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Find­ing truth and justice through forensic sci­ence

10.01.2022, News :

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) uses medicine and forensic science to document violations of human rights, such as sexual violence and other forms of torture. In a project implemented in Iraq, they build the forensic capacity of local clinicians, professionals in the legal and judicial sectors and advocate for the use of forensic methods in accordance with international standards by individual clinicians and an institutional level.

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Screenshot from the training video "Forensic Photography", © PHR 2018

Decades of authoritarian rule, wars, and internal conflicts in Iraq have deepened ethnic, sectarian, tribal, geographic, and political tensions. Discrimination and inequality in Iraq’s laws, policies, and practices in the justice system contribute to a culture of impunity. Alleged perpetrators of crimes associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have still not been held accountable using international standards for prosecution of international crimes, including mass sexual slavery and sexual violence.

Transitional justice is a set of measures aimed at confronting impunity and seeking redress for survivors. By putting survivors first, transitional justice processes can strengthen the rule of law, prevent future crimes, and promote sustainable peace. Truth-finding is a key pillar of transitional justice. In this context, scientific evidence can reveal irrefutable truths about war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide and can lay important foundations for the stabilization and reconciliation within societies emerging from decades of internal strife and armed conflict.

PHR has decades of experience documenting human rights violations through medical evaluations, and medico-legal assessments, and uses scientific evidence to advocate for an end to human rights violations. Funded by the Sector Program “Promoting Gender Equality” PHR supported survivors of sexual violence and torture crimes in Iraq on the path to justice and reparations. PHR developed and led a multi-sectoral capacity building effort to support survivors of sexual violence and torture crimes in Iraq on a path to justice and reparations.

Due to travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, PHR has offered training webinars for medical, judicial, and legal sectors and civil society over the past 12 months in Iraq. PHR has also trained national and international investigators in the SGBV Unit at the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD). Through a specially tailored curriculum, each sector learned how to use forensic techniques and ethical standards and best practices to document and investigate sexual violence and other forms of torture. Some of the participants of the webinars are now part of an informal network convened by PHR in Iraq, which allows actors from key sectors to exchange and collaborate to advance justice.

In addition, PHR published various training materials to build forensic capacity, for example with short training videos on “Forensic Photography”, and “How to Obtain Meaningful Informed Consent”. Also, in collaboration with the Program of Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, PHR produced five training videos – available in English, French, and Arabic – on police investigations: The Crime Scene, The Chain of Evidence, The Criminal Investigation, The Technical Report, and The Seals. These videos will be publicly available, aiming to allow PHR to develop online training on documentation of forensic evidence of sexual violence that can be accessed by professionals around the world.

In addition, PHR successfully advised key institutions on how to document sexual violence and other forms of torture in the Iraqi context. For example, the Medical-Legal Directorate (MLD) of the Ministry of Healthhas begun piloting forensic diagrams in their forensic reports to demonstrate the range of physical injuries sustained by a survivor. This is an important step towards embedding forensic approaches at the institutional level and to getting one step closer to truth and justice.

Because of the discussions and open dialogue that enriched the training webinars, PHR has found that there is an urgent need to nationalize and unify the forensic protocols used across Iraq, including in the KRI. Based on this, In the phase of the work, PHR aims to work with Iraqi institutions to standardize the forensic form/certificate, get it endorsed and trained on.

Sexual and gender-based vi­ol­ence in con­flicts

German development cooperation is committed to contribute to violence prevention and to provide support to survivors of gender-based violence. The Federal Government has set ambitious targets in its third National Action Plan on the implementation of UNSCR 1325 (NAP III 1325, 2021-2024)