21 Jan 2022
IRCT: Mendez Principles a 'Huge Step Forward in Prevention of Torture'

The IRCT today welcomes the new Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering, also known as the Mendez Principles, which establish for the first time the minimum international requirements for good practice in law enforcement interrogation, including military and police.

“The Mendez Principles are a huge step forward in the prevention of torture,” said IRCT Secretary General Lisa Henry. “The IRCT is rooted in five decades of the scientific study of torture’s impacts and what we know is that severe trauma negatively impacts on an individual’s memory and the brain’s ability to recall facts. Simply put, if police interrogators want to discover facts relevant to their investigations - and avoid their own potential criminal liability for torturing - then coercive interrogation should be replaced by trauma-informed interviewing. The Mendez Principles are a guide to how that can be achieved.”

IRCT: Mendez Principles a 'Huge Step Forward in Prevention of Torture'

Credit: Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering, May 2021.

Grounded in science, law and ethics, the Principles propose a concrete alternative to interrogation methods that rely on coercion to extract confessions. They provide guidance on obtaining accurate and reliable information in full respect of the human rights and dignity of all, including through the implementation of legal and procedural safeguards in the first hours of police custody. The Principles aim to transform the relationship between States and their citizens. They are intended to change how public authorities conduct interviewing and as a result improve trust in the State. 

The six core Principles establish that effective interviewing is instructed by science, law and ethics; is a comprehensive process for gathering accurate information while following legal safeguards; addresses the needs of vulnerable interviewees; is a professional undertaking requiring specific training; requires accountable institutions; and will be implemented through robust national measures.

Named after Juan Mendez, the Argentine lawyer, torture survivor and former UN Special Rapporteur, the Principles grew out of two decades of scientific research post 9-11 - including articles in the IRCT’s Torture Journal - into the results of coercive interrogations of suspects, defined as a method of questioning aimed at overcoming an individual’s will.   

That research culminated in Mendez’ 2016 report to the UN calling for the development of universal minimum standards for non-coercive interviewing methods and procedural safeguards to be applied to all interviews by law enforcement officials, military and intelligence personnel and other bodies with investigative mandates.

In a collaboration between the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) in Geneva, the Centre for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, an international Steering Committee of 15 expert members was established, including the IRCT’s Pau Perez Sales, editor of Torture Journal.

The final text represents the culmination of four years of their analysis and research in consultation with an Advisory Council of more than 80 experts in the fields of interviewing, law enforcement, criminal investigations, national security, military, intelligence, psychology, criminology and human rights from over 40 countries.

“The worst and most cruel forms of torture happen in the course of interrogation of suspects and of persons thought to be in possession of information that is considered crucial to solving crime and to prevent other criminal offenses,” Mendez writes in the current edition of Torture Journal.

“For that reason, it is important to provide realistic alternatives to torture in interrogation. The Principles do just that, in describing the fundamental rules of rapport-based interviewing. The fundamental premise is that the object of the interview is not to obtain a confession but to establish the truth of the facts under investigation. In addition, the interview is conducted in a way that puts in operation the presumption of innocence, not as a rule of decision at trial, but as a living guideline to be observed at all stages of the investigatory process.”

For more information

Torture is an international crime, absolutely prohibited in all circumstances everywhere. However, as Mendez notes in his article for the current edition of Torture Journal, humanity has so far been unable to eradicate it. “Part of the reason is that popular culture conditions us to believe that, its abhorrent nature notwithstanding, torture ‘works’ in the sense that it is an effective tool to bring out information that is useful to solving and preventing crime.” Kiefer Sutherland’s TV portrayal of American counter terrorism officer Jack Bauer in 24 using torture under the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario is probably the exemplar.

But Bauer was not only acting criminally, he was also ignorant. The Principles contain dozens of references to scientific research that prove coercive interrogation initially increases the subject’s resistance and then leads to an increase in provision of false information and false confessions. One of the best and most up-to-date books on the subject is Shane O’Mara’s ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work’. Watch him describing his work here.

'Severe trauma negatively impacts the brain’s ability to recall facts. If police interrogators want to discover facts then coercive interrogation should be replaced by trauma-informed interviewing. The Mendez Principles are a guide to how that can be achieved.'

Lisa Henry, Secretary General, IRCT 

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