Torture and human rights highlighted at international forensic science meeting

Dr. Maria Dolores Morccillo Mendez won the IRCT's award for best presentation or poster on a human rights or torture related issue with her presentation entitled Desmembramiento como Causa de Meurte” (“Dismemberment as Cause of Death”). She pictured here with IRCT's Senior Forensic Advisor Dr. Önder Özkalipci.

As we state in our welcome and more about us, part of the goal of this blog is to highlight the work on the ground – what we actually do in the IRCT Secretariat and the work that our member centres do in the global struggle against torture.

And some of it gets really technical.

A major theme of our work for the last several years has been supporting, through various means, the forensic documentation of torture. Through several international partners and especially the University of Copenhagen, we have tried to bring together forensic physicians and experts with human rights groups and organisations.

And, from our recent attendance at the International Association of Forensic Sciences tri-annual conference, we have seen the results of a warm welcome for human rights and torture issues into the field of forensic sciences.

“I think that, human rights and torture issues have increased massively in visibility in this kind of big international meeting in the forensic medicine area,” said Dr. Önder Özkalipci, IRCT Senior Forensic Advisor after his return from the conference in Madeira, Portugal.

At the conference, the IRCT had the pleasure of awarding Dr. Maria Dolores Morccillo Mendez, a forensic medical doctor from the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in Colombia, an award for the best presentation or poster on a human rights or torture related issue. Dr. Morcillo Mendez’s presentation, entitled “Desmembramiento como Causa de Meurte” (“Dismemberment as Cause of Death”) was of “excellent scientific quality as well as of utmost importance for the discourse of torture prevention and rehabilitation,” said Dr. Joost den Otter, one of seven members of the award committee and Clinical Director at the IRCT.

Prior to the week-long conference, the IRCT also hosted a seminar for presentations on forensic investigations that used the Istanbul Protocol, the UN-endorsed international standard for investigating and documenting claims of torture.

Furthermore, at a scientific session chaired by Dr. Manfred Nowak, IRCT Patron and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Özkalipci, Dr. den Otter, Dr. Walter Wekesa Nalyanya, MD, of Moi University in Kenya, and Dr. Steen Holger Hansen, MD, of the University of Copenhagen discussed the documentation of torture through forensic evidence.

And even more encouraging, there were several organisations at the conference – attended by approximately 1,600 forensic physicians, scientists, and practitioners – that focused on human rights and torture issues, said Dr. Özkalipci.

“I have been so impressed and pleased that the forensic world has truly welcomed the inclusion of human rights and torture investigations in their programmes and meetings,” he said. “Ten years ago this was not the case. And it indeed makes me optimistic for the future.”

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