Istanbul Protocol: Investigating Torture

First published in 1999, the Istanbul Protocol is the internationally agreed set of best-practice standards that States must follow in investigating torture and by which health and legal professionals should evaluate allegations of torture, document the cases of survivors and produce quality evidence.

Simply put, the IP – as it is known to practitioners – tells you everything you need to know about the legal foundations for the absolute prohibition of torture, the relevant professional ethical codes for working with survivors, the practical steps required to be taken by States, and by doctors, psychologists and lawyers when interviewing torture survivors, and the different considerations when documenting the physicaland psychological evidence of torture.

As such, the Istanbul Protocol is one of the bedrocks on which the IRCT’s global network operates.

QuickTakes

A series of short Q&A videos from IRCT’s professional network. Quickly understand the history and purposes of the Istanbul Protocol, as well as the major questions practitioners need to answer to use it easily and effectively.

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What is the Purpose of the Istanbul Protocol?

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What is Contained in the Istanbul Protocol?

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What Must be Documented During a Clinical Evaluation of a Torture Survivor?

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Why Must There Always Be a Psychological Examination?

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How Do Forensic Medical Experts Use the Istanbul Protocol?

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What if the Survivor Shows No Symptoms of Torture?

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Why Has the Istanbul Protocol Been Updated?

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What Does the Updated Istanbul Protocol Say to Health Professionals?

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“The extent to which States implement Istanbul Protocol standards should be considered a measure of their commitment to ending torture and other ill-treatment.”

James Lin, Istanbul Protocol Programme Coordinator, IRCT, and Adjunct Professor of Law, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University

“The Istanbul Protocol has transformed how we understand, investigate, document, and work towards the eradication of torture around the world.”

Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, former Medical Director and current Advisory Council member at Physicians for Human Rights, and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at University of Minnesota Medical School

“The striking disparity between the absolute prohibition of torture and its prevalence in the world today demonstrates the continued need for States to identify and implement effective measures to protect individuals from torture and ill-treatment. The Istanbul Protocol was developed to bring evidence of torture and ill-treatment to light so that perpetrators may be held accountable for their actions and the interests of justice may be served.”

Dr Şebnem K. Fincanci, Istanbul Protocol Editorial Committee Member, President, Turkish Medical Association, and Executive Board Member, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey

As part of the Istanbul Protocol Update Editorial Committee, the IRCT led work on updates and revisions to the Istanbul Protocol, in coordination with the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). With contributions from some 200 experts across 51 countries, the updated IP, published in June 2022, incorporates 20 years of advances in torture documentation as well as lessons learned, and includes new sections on medico-legal evaluations of children, LGBTQ+ people, and asylum seekers. In order to train as many stakeholders as possible on its contents in an accessible and resource-efficient manner, the IRCT has designed an online curriculum to teach the IP 2022, with the first modules to be launched by end 2022.

Want to know how IRCT members use the Istanbul Protocol in their everyday work? Watch, Ending Impunity: Using the Istanbul Protocol to Document Torture in Mexico, an interview with Cristian Urbalejo Luna, General Coordinator of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity (CCTI, Mexico)

Mexico’s ongoing 15-year ‘War on Drugs’ has unleashed terrifying police violence. Tens of thousands of Mexican citizens have been tortured with impunity. As well as providing rehabilitation to survivors, IRCT member CCTI trains independent experts to document torture using the Istanbul Protocol.

Every year, the Secretariat works with our Independent Forensic Expert Group and member centres to provide training on the Istanbul Protocol to other members of our network, as well as civil society and State authorities. This is an essential part of our mission to increase capacity in the anti-torture sector. Recent examples of IP training include: Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, with our member in Mexico CCTI; members of Nigeria’s Independent Investigative Panels investigating crimes committed by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, working with our member PRAWA; the Kosovo Judicial Academy, with our member Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims; Rwanda’s new National Preventative Mechanism (NPM); participating States agencies of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); the Asia Alliance Against Torture network of NGOs. If you believe your organisation could benefit from such training please email us at IRCT@IRCT.ORG

Training on the Istanbul Protocol in Mexico, credit: CCTI