Statement on Casualty Recording and Military Intervention in Syria

First published 5th Sep 2013

In light of the debate currently taking place among many states on proposed military intervention in Syria, members of the Every Casualty Campaign call on all parties involved to ensure that every casualty of the conflict in Syria is promptly recorded, correctly identified, and publicly acknowledged.

States considering military intervention, and Security Council members in particular, should reflect on the implementation of earlier protection mandates such as UNSCR 1973 concerning Libya. Post-conflict assessments by NGOs and the UN Commission of Inquiry determined that NATO attacks caused civilian deaths, despite NATO’s claims to the contrary. This disparity demonstrates that protecting civilians from harm cannot rest on assurances and good intentions alone, but must be supported by accurate assessment and reporting of realities on the ground.

Specifically, protection requires assessment and evaluation by the intervening forces themselves to determine whether it is being and has been achieved. Pre-strike planning should include setting up a mechanism to: track harm, including deaths and injuries, caused to the civilian population as a result of combat operations; properly investigate harm to support accountability procedures; analyse civilian harm to glean lessons learned and inform tactics to lessen civilian harm; and properly respond to harm through appropriate measures (e.g. compensation or amends). 

Any decisions made by individual states, either unilaterally or collectively, should take the recording of casualties into consideration. This will require commitment by states to investigate attack sites, as well as casualties, of the broader conflict in Syria. Although this is a direct responsibility of states involved in the conflict, states may also provide support to civil society organisations that are doing such work.

There are already civil society organisations undertaking casualty recording in Syria, many through using an on-the-ground network to collect and corroborate information on individual victims, and some by monitoring media and social media. The information they have produced regarding the deaths of Syrians has been compiled by the UN (OHCHR) and has been one of the only sources of civilian casualty data to support informed debate in the international community on what measures may be necessary to mitigate the conflict and its impacts. 

The members of the Every Casualty Campaign request that all parties to the conflict acknowledge and fulfil their responsibility to systematically record deaths caused during armed conflict, and continue to fulfil this responsibility until a comprehensive and accurate record of the casualties of the conflict in Syria is established.

For inquires about this statement, please contact Hana Salama, who coordinates the Every Casualty Campaign at +44 (0) 207 7549 0222, +44 (0) 7540 620 595 or