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Advocates Archive: Minnesota Protocol (1991)

February 27, 2023

The problem: Investigations into claims of suspicious deaths, such as assassinations, were being done by groups sympathetic to the leaders being accused of the crimes.

The solution: Bring together experts in law, human rights, and forensics to create a uniform investigatory standard that was credible, neutral, and beyond reproach.

The result: The “Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions,” better known as the Minnesota Protocol.

Soon after it was founded in 1983, the newly formed Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee teamed up with international experts in law and forensic science to research how to create a protocol that modeled a police homicide investigation. Details were hammered out at a conference in Spring Hill, Minnesota in 1987. The resulting protocol included technical guidance for conducting investigations; procedures of inquiry; and processing of evidence.  Its purpose was to supplement the "Principles on the effective prevention and investigation of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions", adopted by the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 1989/65 of 24 May 1989, on the recommendation of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control, at its tenth session, held in Vienna, from 5 to 16 February 1990.

In 1991, the UN adopted the Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. It became the global standard for the investigation of state-involved killings and has been used in investigations throughout the world, including in Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala, East Timor, and Peru.

In 2016, following a multi-year revision process, the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death (2016): The Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions was published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The revised Protocol establishes detailed procedures for crime-scene investigations, interviews of suspects and witnesses, the excavation of graves, post-mortem examinations, and the analysis of skeletal remains. Such investigations, along with subsequent accountability processes, play a vital role in upholding the right to life. 

The Advocates is celebrating 40 years of defending human rights. Throughout this year we are sharing stories and projects from our archives to shed light on the history of the organization, and the issues we work on.

Document: Minnesota Protocol History Infographic.pdf