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Justice and Forensic Science

Physicians for Human Rights advocates that victims of violations of human rights and/or humanitarian law have a right to justice, the right to know the truth, and to have history recorded accurately in order to establish a historic record grounded in science and resistant to revisionism. Forensic science touches on nearly every area of our work, from our International Forensic Program (IFP), to our Asylum Program, to our work in gender violence and rape as a weapon of war.

The 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. Our experts come from all forensic science disciplines, ranging from forensic pathology to forensic anthropology, and include experts from analytical sciences in forensic laboratories, such as firearm examiners.

Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

PHR has been documenting human rights abuses in Afghanistan since 1997. As part of the grassroots push for transitional justice, we have partnered with Afghan civil society organizations and national stakeholders in a multi-year program to develop forensic capabilities to help Afghanistan address human rights violations and abuses as the country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing.

Death Investigations

The International Forensic Program uses forensic science to investigate both mass graves and, sometimes, individual deaths.

Environmental Assessments

The IFP participates in environmental assessments using forensic science to discover the effects of toxins on local populations.

Torture Investigations

PHR uses forensic science to investigate, document, and advocate against torture of US-held detainees, and through its Asylum Program, to conduct medical and psychological forensic evaluations of survivors of torture and abuse who seek asylum in the US.

Forensic Training

The International Forensic Program offers courses and online training in forensic science, human identification, DNA analysis, and international forensic investigations. Our online course is open to the public.

Kenyatta’s Appearance at the Hague a Welcome Step for Accountability (October 8, 2014)

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta appeared today at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he faces charges of crimes against humanity for his role in violence that followed the 2007 election.

As U.S.-Afghanistan Sign Troop Deal, CIA-Backed Warlord Behind Massacre of 2,000 POWs Sworn-In as VP (Democracy Now, September 30, 2014)

Afghanistan has inaugurated its first new president in a decade, swearing in Ashraf Ghani to head a power-sharing government. Joining him on stage Monday was Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s new vice president. Dostum is one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords, once described by Ghani himself as a "known killer." Dostum’s rise to the vice presidency comes despite his involvement in a 2001 massacre that killed up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war.

Senate Report Confirms Ethical Breaches of Health Professionals in CIA Torture Program (April 11, 2014)

The leaked summary of the findings from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report confirm previous reporting by PHR: The CIA enlisted health professionals to use their skills to destroy the minds of prisoners, breaking with longstanding ethical and legal obligations of health professionals.

Medical Professionals Welcome Senate Decision to Share the Truth on CIA Torture (April 3, 2014)

PHR welcomed today’s bipartisan decision by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) to declassify the executive summary and 20 findings and conclusions in the committee’s report on CIA detention and interrogation practices.

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Moving Forward to End Sexual Violence (November 25, 2014)

PHR has helped local activists create numerous self-governing medical-legal networks across Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help facilitate collaboration and cooperation among medical professionals, legal and judicial experts, the media, local communities, and NGOs.

Misguided Criticisms of the International Criminal Court (October 15, 2014)

The ICC has received a variety of criticism. The African Union, for example, has accused the court of anti-African bias. One of the most vocal critics is Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who charged the ICC with “shallowness” for pursuing the Kenya cases.

Iraq Must Seek Justice (October 10, 2014)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on Iraq to ratify the Rome Statute, or to allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to exert jurisdiction over the situation in Iraq, following the release of a UN report that detailed horrific crimes within its territory.

The Key to Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones (September 29, 2014)

Sexual violence is a grave problem the world over, but it is particularly prevalent in conflict zones like the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where I live and practice medicine. I frequently treat survivors of sexual violence, and many of my patients have been victims of this terrible crime on more than one occasion.

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Summary of Roundtable Discussion (June 2014)

PHR convened a Roundtable on Reparations for Survivors of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Washington, D.C. at Georgetown University on February 24, 2014. This report summarizes major points of discussion from this workshop.

PHR Joins Letter Urging White House to Lead in Declassifying Torture Report (April 2014)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) joins seven other organizations in calling on President Obama and the White House staff to lead the declassification process of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The letter emphasizes that the United States must reckon with the past in order to prevent torture in the future. Releasing the committee’s report is a foundational step in that process.

Impunity in Honduras (February 2014)

PHR sent a team of forensic experts to Honduras to investigate cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment by the country’s security forces that had occurred in the aftermath of the 2009 coup d’état.

President Obama Urged to Coordinate Executive Branch Response to Senate Committee's Study on CIA Interrogation Program (May 2013)

PHR has joined seven other NGOs, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, The Center for Victims of Torture, and others, to urge President Obama to make sure the Executive Branch response to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study is not driven by individuals who might be implicated in the CIA’s use of torture.

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Featured Investigation

Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

Transitional justice refers to the process of addressing human rights violations and abuses as a country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing. Read More »

Featured Expert

Stefan Schmitt

Stefan Schmitt, MS

Stefan Schmitt directs PHR’s International Forensic Program. Most recently, Schmitt documented a massacre by Qaddafi forces in Tripoli for Libyan authorities and the International Criminal Court. Subsequently, the authorities asked him to assemble a team of forensic and legal experts to conduct a human identification needs assessment and gap analysis to advise on identifying the dead from Libya’s revolution. Read More »