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States recognise importance of casualty data to peacekeeping missions

First published 4th Mar 2014

Protection of Civilians debate: States recognise the importance of timely and accurate casualty information to enhance peacekeeping missions and operations

Member states met once again at the Security Council on February 12th to discuss protection of civilians. Lithuania, as President of the Council for the month of February, chose to focus the debate on effective implementation of protection of civilians mandates in UN peacekeeping missions.  

In her opening statement, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasised the need for fact-finding missions, drawing particular attention to the need for information on civilian deaths in South Sudan and the Central African Republic. “Experiences in the field confirmed that timely and well-resourced human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting were essential for the effective implementation of protection mandates,” she explained, adding that “sound and compelling human rights information and analysis must be at the core of civilian protection strategies.”  

Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, in her opening remarks, also recognised casualty recording as an important issue that was highlighted by the Secretary General in his last report on POC.

During the debate, which covered a wide range of topics related to protecting civilians in armed conflict, Lithuania, Austria and the Netherlands highlighted the work of ISAF, AMISON and UNAMA as setting positive precedents for the use of civilian casualty tracking and casualty recording mechanisms to support and measure the protection of civilians. Austria added that MONUSCO’s intervention brigade should consider using such mechanisms in order to better fulfill their mandate. Similarly Colombia mentioned “the need for the Security Council to strengthen the capacity to acquire accurate information about the situation before the elaboration of [peacekeeping mandates] and to monitor progress in the field during their implementation”. Information on casualties would be an essential aspect of the required information.  

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (which includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Uruguay), made explicit calls for casualty recording in relation to the Secretary General’s new ‘Rights up Front’ initiative, stating,

“the Group notes the continuation of efforts to ensure effective and credible casualty recording mechanisms, noting further that the establishment of systematic and credible records of civilian casualties in the right context could support broader efforts to monitor and report on violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, while taking into account the practical challenges in recording casualties, civilian or otherwise.”
In the same vein, Austria welcomed the Secretary General’s recommendation in his November 2013 report for the initiation a common UN system to systematically record civilian casualties. Chile also called for a “registry of civilian casualties and accountability for war crimes”.

Many calls were made among member states for improved coordination of information and data collection within missions in order to strengthen early warning systems. Chile emphasised that “resources and capacities must be granted to missions in a timely manner”, while also calling for “better early warning efforts and coordination on the ground”. The United Kingdom urged “mission leadership to establish effective coordination mechanisms that include all relevant departments, that enhance data collection and analysis, and that improve early warning and rapid response”. Such work, the UK continued, should be central for everyone “from the police and military, to civilian personnel, where[ever] a mission is mandated to protect civilians.” In conclusion, Lithuania asked for “relevant data and recommendations on the protection of civilians to be systematically included in country-specific reports by the Secretariat.”

While the statements made by Member States, and particularly the Group of Friends, are encouraging, Every Casualty urges states to offer stronger and more definite support of casualty recording mechanisms at future protection of civilians debate as well as other opportunities at the Security Council. In particular we call on Member States to recognize the many ways in which casualty recording contributes to the protection of civilians, specifically by: aiding in the identification of patterns of harm; enabling negotiation with conflict parties to increase compliance with international law; increasing accountability; and protecting the rights of victims. 

For more information on how casualty recording contributes to the protection of civilians in armed conflict please see here