The Istanbul Protocol

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The Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in popular terms “the Istanbul Protocol”, contains internationally recognised standards and procedures on how to recognise and document symptoms of torture so the documentation may serve as valid evidence in court.

As such, the Istanbul Protocol provides useful guidance for doctors and lawyers who want to investigate whether or not a person has been tortured and report the findings to the judiciary and any other investigative bodies.

The Istanbul Protocol is a non-binding document. However, international law obliges governments to investigate and document incidents of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and to punish those responsible in a comprehensive, effective, prompt and impartial manner. The Istanbul Protocol is a tool for doing this.


The Istanbul Protocol was drafted by more than 75 experts in law, health and human rights during three years of collective effort involving more than 40 different organisations including the IRCT. The extensive work was initiated and coordinated by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) and the Physicians for Human Rights USA (PHR USA).

The initial steps to work on a manual for the investigation and documentation of torture and other forms of ill treatment were taken at an international meeting in 1996 organised by the Turkish Medical Association and were inspired by the daily needs and practices experienced by the HRFT and the Society of Forensic Medicine Specialists in Turkey. In particular, the efforts to investigate the death of Baki Erdogan during custody became a decisive factor.

Baki Erdogan died during his 11th day in custody after having been transferred to the state hospital in Turkey. The autopsy and official forensic report stated that as a result of a ten days hunger strike, he died of acute pulmonary oedema.

The Turkish Medical Association carried out an independent investigation and submitted an alternative medical report which disclosed numerous flaws in the autopsy and medical assessment made by the official medical experts.

The point of reference for the development of the alternative medical report was the Minnesota Protocol, the UN Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal Arbitrary and Summary Executions. The alternative report stressed that the official forensic investigation was deficient and false and not in accordance with the standards set out in the Minnesota Protocol. Furthermore, in light of the collected evidence and other findings, the cause of death was determined to be Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a result of the use of torture.

Upon finalisation of the Istanbul Protocol in 1999, an article on the Protocol was published in the international medical journal The Lancet (Volume 354(9184) 25 September 1999 p 1117).

The Istanbul Protocol is published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in its Professional Training Series in the six official UN languages. It has also been translated into a number of other languages (click here to download the Protocol).