In December 2021 the UN General Assembly requested the Secretary General, in collaboration with OHCHR, conduct a study on strengthening efforts to deal with missing persons in Syria (GA Resolution A/RES/76/228). Every Casualty Counts, together with the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (Violations Documentation Centre), made a joint submission to the High Commissioner with a number of recommendations for the study. The full statement can be downloaded below.
In addition to the tens of thousands of individuals who have been detained and forcibly disappeared in Syria since the start of the conflict, thousands of others have become missing due to inadequate casualty recording. When deaths in conflict are not adequately accounted for, the deceased become part of the wider population of the Missing. In many cases, this outcome could have been avoided with relatively simple measures to support prompt, comprehensive and transparent casualty recording. As the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in her statement to the Human Rights Council in September 2021, ‘[d]ocumenting deaths is directly complementary to efforts to account for missing people.’
Our joint recommendations included:
- The international community should support the creation of a specialised independent mechanism to deal with missing persons in Syria, or designate responsibility for coordinating all international efforts on missing persons to a specific existing mechanism. With additional allocated funding, this role could be given to, for example, the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the International Commission on Missing Persons.
- The mechanism (whether this is a new or existing entity) should collaborate with all existing international initiatives currently mandated to address issues related to missing persons in Syria. It should also work directly with relevant local and international civil society organisations, including victims’ and families’ groups and casualty recording organisations. The mechanism should also endeavour, to the extent possible, to establish a continuous system of direct communication with Syrian health and death services, to receive regular reports of confirmed deaths.
- The mechanism should be mandated to create and maintain a centralised, comprehensive database incorporating information on all persons reported as missing or killed as a direct consequence of the armed conflict in Syria. It is essential that information on those individuals reported as missing and those known / believed to be deceased are incorporated within the same database. This coordination facilitates efficient cross-referencing of cases, allowing users to identify quickly whether an individual reported as missing has been recorded as deceased.
- To ensure that information can be shared effectively and accurately, all entities working with the mechanism should apply a single, standardised approach for recording data on casualties / missing persons. This system should be agreed in advance, following consultation with all relevant parties. When developing this agreed approach, the mechanism should have regard to the Standards for Casualty Recording and the ICRC Model Law on the Missing.
- All parties to the conflict in Syria, including international actors, should cooperate with efforts to record and identify missing persons and casualties. This includes reporting publicly and promptly on military actions with maximum transparency whenever casualties may have occurred. Such reports should include the maximum information possible concerning battle damage assessments, civilian casualty reports, and any further relevant information which may help identify casualties.