Casualty Recording at the UNSC Protection of Civilians Debate

On June 26, 2012 the Security Council met under the Chinese presidency for the annual Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Some 45 countries spoke during the debate, with a number of them explicitly recognising the need for improved casualty recording practices in armed conflict in their statements. The Secretary-General’s most recent annual report on Protection of Civilians also endorsed and promoted the use of casualty recording as a vital tool in this area.

Casualty recording was included in the Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator’s statement that strongly echoed the United Nations Secretary-General’s statement and called for more “systematic recording of civilian casualties, combined with regular reporting.“

States, including Portugal, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria, explicitly recognised the need for casualty recording as a tool to strengthen accountability and compliance with international humanitarian law, and as a means to analyse and improve the effectiveness of Protection of Civilians mandates.

Uruguay made the compelling case that casualty recording is “in line with the principles of humanitarian law, primarily by its relationship with some of the most basic values of human dignity, and also for its potential practical benefits such as identifying the cause of harm to civilians.”

The representative of Switzerland, speaking for the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and Uruguay) suggested that, as a step forward, “the Council’s discussions may benefit from an overview in the next Secretary-General‘s report of existing [casualty recording] practices, as well as from specific recommendations on ways to ensure systemic and reliable data collection in compliance with humanitarian principles.”

The European Union delegation also explicitly recognized the need for improved casualty recording and welcomed efforts by AMISOM and ISAF to track civilian casualties. In addition, the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that his office supported “the creation of similar mechanisms within the Afghan security forces as an effective means of increasing civilian protection and accountability during the transition to full Afghan control of security. This would allow Afghan forces to perform accurate, professional and timely investigations into all incidents of civilian casualties caused by them and to reduce re-occurrence.” In relation to this, France also stated that “such policies (of tallying and identifying civilian victims) could be developed and extended to other missions so as to help identify the harm done to civilians and to enable the Security Council to respond appropriately.”

Many states also recognised the importance of commissions of inquiry conducted by OHCHR and encouraged such mandates to be established early on in a crisis in order to prevent further violations and provide the relevant UN agencies with a factual basis for further action. OHCHR also recognised that the Security Council can play an important role in enhancing the impact of the work of these commissions, by requesting states and other actors to cooperate with them, and making more consistent use of the information and analysis they produce.