the world.

While the demand for Istanbul Protocol (IP) training continues to grow, the funds available to conduct these critically important trainings are in short supply.

The Istanbul Protocol, formally known as “the United Nations Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” outlines international, legal standards on protection against torture and sets out specific guidelines on how to conduct effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture. But many states and foundations fail to understand and recognize the value that forensic training and documentation play in addressing impunity and accountability of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, so they are reluctant to fund its implementation.

One of the greatest concerns highlighted at the conference was that, because forensic evaluations have become an increasingly regular part of submissions to courts and commissions of inquiry, adjudicators are beginning to question the integrity of cases that lack a forensic evaluation.

While it is gratifying to learn of the growing acceptance and recognition of the importance of forensic evidence, it is troubling to hear that courts may dismiss cases without it. Often victims are unable to obtain an evaluation simply because they cannot find or afford to have a qualified clinician document their case. This should never be grounds for dismissal of a case.

PHR continues to provide IP training around the world, and a group of clinicians are headed to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan today to train new professionals.

Additionally, we will conduct an IP training on March 31 in Boston for clinicians interested in working with asylum seekers and others who are seeking safe refuge in this country. You can register for this training here on the PHR website.

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