The ICJ hosted a two-day workshop on 29 February and 1 March 2020 in Yangon, Myanmar entitled “Workshop on the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.”
Some 25 lawyers attended the event, including criminal lawyers handling murder cases and human rights lawyers. The workshop was opened with remarks by Frederick Rawski, Director of the ICJ’s Asia & Pacific Programme. He emphasized the importance of conducting investigations consistent with international standards in holding perpetrators accountable for unlawful killings.
The Minnesota Protocol provides guidance on the State’s implementation of its duty under international law to investigate potentially unlawful killings, including when State actors may have been involved. It applies to deaths under custody, suspicious deaths and enforced disappearances. Myanmar has experienced widespread incidents of such deaths, including in recent years those constituting serious crimes under international law.
An overview of the international human rights law framework was provided by ICJ Associate Legal Adviser Jenny Domino, highlighting how the conduct of prompt, effective and impartial investigations into unlawful killings is a core component of the State’s obligation to uphold the right to life. Drawing from her previous work in the Philippines, she also discussed the applicability of Minnesota Protocol standards to the human rights investigations of the killings arising from the Philippine ‘war on drugs’. ICJ Legal Adviser Hnin Win Aung then introduced the Minnesota Protocol and its 2016 revision before discussing the role of lawyers in ensuring that the State conducts investigations in accordance with international standards.
Glenn Williams, an experienced international criminal investigator and Detective Inspector (Retired) of the New Zealand Police Force, discussed how to properly secure a crime scene and chain of custody in order to preserve the integrity of the evidence. Participants applied these skills in a group exercise based on a real-life case scenario. He also presented on the proper conduct of witness interviews and the investigative challenges of dealing with telecommunications evidence.
Dr Porntip Rojanasunan, a forensic pathologist in Thailand and Member of the Expert Advisory Panel during the Minnesota Protocol revision process, shared her forensic expertise through illustrative cases that she had worked on in Southeast Asia in the past two decades. Dr Porntip stressed the importance of forensic pathology in determining the true cause of death and of conducting an autopsy in potential cases of human rights violations.
The workshop is part of the ICJ’s ongoing promotion of international human rights law and standards globally. In Asia, this has included engagement with Myanmar authorities as well as authorities in neighboring countries on the Minnesota Protocol.
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