Featured

The Minnesota Protocol: Creating Guidelines for Effective Investigations

MP Infographic Dashes Featured News

Back in the 1980s, a small group of Minnesota lawyers was concerned about the lack of accountability for the 1983 political assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and many other suspected unlawful deaths happening in the world. Effective investigation is key to establishing responsibility and holding perpetrators accountable, but no international standards existed at the time that required governments to initiate or carry out investigations of suspected unlawful deaths.

The need for international standards and guidelines for death investigations
Clearly, there was a need for international standards regarding death investigations, as well as practical guidelines for how those investigations should be done.  In 1983, as its very first project, The Advocates for Human Rights (then known as the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee) took action by engaging local and international experts in law and forensic science. The project’s researchers and authors―almost all volunteers―included David Weissbrodt, Sam Heins, Barbara Frey, Don Fraser, Tom Johnson, Lindsey Thomas, Garry Peterson, Jim Roth, Bob Sands, Sonia Rosen and Marie Bibus and many others.  They worked on successive drafts for several years.

In 1987, at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Wayzata, the final details of what would come to be the Minnesota Protocol were hammered out.  There were two parts: 1) international legal standards detailing the duty of governments to prevent, investigate and initiate legal proceedings after a suspicious and unlawful death; and 2) guidelines for how to conduct effective investigations, as well as model protocols for conducting autopsies and for disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.

In 1989, the standards were incorporated into the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, which was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The UN formally adopted the guidelines in 1991 as the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and  Investigation  of  Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions.  For the first time, the world had a set of international standards and guidelines for effective investigation.

Despite its official UN title, however, the UN Manuel has been commonly referred to as the Minnesota Protocol.

UN-mandated Principles & Manual are key to investigations
Together, the Principles and the Manual are the key UN-mandated texts that have provided guidance for 25 years on the international duty to investigate violations of the right to life and best practices for conducting autopsies and forensic analysis of suspicious deaths in custody.

The Minnesota Protocol has been used in myriad investigative contexts in almost every region of the world. When Tom Johnson led a team of Gray Plant Mooty attorney volunteers to research the Minnesota Protocol’s impact, they found that it has been cited as the yardstick for conducting investigations by international human rights bodies, regional bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as national courts in India, Australia, and other countries.

Perhaps more important, however, is how the Minnesota Protocol has been used in practice. The Minnesota Protocol has guided investigations throughout the world, including in Rwanda, Bosnia, and East Timor.  St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario described in his May 15, 2013 article how using the Minnesota Protocol has led to accountability for human rights violations in Guatemala and other places in the world.

I can also tell you about the Minnesota Protocol’s impact from my personal, in-the-field experience. In Peru, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told me proudly that they were using the Minnesota Protocol in their work exhuming mass graves.  Family members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) bring this document to the police. I’ve been told by colleagues that the Minnesota Protocol is the most effective tool they have to remind their government of the duty to conduct an effective investigation when there is a suspected unlawful death. Forensic experts  have told me that they bring copies of the model autopsy protocol with them when conducting investigations in the field, writing their notes in it.

MP Infographic Website

Much has changed in the world since the 1980s
It goes without saying that forensic science, DNA analysis, and other technologies have advanced greatly since the original Minnesota Protocol was drafted. International law has also advanced. Now, there are clear, internationally-accepted principles as to what constitutes the legal duty to investigate―investigations must be prompt, thorough, effective, transparent, independent and impartial. The rights of victims are now acknowledged in international law, including the rights of families to know what happened to their loved ones and to reparation and other remedies. Society as a whole has a right to know the truth about what really happened in order to prevent those human rights abuses from happening again.

For years there has been discussion at the UN about updating the Minnesota Protocol for the 21st century. Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, began in 2015 to make it a reality, inviting The Advocates to be a part of the revision process. Along with University of Minnesota professor Barbara Frey―one of the original drafters of the Minnesota Protocol―and other human rights law experts, I serve on the Legal Investigations Working Group. There is also a Forensics Working Group and a larger Advisory Panel, which includes several of the original authors. As it was in the 1980s, the work involves extensive contributions by international experts in law, forensics, and crime scene investigation.

