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Forensic Evidence Against Torture 2009-2012

On 1 April 2009 the IRCT launched a new three-year project entitled “Use of forensic evidence in the fight against torture”. The project is primarily funded by the EC and implemented in partnership with the Forensic Department at the Medical Faculty, Copenhagen University as well as IRCT member centres in Ecuador, Georgia, Lebanon and the Philippines. The objective is to fight impunity by focusing on medical examination and forensic evidence that can be used in the prosecution of alleged torture cases in national and regional courts and human rights institutions.


Impunity is still one of the most serious impediments to the prevention of torture. Perpetrators are seldom brought to court; and torture survivors rarely receive any kind of redress In a climate of impunity, perpetrators of torture can continue their crimes without risking arrest, prosecution or punishment. Besides adding to the suffering of the victims, such a situation leads to a general lack of trust in justice and the rule of law. Consequently, few complaints are brought forward and few actual prosecutions are made.


Promoting the value and use of medical documentation

Torture often takes place in secrecy, and many torture methods are designed to be as painful as possible without leaving physical marks. A key purpose of documentation, in a word, is to make it impossible for perpetrators to deny their crimes. Also, documentation puts pressure on states to fulfill their obligations under international law to fully, promptly, impartially and thoroughly investigate allegations of torture and provide reparation to victims. For this reason, the IRCT has for years, through training, advocacy and awareness-raising, worked to promote the value and use of medical documentation of torture according to the international standards contained in the Istanbul Protocol.


The specific objectives of the project are:

  • To increase the availability of high quality forensic documentation concerning allegations of torture
  • To use and facilitate victims’ access to forensic documentation as evidence in legal proceedings
  • To increase awareness of the significance of medical forensic evidence, victims’ rights and state obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture to investigate and prosecute perpetrators

The IRCT Secretariat, with the Forensic Department of the University of Copenhagen, have set up an international focal point for forensic expertise. More than thirty eminent forensic experts from sixteen countries have joined the group who will provide support in examining torture victims in at least ten representative cases at the international, regional or national level to establish best practice examples.


Rehabilitation centres in four countries (Ecuador, Georgia, Lebanon, and Philippines) act as national focal points to identify torture cases where examination support is needed in order to take the cases forward to national or regional courts. Via the international focal point and the international expert group, the expertise required to perform forensic examinations of torture survivors is channelled to health professionals in the target countries through on-case examination support and peer supervision.


Additionally, the international focal point and the expert group map, gather and further develop materials relevant to the medical examination of torture victims and consequent legal proceedings. The experts participate in human rights and health conferences with a view to exchanging knowledge and presenting the project’s objectives and findings.


This work is supported by targeted advocacy towards judges, prosecutors, lawyers and health professionals.


By gathering expertise and joining forces we aim to increase the availability of high-quality forensic documentation of torture. facilitate victims’ access to this documentation as evidence in legal proceedings, and raise awareness among policy-makers, health and legal professionals and the public at large of the need to fight impunity for torture. 


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