Casualty recording as an evaluative capability: Libya and the protection of civilians

First published 28th Mar 2013

In a new paper, Every Casualty examines the relevance of casualty recording to the Protection of Civilians (PoC) framework, using NATO's intervention in Libya as a case study. We argue that the acquisition and analysis of information about casualties needs to be given a clear and fundamental role when drafting Security Council resolutions that mandate protection.

The paper can be read here as a PDF.

'Casualty Recording as an Evaluative Capability: Libya and the Protection of Civilians', by Jacob Beswick and Elizabeth Minor, uses original research and Every Casualty's previous research into casualty recording practice. It explores the relationship between UN Security Council Resolution 1973, its implementation in the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict framework at the UN. 

The paper illustrates the importance of systematically recording civilian casualties. It demonstrates the variety of recording methodologies available (this analysis can also be found in the key publications of Every Casualty's two-year research project into recording practice), and argues that the pursuit of the core challenges to protection-of-civilians framework requires systematic information on casualties. Such information – its acquisition and analysis – should be given a clear and fundamental role when drafting Security Council resolutions mandating protection, according to Every Casualty.

The Libyan case illustrates areas where shortcomings in the mandating resolution undermined broader protection-of-civilian aspirations:

  • Mandates to protect civilians require clarity regarding the obligations – in terms of procedures and responsible parties – to collect information on civilian harm.
  • Through the clarification and implementation of systematic assessment measures for casualty recording, accountability, compliance with the law, and greater understanding as to the efficacy of missions to protect can be better realised. 

Within the UN Secretariat, numerous agencies are currently working towards building capacities to obtain improved information on civilian harm and casualties. There is an undeniable bureaucratic and logistical complexity in determining which agencies are most suitable for undertaking such assessments. However, the research findings on the range of existing practices set out in the paper and elsewhere provide a set of considerations which those drafting and operationalising mandates for the protection of civilians can usefully keep in mind. 

The paper concludes that at every stage of a conflict and well into the post-conflict phase, there is always more to be done – usefully and effectively – than has been standard state and UN practice up to this point.

This paper was first published in a new Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Whitehall Report, 'Hitting the Target? How New Capabilities Are Shaping International Intervention', in collaboration with the Centre for International Intervention (CII) at the University of Surrey. The full Whitehall Report is available on RUSI's website.