The official title of the revised version is The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016).  Download the advance edition here.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt is deputy director of The Advocates of Human Rights and  director of it International Justice Program.

Featured

Learn how YOU can help end sex trafficking

Puppet RGB
Police may be the first to spring to mind when thinking about who are on the front lines to help end sex trafficking. But most people no matter where you live or work can help end this devastating human rights violation.

Hotel Workers
Hotel staff can help identify potential victims and deter trafficking by keeping an eye out for guests who:

  • Have no luggage or ID;
  • Pay for rooms in cash; rent rooms for others; and/or use third-party reservations;
  • Repeatedly request access cards for different people;
  • Appear fearful, disoriented, or disheveled;
  • Show signs of physical abuse;
  • Are restricted from moving or communicating;
  • Are young and made to look significantly older;
  • Are young but have significantly older “boyfriends”;
  • Wait for periods of time in the lobby, talking on the phone;
  • Do not fit together;
  • Stay for short durations (20–60 minutes);
  • Continue to refuse housekeeping services;
  • Have multiple credit cards or excessive cash, and multiple computers, smartphones, tablets, and laptops;
  • Have excessive number of visitors, especially men;
  • Are men leaving alone and returning with young women; or
  • Have escort and massage ads in their rooms, and/or have excessive pornography or any child pornography.

Teachers
Among their students, teachers should look for students who:

  • Have frequent unexcused absences or an inability to attend class;
  • Have histories attending many different schools or recent multiple transfers;
  • Indicate meals, food, and money are limited or regulated, or they need to help family with money;
  • Have unreasonable work/chore expectations at home;
  • Travel frequently;
  • Use language such as “a train” or a “train party”;
  • Have overly controlling or abusive boyfriends;
  • Possess expensive items seeming out of character;
  • Have numerous inconsistencies when recounting life outside of school;
  • Show signs of physical abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol addiction, and/or high-risk or self-injurious behavior;
  • Resist or are emotionally triggered by touch;
  • Fall asleep in class and are usually fatigued;
  • Have tattoos or other “branding”;
  • Are overly shy about changing clothes or refuse to participate in physical education;
  • Demonstrate unusually fearful, anxious, depressed, or angry behavior;
  • Have familiarity with places selling commercial sex, such as Backpage.com;
  • Show signs of physical abuse, including bruises, cuts, broken teeth and bones, scars, and unattended infections; or
  • Seem to lack basic medical care for illness or injury.

Building Officials
License and code compliance officials have unique access to businesses and properties. While conducting inspections, they should keep an eye out for:

  • Darkened/obscured windows; locked doors requiring a person to be buzzed into doors to rooms locked from the outside;
  • Different men coming and going; all-male clientele;
  • Multiple credit cards and/or excessive cash;
  • Odd or late business hours;
  • Individuals with fearful responses, or an inability to make little or no eye contact;
  • A person with a tattoo or other “branding”;
  • A person who is watched, accompanied, or followed;
  • Potential victims all of same nationality or ethnic group;
  • People with bruises, injuries, or presence of blood;
  • Individual(s) not in possession of ID documents, restricted from moving or communicating, and/or unsure of their location (i.e., state, city); or
  • Young people made to look significantly older.

Suspect Something?
Take these steps if you are suspicious:

  • Call 9–1–1. No concern is too small;
  • Do not confront or intervene with traffickers;
  • Establish partnerships with police in your area;
  • If you come in contact with a victim, indicate that you are not the police;
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888–373–7888 for referrals to services or to report a tip;
  • Contact a Regional Navigator, if your in Minnesota. Regional Navigators are the main points of contact in Minnesota for sexually exploited youth and concerned    agencies. Find your area’s Regional Navigator by visiting Minnesota Department of Health’s website;
  • Establish protocols at your school, hotel, or office to be ready to respond if needed.

More information can be found on The Advocates for Human Rights’ website, including in The Advocates’ Sex Trafficking and Safe Harbor Resource Pack.