IBAHRI supports application of the Méndez Principles to end coercive interviewing

Thursday 5 May 2022

The role of the legal profession in implementing the Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering (the Méndez Principles), which aim to prevent torture, ill-treatment and resulting miscarriages of justice caused by coercive interrogation techniques and forced confessions, was the focus of a recently held panel discussion in support of the wide adoption of the Principles.

During the discussion, jointly hosted by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the IBA Human Rights Law Committee, the panel examined the Principles’ approach to moving away from confession-based interrogations and towards rapport-based interviewing practices associated with legal and procedural safeguards.

Moderated by IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the webinar session brought together a distinguished panel of speakers, including Barbara Bernath (Secretary General, Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT); Neri Colmenares (Chairman, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Philippines, and IBAHRI Council Member); Luciano Mariz Maia (Associate Prosecutor-General, Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil); Professor Juan Méndez (former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture); and Alka Pradhan (Human Rights Counsel, Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions and Co-Vice Chair, IBA Human Rights Law Committee).

IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The risk of mistreatment and coercion during the first hours of police custody and pre-trial detention is well known. So too is the approach of interviewers seeking to achieve confirmation of guilt rather than pursuing the truth, and the fundamental principle behind the right to a fair trial of presuming an individual to be innocent unless and until proven guilty is too often disregarded. Through rapport-based interviewing techniques, where a relationship is created with an interviewee, as opposed to coercive interrogation techniques and forced confessions, the Méndez Principles highlight the importance of ensuring a non-coercive environment before, during and after an interview. This will lead to the gathering of more accurate and reliable information and subsequently reduce miscarriages of justice that will in turn lead to more trusting societies. The IBAHRI fully supports wide implementation of the Méndez Principles.’

The Méndez Principles are structured around six core tenets: foundations, practice, vulnerability, training, accountability and implementation. They provide guidance on obtaining veracity during the interviewing process in full respect of the human rights and dignity of all and they holistically engage a range of substantive and procedural rights, including the right to access to a lawyer.

Primarily addressed to the policy makers and authorities in charge of designing, adopting and implementing procedures on interviewing and related justice processes, the Principles are also relevant to authorities involved in the conduct of interviews and those that come into contact with persons throughout the interview process, including judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers.

Global experts in interviewing, law enforcement, criminal investigations, national security, military, intelligence, psychology, criminology and human rights drafted the Principles, guided by a 15-member Steering Committee, which included former IBAHRI Programme Lawyer, Verónica Hinestroza Arenas. The final document is the product of four years of analysis and research in consultation with an Advisory Council of more than 80 experts from over 40 countries.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE stated: ‘Non-coercive interviewing and the implementation of legal and procedural safeguards uphold the rule of law, ensure the integrity of justice processes, promote the effective administration of justice and foster greater trust in public institutions. The adoption of the Méndez Principles will help states to demonstrate greater commitment to the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment; a method too often employed by investigators and law enforcement bodies to elicit confessions or information to “solve” crimes. The Principles provide a human rights-based approach to eliciting the truth to lead to the apprehension and sentencing of real perpetrators while protecting innocents against forced confessions. The IBAHRI calls on relevant stakeholders, including legal professionals, to apply and uphold the Méndez Principles’.

Earlier this year in an open letter to the Co-Chairs of the Méndez Principles’ Steering Committee, Professor Méndez and Mark Thomson (former Secretary General of the APT), the IBAHRI welcomed the Principles and encouraged their widespread application ‘as guidance on how to conduct effective interviewing’, and in ‘the review and reform of existing interviewing practices and criminal justice procedures’.


Notes to the Editor

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    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
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For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org


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