Dr Lily Hamourtziadou on casualty recording and human rights

Dr Lily Hamourtziadou, Senior Lecturer in Criminology with Security Studies, participated in a round table discussion at the Houses of Parliament to deliberate a resolution on the importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights. Lily is also principal researcher and analyst of casualty-recording NGO Iraq Body Count, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She told us about the importance of casualty recording, her experience attending the discussion and the resolution that was decided by the United Nations.

What is casualty recording and why is it important?

Casualty recording is the process of documenting death within conflict, and the aim is to individually identify each victim and their cause of death. It is a widely spoken about topic due to its sensitive nature and is linked to a number of humanitarian and human rights concerns.

It is important because when done effectively, casualty recording aids in keeping the dignity and rights of survivors, alongside the peace of mind of victims’ families. It can also help to protect civilians that live in conflict areas. Furthermore, information obtained via casualty records helps monitor whether humanitarian law is being complied to, and how to reduce the risk of harm caused to civilians.

Parliamentary discussion

Other speakers present included Henry Smith MP, Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of The Centre for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, and Iain Overton, investigative journalist and executive director of AOAV. 

Two main topics were discussed: UK support for Ukraine and the need to record and report civilian casualties in the Russia-Ukraine war.  

At the meeting, Henry Smith MP confirmed a further £1 billion of UK military support to Ukraine, almost doubling the UK’s military assistance, which since the outbreak of war stands at £2.3 billion, more than any country apart from the United States. This support will go towards sophisticated air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit, all necessary in helping Ukraine defend their homeland and drive out the illegal invasion. The UK is also working with Ukraine to deliver a new training programme to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, potentially training up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days using battle-proven British Army expertise. This initiative will build on the success of the long-standing Operation Orbital, which trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian personnel from 2015. 

While in full agreement that Ukraine needs to be supported in the defensive war it is fighting against Russia, I was more interested in the issue of civilian deaths in this and other invasions, due to my work as a casualty recorder for Iraq Body Count since 2005. I raised the issue of accountability for crimes committed against all civilians, not only the Ukrainians. While the UK is keen to point out Russian brutality against the defenceless civilians of Ukraine, including hundreds of children already killed, the invasion of Iraq by the US-UK coalition killed over 7,500 Iraqi civilians. 24,865 civilians were reported killed in the first two years, 2003-2005. Nobody has been held accountable for those killings by UK, US, Iraqi or international courts and tribunals. 


In a resolution on the Importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on the impact of casualty recording on the promotion and protection of human rights, and to present the report to the Council at its fifty-third session. Draft resolution A/HRC/50/L.6 on the Importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights was adopted without a vote.

According to customary humanitarian law, each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to search for, collect and evacuate the dead without adverse distinction. There are binding international legal obligations upon parties of armed conflict to: (a) search for all missing civilians as a result of hostilities, occupation or detention and (b) collect all of the casualties of armed conflict from the area of hostilities as soon as circumstances permit. The rules apply to all the dead, the military dead and to civilians, from both sides of the conflict.

Criminology with Security Studies

Students who study Criminology with Security at BCU learn about different approaches to security, for example, whose security do we need to be more concerned about, that of states, or that of individuals? And what does security mean? Protection from diseases? Breathing clean air? Enjoying good health? Having enough food? Being financially secure? Having our rights and freedoms protected? Or having enough military capabilities to fight enemies?

Security Studies students also study terrorism and counter terrorism, types of insurgency and human rights. We encourage our students to develop critical thinking when examining developing crises in areas of migration and refugees, hate crimes and the creation of suspect communities.

We also look at state behaviour. When and why do states go to war? What kind of wars do they fight? How do those wars impact human life? When do states form alliances, what measures do they take to combat threats to their interests and what are those interests? Case studies such as the Russia-Ukraine war, the War on Terror and the Irish War of Independence are used to evaluate threats to national security and state behaviour. Through the study of armed conflict, we can assess not only military strategy and the use of new technologies, but also impact on the civilian population: human rights violations, mass or targeted killings, displacements and the commission of war crimes.

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