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Updated UN global guidelines for unlawful killing investigation

25 May 2017

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has released updated guidelines for investigating unlawful killings around the world.

The guidelines - known as the Minnesota Protocol - make clear that investigations must be prompt, effective and thorough, as well as independent, impartial and transparent.

The Protocol is aimed at police officers, medical practitioners, lawyers, judicial officers, NGOs and others involved in investigations into killings which may be unlawful. It applies primarily to investigations undertaken during times of peace, but also covers killings during conflict.

The Protocol stipulates that investigations should pursue all legitimate lines of inquiry into potentially unlawful deaths; officials should also seek to determine the cause, manner, place and time of death, and the circumstances.

The guidelines also make clear that investigations of police killings must be free from any undue influence that might arise from institutional chains of command; and that they must be free from interference from political parties or powerful social groups. However, it is emphasized that the preservation of life is paramount at all times.

The original Minnesota Protocol, also known as the UN manual on the effective prevention and investigation of extra-legal arbitrary and summary executions, was launched by the UN in 1991.

Its revision was carried out under the mandate of former UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns, who coordinated a global working group of legal and technical experts. Mr. Heyns says the old Protocol had been the “gold standard” around the world, particularly in the field of forensics, but that it had become outdated because of technological advances in areas such as DNA testing and digital photography.

The new guidelines establish detailed procedures for crime-scene investigations, interviews of suspects and witnesses, the excavation of graves, post-mortem examinations, and the analysis of skeletal remains.

They also stipulate that investigations should distinguish between natural deaths, accidental deaths, suicide and homicide.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019