Forensic medical reports in asylum cases: The view of the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee against Torture

Marcelle Reneman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

National authorities are often reluctant to arrange for a forensic medical examination or to grant important weight to forensic medical reports in asylum cases. They do not (fully) accept that a forensic medical report may change their initial assessment of the credibility of the applicant’s asylum account. They may argue that a physician cannot establish the context (date, location, perpetrator) in which the alleged ill-treatment has taken place or the cause of a specific scar or medical problem of the applicant. Moreover, they may contend that the physician concerned did not have the expertise to write a forensic medical report. This article examines how the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Committee against Torture (CAT) have included forensic medical reports in their assessment of asylum cases and how they have dealt with the ‘context’, ‘causality’ and ‘expertise’ argument. It shows that these bodies do not accept that national authorities refrain from arranging a forensic medical examination or attach no or limited weight to a forensic medical report submitted by the applicant, just because the applicant has made inconsistent, incoherent or vague statements. They also do not accept general references to the ‘context’, ‘causality’ and ‘expertise’ argument. However, they have accepted these arguments in some individual cases, often without clear reasoning. The article concludes that the ECtHR and CAT could provide more guidance to national authorities concerning the role of forensic medical reports in asylum cases by explicitly weighing the seriousness of the credibility issues against the forensic medical report and by paying attention to the requirements for forensic medical reports laid down in the Istanbul Protocol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-228
Number of pages23
JournalNetherlands Quarterly of Human Rights
Volume38
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Asylum
  • Committee against Torture
  • European Court of Human Rights
  • evidence
  • forensic medical reports
  • Istanbul Protocol
  • non-refoulement

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