Casualty recording in peace operations – International Peace Institute seminar

ECP Senior Advocacy Officer Hana Salama addresses attendants of an IPI seminar on protection of civilians in peace operations. Photo credit: Don Pollard, IPI

Casualty recording and casualty tracking mechanisms were recognised as vital elements of a holistic approach to protecting civilians in peace operations at a half-day seminar hosted last week by the International Peace Institute

The seminar, entitled “Protecting Civilians in Peace Operations: Best Practices and Emerging Issues”, was organized jointly by IPI and the governments of Austria and Norway. Bringing together practitioners from both the humanitarian and peacekeeping fields, the event provided an opportunity to discuss ways for peacekeeping operations to improve the protection of civilians. 

The need to continue and improve civilian casualty monitoring mechanisms for both humanitarian and military actors engaged in peace operations emerged as a central theme amongst the panelists. Repeating the adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Robert Ayasse, NATO HQ Focal Point for Protection of Civilians – Afghanistan Operations Team, drew attention to the success of casualty tracking mechanisms in helping to significantly reduce civilian casualties of ISAF operations in Afghanistan. An in-depth analysis of ISAF’s casualty tracking mechanism and its successes is documented in a recent report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict, whose director, Marla Keenan also spoke at the session. 

Greg Puley, Chief of the Policy Advice and Planning Section at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasized the role casualty recording can play in mitigating risks to the civilian community, highlighting how such a practice is an “important part of the follow up on the Secretary General’s agenda on the Rights up Front action plan”. A key aspect of the plan, noted Puley, will be “improving the way the UN system works together to manage information on casualties.”

In her presentation to the panel, Every Casualty Senior Officer Hana Salama emphasized that the first step in improving the management of casualty information is ensuring that comprehensive data on civilian casualties is systematically collected both prior to and after the implementation of peacekeeping mandates by the United Nations. Casualty information can thus feed into the formulation of protection mandates and help to ensure that mandates more effectively address the realities on the ground. 

“Casualty recording is a practical tool that can help narrow the gap between the protection norm and its implementation”, Ms. Salama said, adding that, “the UN could play a crucial role in recording casualties as long as it is viewed as an impartial actor.” Salama highlighted the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Human Rights Unit as an example of good practice in casualty recording, and urged other missions to replicate UNAMA’s work in order to more effectively fulfill their protection mandates. 

Salama highlighted five key factors that contributed to the success of the UNAMA casualty recording system and which might be replicated by other UN missions, including:

  • Credibility of data, as a result of robust and transparent methodology;
  • Rigorous data verification methods;
  • An established and wide reaching field presence;
  • Timely and effective analysis and use of data, including advocacy with international and national forces;
  • Data sharing with relevant actors throughout the UN and with civil society groups.

The work of the UNAMA Human Rights Unit, and the casualty recording practices of the United Nations more broadly, is the focus of the Every Casualty programme’s report, The UN and casualty recording. 

A full webcast of the IPI seminar can be viewed on the IPI website, including the panel session “Practices to Meet and Address the Emerging Challenges of Protecting Civilians in Peace Operations”.

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