Taking the Istanbul Protocol forward

Creating national plans for documenting torture – and UN monitoring of it – is hopefully the next stage for IRCT’s work with the Istanbul Protocol

A main impediment for torture victims to access justice is their lack of access to have physical and mental trauma documented by qualified medical experts. Without such evidence, cases are often dismissed without trial and the victims branded as lacking credibility.

Simply, for torture victims to take a case forward and for perpetrators to be held accountable, victims need access to documentation of their trauma provided by qualified experts.

For more than 10 years, the IRCT and key partner organisations have been working on ensuring effective access for all torture victims to a competent, independent and impartial medical/psychological examination of their trauma. This has mainly been done through promotion of the Istanbul Protocol, the UN-recognised standard and guide on documenting torture.

For example, through the IRCT’s collaboration with key forensic scientists, we have been able to use the Istanbul Protocol in key torture cases, such as with Khaled Said in Egypt.

One aspect of this work is to ensure that international and regional human rights mechanisms promote Istanbul Protocol implementation when they discuss human rights implementation with States. Last week in Geneva, two important events revitalised our belief that this ambitious objective can actually be achieved.

On Friday, Human Rights Foundation Turkey, Physicians for Human Rights, REDRESS and the IRCT co-hosted a meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and several of her staff to kick off the drafting of an action plan for national implementation of the Istanbul Protocol.

This plan, which will be developed in consultation with experts from across the globe, will set the framework for future activities aimed at building national systems for documenting torture. The plan, based on 10 years of experience and learning by the stakeholders, will tackle such issues as legal reform, raising awareness of professionals – such as immigrations officials and judges – that come in contact with torture victims,  and monitoring and quality control. This will set the policy framework for much more concerted efforts on Istanbul Protocol implementation in the years to come. In this regard it was particularly encouraging to hear the strong support from the high commissioner herself, Navi Pillay, who has taken a very implementation-focused approach to her mandate.

With a strong implementation framework in the pipeline, the IRCT has worked actively to ensure that UN human rights monitoring mechanisms make strong and targeted recommendations on torture documentation to States.

The latest of these activities took place the day before the meeting with the High Commissioner. Here, two colleagues and I participated in a discussion with the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture on how strengthen its torture documentation recommendations to States. The dialogue was based on a discussion paper developed by the IRCT where we set out a wide range of concrete initiatives that can be recommended to States wishing to improve torture victims’ access to documentation. The intention was to initiate a process of reflection among the SPT members on how they can advance their work in these areas. It was therefore very encouraging to see the level of engagement from many SPT members and the subsequent decision for the SPT medical group to further consider the discussion paper.

Having worked for five years on Istanbul Protocol implementation, it is very encouraging to see these developments taking place at a fairly rapid pace, and it generates renewed energy to move forward with the next initiatives. This will include a combination of international policy initiatives and concrete analysis of access to torture documentation in individual countries.


By Asger, IRCT’s Legal Officer and Geneva representative


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  1. #1 by Jerbert M. Briola on 21/03/2012 - 03:02

    In 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a decision in a landmark torture case [G.R. No. 180906, The Secretary of National Defense v. Manalo, October 7, 2008] on the application of the “writ of amparo”.

    One of the main pieces of evidence relied on by the Supreme Court was a forensic medical examination of the victims conducted in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol.

    In this case, the SC affirmed the high value of forensic medical examinations and recognized the expertise of the medical expert partly on the basis of forensic expert’s adherence to the Istanbul Protocol.

  1. [From the web] Taking the Istanbul Protocol forward -worldwithouttorture.org « Human Rights Online Philippines

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