Studying and supporting good practice in conflict casualty recording

It is a key and continuing part of Every Casualty's work to document and assess current practice in casualty recording. Our research aims to assist practitioners in the development of their work, as well as policymakers and others in their understanding of casualty recording and its benefits.

One of the main outcomes of this research to date was the publication of the Standards for Casualty Recording (PDF) launched at the ICRC in Geneva in November 2016.

A global study of casualty recording

In 2012 the Every Casualty programme (then based at the Oxford Research Group) conducted the first major study into casualty recording practice worldwide, funded by the Swiss government and US Institute of Peace.

Conducted over two years, the study examined in detail the work of 40 practitioner groups and individuals working in different conflict and post-conflict environments. The practitioners studied were predominantly NGOs, and most of them already members of the International Practitioners Network (later renamed Casualty Recorders Network).

This study remains the largest to date on this topic and the most detailed. It provided a fresh and authoritative insight into how the recording of deaths from armed conflict is being carried out around the world, the issues its practitioners face in carrying out this work, and how they can be addressed.

The two major objectives of the research were to:

  • build up a knowledge base on practice in casualty recording that could help current and future casualty recorders with their work
  • gain solid information about the range of casualty recording work, able to be shared with a broader audience including policymakers

An in-depth survey asked 40 casualty recorders working in conflict or post-conflict environments a detailed series of questions about their work via online questionnaires followed up by extended interviews. The questions covered areas such as:

  • the definitions used by recorders in their work
  • their sources and confirmation methods
  • the challenges they face and the things that help them
  • their aims and audiences
  • how they release the information they collect
  • and how their work is used

The study resulted in the publication of a policy paper and a series of practice-focused papers, described below. The publications and study findings were presented at USIP’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. on October 22nd 2012, with a roundtable discussion.

Toward the Recording of Every Casualty: Policy Recommendations and Analysis From a Study of 40 Casualty Recorders

The policy paper provides an overview of why casualty recording is important and useful. It makes a set of recommendations to states, international organisations and civil society for the immediate improvement of casualty recording worldwide, and reiterates the benefits and feasibility of casualty recording. Its key points are that:

  • the global state of casualty recording is currently inadequate, with civil society organisations stepping in to fulfil a need they believe must be met
  • the work of these casualty recording organisations across the world demonstrates that recording deaths can be done even in difficult circumstances, by a range of methods appropriate to different environments
  • full and detailed casualty recording not only puts the human consequences of armed conflict into the public record, it addresses the rights of victims and their families, assists conflict-affected populations, and is essential to lesson-learning by governments, militaries, and other parties to conflict
  • states, inter-governmental organisations and civil society can take steps now to improve and support conflict casualty recording

This policy paper can be downloaded as a PDF.

Good Practice in Casualty Recording: Testimony, Detailed Analysis and Recommendations From a Study of 40 Casualty Recorders

The collection of practice-focused papers resulting from this research project is aimed primarily at those who record casualties, are intending to do this work, or are interested in understanding current casualty recording practice better. The papers that make up the collection are:

These papers are an evolving collection of reviews and analyses looking at key themes in practice, and how casualty recorders in different situations worldwide address them. The collection aims to provide practitioners with a reflection of their field which might help them strengthen their own work, and is also aimed at those who wish to support or understand current practice better.

State and UN practice in casualty recording

The practice of casualty recording is now receiving increased international attention. The UN Secretary-General’s reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict for 2012 and 2013 both stress the importance of recording casualties. The Secretary-General has recommended that the UN establish a common system to record civilian casualties. Yet, despite this interest, no body of evidence about states’ and the United Nations' actual practices in casualty recording had been consolidated - until now.

In the July 2012 Security Council Open Debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (PoC), the Group of Friends on PoC requested an overview of current practice in casualty recording, prompted in part by interest generated in the preliminary findings of EC's NGO-focused study. In response to this request, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and the Every Casualty programme at Oxford Research Group (EC) have undertaken research into states' and United Nations' practices in casualty recording, in a joint project.

EC concentrated on examining the role and availability of information about casualties at UNHQ (New York/Geneva), and conducted a case study into the civilian casualty recording carried out by the Human Rights unit of the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). AOAV examined a number of state case studies, looking in particular at examples of the impact and benefits of undertaking casualty recording.

On 16 April 2014, the results of our research were launched at an event hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN in Geneva. Three papers were published:

Casualty Recording: Assessing State and United Nations Practices

  • A short joint summary of findings and recommendations from AOAV and EC's research. The paper elaborates the key benefits of casualty recording documented by our studies, and gives recommendations for implementation to states, UN actors and civil society.

Counting the Cost: Casualty Recording Practices and Realities Around the World

  • AOAV's report into state practice and the benefits of recording deaths and injuries from armed violence.

The UN and Casualty Recording: Good Practice and the Need for Action

  • EC's report examining the state of casualty recording within the UN system, with a detailed case study of the civilian casualty recording done by UNAMA, and the lessons that can be learnt from this work.

AOAV and EC conclude that there are many important benefits to systematically recording casualties. These range from informing political action and the development of programmes to address armed violence, to supporting violence reduction, victims' rights, and accountability.

We recommend that political commitment on casualty recording needs to be strengthened among states, and practice should be developed within the UN system. When recording casualties: injuries should be recorded as well as deaths; a comprehensive scope should be adopted; recorders should take advantage of technological advances; standards in data should be developed and applied; and the purpose and uses of data should be determined in advance to ensure the realisation of benefits.

Casualty recording and new ways of war:

Changes in military engagement, towards more covert and remotely operated ways of using armed force, are an evolving trend. Every Casualty, commissioned by the Remote Control Project, explored in 2014 the implications of this for casualty recording. We examined the additional challenges these tactics pose to casualty recording practice – and to the call on states to carry it out. In August 2014 we published:

Losing Sight of the Human Costs: Casualty Recording and Remote Control Warfare

The paper looks in particular at the use of armed drones, special forces, private military and security companies, and the potential development of lethal autonomous weapons. It examines current examples of casualty recording practice under remote control tactics, and the difficulties that practitioners face. The paper discusses how both state and, crucially, independent casualty recording must be strengthened if the casualties of remote-control tactics are to be recorded. It also examines why transparent casualty recording is important to evaluating the acceptability and desirability of these tactics.