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Casualty Recording at the Protection of Civilians Debate

First published 12th Jul 2012

On June 26, 2012 the Security Council met under the Chinese presidency  for the Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (PoC). Some 45 countries spoke during the debate, with a number of them explicitly recognising the need for improved casualty recording practices in armed conflict in their statements. To our knowledge this is the first time that the issue of casualty recording methods has been explicitly raised at the Security Council, and this offers a significant new opportunity for making progress on this issue in collaboration with states and inter-state bodies.

In advance of the day-long debate, the Every Casualty Campaign conducted several bilateral meetings with states and UN Agencies in New York. The campaign also presented to the Group of Friends on PoC. Ahead of the debate, we circulated a lobby sheet which welcomed the UNSG’s statement on casualty recording in his latest report on the protection of civilians  and called on states to recognise casualty recording’s vital contribution to the protection of civilians; acknowledge the lack of casualty recording practice in protection missions while highlighting successful precedents such as UNAMA; and commit to discussions towards stronger casualty recording in situations of armed conflict.

Casualty recording was included in the Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator’s statement that strongly echoed the United Nations Secretary-General’s statement and called for more “systematic recording of civilian casualties, combined with regular reporting. “

States such as Portugal, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria explicitly recognised the need for casualty recording as it contributes to the strengthening of accountability and compliance with international humanitarian law, and is a means to improve the understanding of the effectiveness of PoC.

Uruguay made the compelling case that the undertaking of casualty recording is “in line with the principles of humanitarian law, primarily by its relationship with some of the most basic values of human dignity, and also for its potential practical benefits such as identifying the cause of harm to civilians.”

The representative from Switzerland, speaking for the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and Uruguay)  on casualty recording suggested  that as a step forward  “the Council’s discussions may benefit from an overview in the next secretary-general ‘s report of existing practices, as well as from specific recommendations on ways to ensure  systemic and reliable data collection in compliance with humanitarian principles.” A statement informed by the briefing given to the Group of Friends prior to the debate.

The European Union delegation also explicitly recognized the need for improved casualty recording and welcomed such efforts by AMISOM and ISAF to track civilian casualties. In addition, the speaker for the Office for the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR) said that his office supported “the creation of similar mechanisms within the Afghan security forces as an effective means of increasing civilian protection and accountability during the transition to full Afghan control of security. This would allow Afghan forces to perform accurate, professional and timely investigations into all incidents of civilian casualties caused by them and to reduce re-occurrence.” In relation to this, France also stated that "such policies ( of tallying and identifying civilian victims) could be developed and extended to other missions so as to help  identify the harm done to  civilians and to enable the Security Council to respond appropriately.”

Many states also recognised the importance of Commissions of Inquiry conducted by the OHCHR and encouraged that such mandates should be established early on in a crisis in order to prevent further violation and provide the relevant UN agencies with a factual basis for further action. OHCHR also recognised in relation to the commissions that the council can play an important role in enhancing the impact of the work of the commissions, by requesting  states and other actors to cooperate with them, making more consistent use of the information and analysis they produce. This relates to the Secretary General's earlier call in November 2010 for the "need to systematically monitor, review and report on the protection of civilians in all relevant situations."