Three groundbreaking UN resolutions promote casualty recording for the first time

Human Rights Council Resolutions A/HRC/43/26 (Myanmar), A/HRC/43/28 (Syria), A/HRC/43/29 (Genocide)

The 43rd regular session of the Human Rights Council – which was temporarily suspended due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions – has passed three resolutions containing recognition of casualty recorders and the importance of their work.

Despite the direct relevance of casualty recording to many of the issues which feature routinely on the Council’s agenda, this is the first time casualty recording has been explicitly referenced. The resolutions, relating to the situations in Myanmar and Syria, and to the Prevention of Genocide, are believed to be the first explicit references to casualty recording in any UN resolution.

The Prevention of Genocide resolution recognises the importance of civil society-led casualty recording, alongside initiatives by states and/or internationally mandated organisations, as a crucial tool in ensuring accountability and preventing genocide denial. Similarly, the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar cites casualty recording as a component of victims’ and survivors’ right to an effective remedy. These rights are universal, no-derogable and legally binding under international human rights law. Recognising casualty recording as a component of these core obligations is an important step towards developing explicit commitments on casualty recording itself in international law.

The resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria links casualty recording with states’ obligations under international humanitarian law to search for and identify missing persons in armed conflict. It also calls upon parties to the conflict to enable communication with families during the recording process, recognising their right to know the truth about the fate of a loved one.

The Syria resolution also highlights the gendered impact of inadequate recording of deaths in armed conflict. In the absence of reliable casualty records, survivors can face obstacles realising their economic and social rights. Women and children in particular may be denied rights of inheritance or custody.