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International Recognition of the Istanbul Protocol

The Istanbul Principles have been recognised by a number of human rights bodies as a point of reference for measuring the effectiveness of torture investigations. Such recognition represents a significant factor in the widespread use and acceptance of Istanbul Protocol standards in medico-legal contexts.

Both the UN General Assembly and the then UN Commission on Human Rights (since 2006, the UN Human Rights Council) have strongly encouraged states to reflect upon the Principles in the Protocol as a useful tool to combat torture in their resolutions 55/89 on the 4th of December 2000, following the recommendation of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture during the fifty-sixth session, on the 2nd of February 2000.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture stressed in his General Recommendations of 2003 the importance of the Istanbul Principles in the context of establishing independent national authorities for investigation; promptness and independence of investigations; independence of forensic medical services by governmental investigatory bodies and obtaining forensic evidence.

On the 23rd of April 2003, the UN Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution on human rights and forensic science, drew the attention of governments to these principles as a useful tool in combating torture. Likewise, reference was made to the Istanbul Protocol in the resolution on the competence of national investigative authorities in preventing torture.

In addition to recognition by the UN system, the Istanbul Protocol has also been adopted by several regional bodies.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights deliberated on the importance of the Istanbul Protocol during its 32nd ordinary session in October 2002 and concluded that investigations of all allegations of torture or ill-treatment, shall be conducted promptly, impartially and effectively, and be guided by the Istanbul Principles.

The European Union has referred to the Istanbul Protocol in its Guidelines to EU Policy towards Third Countries on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted by the General Affairs Council in 2001. The EU guidelines mention that states should “conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations of all allegations of torture in accordance with the Istanbul Rules annexed to CHR resolution 2000/43” and should “establish and operate effective domestic procedures for responding to and investigating complaints and reports of torture and ill-treatment in accordance with the Istanbul Rules.”

Other institutions and organisations have reiterated the UN and other bodies’ recommendations in their reports, statements, and comments (including the Advisory Council of Jurists and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions). These references can roughly be summarised into three categories”