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2.6 Misuse of the Istanbul Protocol

As the Istanbul Protocol makes clear, the absence of physical and/or psychological evidence in a medical evaluation does not rule-out the possibility that torture or ill-treatment was inflicted.

The Istanbul Protocol was developed to prevent torture and ill-treatment and to promote accountability. Governments must ensure that its official representatives do not engage in misuse or misrepresentation of the Istanbul Protocol to exonerate police who are accused of abuses or for any other purpose, as has been noted in a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR):[1]

Recent statements by Mexican authorities to the press[2] relating to the highly publicized case of Víctor Javier García Uribe, alias ‘El Cerillo’, demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose, nature and limitations of the Istanbul Protocol (Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). The Istanbul Protocol is not a diagnostic test or tool that can be used to assure, with certainty, the presence or absence of torture, nor is it a U.N. treaty or instrument that can be ratified by member States as has been suggested by Governor José Reyes Baeza.[3]

The Istanbul Protocol is a set of guidelines for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment. When used appropriately, these international standards help forensic experts to assess the degree to which medical findings correlate with the individual allegation of abuse and to effectively communicate the findings and interpretations to the judiciary or other appropriate authorities. As the Istanbul Protocol makes clear, the absence of physical and/or psychological evidence in a medical evaluation does not rule-out the possibility that torture or ill-treatment was inflicted.

Such misrepresentation of the Istanbul Protocol may explain why, in the PHR study, the majority of the forensic physicians working for the Federal Attorney General’s Office wrongly equated the lack of forensic findings with “proof” that the alleged torture and ill-treatment did not occur.

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[1] Forensic Documentation of Torture and Ill-treatment: An Assessment of the Implementation Process of the Istanbul Protocol Standards. Moreno A, Iacopino V. Physicians for Human Rights. December, 2008. pp. 94 and 114.
[2] Rubén Villalpando, Rechaza PGJE de Chihuahua Tortura a Supuesto Asesino, JORNADA, Aug. 12, 2005 (“La Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado (PGJE) confirmó que Víctor García Uribe, El Cerillo, no fuesometido a tortura en noviembre de 2001 para que se confesara culpable de asesinar a 11 mujeres, de acuerdo los criterios periciales del Protocolo de Estambul.”)[The Office of the State Attorney General confirmed that according to the expert opinion based on the Istambul Protocol, Víctor García Uribel, alias the Match, was not subjected to torture with the purpose of forcing a confesion of the 11 women murdered in November 2001]; Protocolo de Estambul no halla evidencias de tortura vs Cerillo, DIARIO , Aug. 12, 2005.
[3] “Al afirmar que la aplicación del Protocolo de Estambul no está en entredicho, el gobernador José Reyes Baeza, indicó que ‘siempre las detenciones de cualquier presunto responsable estarán sujetas al respeto irrestricto de los derechos humanos, y con ello evitar el señalamiento, la inquietud y la molestia por parte de la comunidad, en torno a este tipo de detenciones’.” [“Confirming that there was no question about whether an evaluation according to the Istambul Protocol had been performed, the Governor José Reyes Baeza, said that ‘detentions are always subject to the utmost respect for the human rights of the person, thus avoiding questioning, uncertainty and anger within the community around such type of detentions’.”], available at www.nortedeciudadjuarez.com, (last visited August 17, 2005).
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