Casualty recording a core commitment for World Humanitarian Summit

First published 6th May 2016

Two clear commitments on casualty recording have been placed on the official agenda of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

This is a heartening development that reflects growing interest within the international community to effect real, lasting and widespread improvement to casualty recording.

On 24th May there will be a High Level Leaders’ Roundtable entitled “Uphold the norms that safeguard humanity”, attended by up to 50 global leaders, each of whom may speak for 3 minutes.

Leaders are invited to publicly commit to actions grouped under five “core commitments,”  whose stated aim is “to enhance the practical implementation of relevant obligations and strengthen the protection of civilians through concrete measures; they do not restate or modify existing obligations or create new ones.

Commitment 2 is to promote and enhance the protection of civilians and civilian objects, especially in the conduct of hostilities, and there are two recommended commitments in support of this, one of which relates to the conduct of militaries in light of casualty information:

[Name of Member State] commits to record, track and analyze civilian casualties in the conduct of their military operations and adapt their conduct accordingly in order to minimize civilian harm.

States and UN entities have increasingly recognised the need for accurate and widely available data on the overall impacts of conflict on civilian populations, and of the types of weapons used.  Such data has incontrovertibly demonstrated that in particular, explosive weapons in populated areas cause disproportionate harm to civilians. This specific recognition is reflected in a further draft commitment, namely:

[Name of Member/Organization] commits to collect data [and make it public] on the direct civilian harm and the reverberating effects on civilians resulting from the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas, and to [share/make public] by [20XX].

Every Casualty applauds these proposals and encourages their support and implementation by all relevant parties.

A growing number of key actors have gone beyond recognition of the need for better data to expressing a commitment to practically support and promote better, more widespread casualty recording in conflict around the world. These commitments have led, amongst other things, to the establishment of casualty recording as an explicit topic in state-involved on-the-record meetings (ranging from the UN Security Council, debating the UN Secretary-Generals’ Report on the Protection of Civilians, to the Humanitarian Segment of ECOSOC in Geneva, and the Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement).

An intention to move forwards on casualty recording is not unrealistic or purely aspirational. The means to collect such data are widely available: many organisations already actively collect and publish such data, and there is a growing body of professional understanding regarding context-aware good practice, which is being formalised into a set of global standards for the field, due for publication in 2016.

These developments ensure that casualty recording can be appropriately embedded in effective responses to humanitarian crises around the world, and that there is now a growing body of expertise and support to underpin such efforts.