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Every Casualty: creation of an online knowledge base

Dr Lily Hamourtziadou worked with the Every Casualty project - an organisation, exclusively focused on advancing casualty recording in situations of armed violence - to create a significant FAQ resource which set the standards for casualty recording. 

Every casualty project large

Researchers

Lily Hamourtziadou

Research background

Every Casualty was initially established as a project of the Oxford Research Group in 2007, and became a fully independent organisation in 2014. Every Casualty is an independent not-for-profit organisation, exclusively focused on advancing casualty recording in situations of armed violence. It supports and promotes the development of casualty recording as a field, through research into and dissemination of best practice, providing expert advice, facilitating peer exchange among practitioners, and encouraging standardisation where applicable.

Every Casualty also conducts international advocacy to encourage states and inter-governmental organisations to conduct, promote and facilitate casualty recording. This includes supporting and engaging with civil society casualty recorders. The Every Casualty Campaign calls on states, in partnership with other actors, to recognise every casualty of armed violence by ensuring that all casualties are promptly recorded, correctly identified and publicly acknowledged.

BCU’s contribution to Every Casualty began in 2016, assisting with setting the Standards for Casualty Recording. As principal researcher of Iraq Body Count, I worked with Every Casualty researchers to set Standards for Casualty Recording –a document that had its international launch at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva.

Research aims

The overarching aims of this research are to document, identify and acknowledge civilian deaths during conflict. Other objectives in support of this aim include:

  • Ensuring that the information produced is adequate and accessible as a basis for addressing the rights and needs of victims.
  • Take all relevant actions at the national level and work with others to develop an international framework for casualty recording.
  • Enable timelier, transparent, reliable and comprehensive monitoring of armed violence, including its impact on specific groups, gives a human face to the many nameless, hidden, and often distant victims of armed violence.
  • To provide essential information for all parties to take every possible step to protect civilians from armed violence, thereby encouraging them to do so.
  • To uphold and advance the rights of victims of armed violence.
  • To bring states and parties to armed violence into better compliance with the spirit as well as the letter of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and to hopefully support post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.

Research methods

Dr Hamourtziadou created a knowledge base for the Every Caualty website, in the form of an FAQ. This involved extracting data from reports, studies and prior research. Some examples of this work are featured below.

Consistency in Casualty Recording

For casualty data to be trustworthy and usable, casualty recorders must strive to collect it in a consistent way.

Defining a clear scope from the beginning is important -choosing carefully the sources that will be used and the method according to which incidents or individual deaths will be confirmed or not, devising standard operational procedures to guide practice and providing training to all involved in these processes. Standardising operations is very important to increase the accuracy of the data returned through the consistent application of a process. All casualty recorders devise standard operational procedures to be shared internally which can be put within a codebook – which is also a suitable document to share more publicly as an explanation of one’s methodology. Such practice does not preclude the evolution or change of a methodology – which should always be indicated – so long as processes continue being implemented consistently.

Inclusiveness in Casualty Recording

It is important for casualty recorders to work towards avoiding biases. It is recommended in general that all deaths from armed violence or armed conflict are recorded.

Some practitioners may however decide to only record the deaths that were caused by a specific weapon or the casualties of one party to a conflict, in line with their organisation’s purpose. It is not recommended that anyone killed should be excluded from the casualty recording process but if it is done then the principle of transparency demands that casualty recorders make clear the limitations to their data and their inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Does the UN record the casualties of armed conflict?

The UN does not systematically record casualties except in very few cases. As such, casualty recording is not a well-defined or widespread practice within the UN, nor is it recognised as an essential activity by the UN.

Even where a mandate for it may exist, country-level leadership may not take undertake recording. Alternatively, the responsibility for casualty recording among the UN agencies, departments, and offices present in a country may be unclear. In order for effective civilian casualty recording to be routinely implemented, it must be more widely understood and supported within the UN as a priority activity in the protection of civilians. Its contribution to other action to assist civilians should also be recognised. One of the most important uses of information about casualties for the UN is advocacy for the prevention of future deaths and injuries. Given the difficulty of gaining influence in some political contexts, this may not always succeed. Yet without casualty recording, a key tool for leveraging action for violence reduction is missing, which could have implications for the protection of civilians.

Outcomes and impact

Perhaps the biggest impact of this work, besides the setting of international standards for casualty recording, has been the commitment of the UK government to reporting numbers and non-personal details of civilian casualties admitted to UK military field hospitals during combat operations. The tireless daily work and commitment of casualty recorders like Lily has led to the Ministry of Defence making this statement in 2018:

Recognising the important work being done by a number of UK registered charities, including Every Casualty Worldwide, Save the Children, and AirWars, to ensure that all lives lost to armed violence anywhere in the world are properly recorded, the Ministry of Defence is making a commitment to increase transparency by publishing the number of all civilians admitted to UK military field hospitals.

This information will detail the following:

  • Type of civilian (e.g. UK civilian, Local civilian, Detainees. The split by type of civilian vary dependent on the nature of the operation)
  • Casualty type (e.g. Battle Injury, Non Battle Injury, Disease/Natural causes)
  • Disposal (e.g. Death in hospital, Discharged home, Discharged to another hospital).

- Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williams.

This policy advance is one tangible outcome of a series of consultative meetings between officials at the Ministry of Defence and representatives of Every Casualty and its NGO partners, such as Iraq Body Count. These meetings took place in the context of broader initiatives by Government to make practical responses to the insights and recommendations of the Chilcot Report (Iraq Inquiry) of 2016.