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The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death, completed in 2016, is the global standard used by medical doctors worldwide when they conduct autopsies, by police officers in homicide investigations, and by courts and commissions of inquiry into unlawful deaths and enforced disappearances.
Under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the Minnesota Protocol, first published in 1991, was revised over a three-year period by a team of 73 experts worldwide. A number are staff members associated with the University of Pretoria. The project was led by Christof Heyns, Professor
of Human Rights Law in the Faculty of Law, who served as UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions 2010–2016, and is the Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA). The chief research coordinator was Dr Stuart Maslen from Geneva, a ballistics and international law expert and honorary professor in the Faculty of Law, assisted, among others, by Dr Thomas Probert from Cambridge, who is also a senior researcher in the Faculty. Professor Gert Saayman, Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences, as well as Professor Pieter Carstens, who teaches Medical Law in the Law Faculty, served on the Advisory Panel.
Professor Heyns has for the past six years conducted investigations for the UN into unlawful killings in
ten countries, including in Papua New Guinea,
India, Gambia and Burundi. He identified the need
to update the Protocol during these investigations, and some of the new features are aimed at
Christof Heyns
addressing shortcomings encountered during these investigations. He writes that one of the key ways of ensuring that life is protected is to have thorough investigations every time it appears that there has been an unlawful taking of life.
The Protocol contains a set of detailed guidelines on crime-scene investigation, interviews, the excavation of graves, autopsy, the analysis of skeletal remains, and the assessment of the impact of armed conflict. The document will be available in the six United Nations languages, and will be launched in New York, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Bangkok and other parts of the world in 2017.
           The new Minnesota Protocol was welcomed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad Hussein, who said:
“A suspicious death occurring anywhere in the world is potentially a violation of the right to life, often described as the supreme human right, and prompt, impartial and effective investigations are key to ensuring that a culture of accountability – rather than impunity – prevails. The same applies to enforced disappearances. The new Minnesota Protocol provides a comprehensive and shared platform for forensic investigators, pathologists, law enforcement officials, lawyers, prosecutors, presiding officers, and NGOs to make accountability a worldwide reality. I am grateful to the former Special Rapporteur, Christof Heyns, for the hard work, the rigour and the excellence that has gone into this vital and timely revision.”
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