UNSC annual Protection of Civilians debate recognises importance of casualty recording

On February 12, the UN Security Council held its annual debate on Protection of Civilians. In her opening statement, Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasised the need for fact-finding missions, drawing particular attention to the need for information on civilian deaths in South Sudan and the Central African Republic. “Experiences in the field confirmed that timely and well-resourced human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting were essential for the effective implementation of protection mandates,” she explained, adding that “sound and compelling human rights information and analysis must be at the core of civilian protection strategies.”  

Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, also recognised casualty recording as an important issue that was highlighted by the Secretary General in his most recent report on Protection of Civilians.

During the debate, which covered a wide range of topics related to protecting civilians in armed conflict, Lithuania, Austria and the Netherlands highlighted the work of ISAF, AMISON and UNAMA as setting positive precedents for the use of civilian casualty tracking and casualty recording mechanisms, to support and measure the protection of civilians. Austria added that MONUSCO’s intervention brigade should consider using such mechanisms in order to better fulfill its mandate. Similarly Colombia mentioned “the need for the Security Council to strengthen the capacity to acquire accurate information about the situation before the elaboration of [peacekeeping mandates] and to monitor progress in the field during their implementation”. Information on casualties would be an essential aspect of the required information.  

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (which includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Uruguay), made explicit calls for casualty recording in relation to the Secretary General’s new ‘Rights up Front’ initiative, stating,

“the Group notes the continuation of efforts to ensure effective and credible casualty recording mechanisms, noting further that the establishment of systematic and credible records of civilian casualties in the right context could support broader efforts to monitor and report on violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, while taking into account the practical challenges in recording casualties, civilian or otherwise.”

In the same vein, Austria welcomed the Secretary General’s recommendation in his November 2013 report for the introdudction of a common UN system to systematically record civilian casualties. Chile also called for a “registry of civilian casualties”.

Many calls were made among member states for improved coordination of information and data collection within peace operations in order to strengthen early warning systems. Chile emphasised that “resources and capacities must be granted to missions in a timely manner”, while also calling for “better early warning efforts and coordination on the ground”. The United Kingdom urged “mission leadership to establish effective coordination mechanisms that include all relevant departments, that enhance data collection and analysis, and that improve early warning and rapid response”. Such work, the UK continued, should be central for everyone “from the police and military, to civilian personnel, where[ever] a mission is mandated to protect civilians.”