25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, ‘Lost Lives’ remains one of the greatest examples of casualty recording in contemporary history.
This week marked the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement – the groundbreaking peace deal that brought an end to 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Acknowledging his country’s role in the historic deal, US president Joe Biden arrived in Northern Ireland yesterday evening (11/04/23), stating that his priority is to “keep the peace” and ensure the agreement is preserved.
During the three decades of the Troubles, 3,720 people were killed and 47,541 were injured as a result of the conflict. Over half of all deaths (54%) were civilians and 41% of deaths were people under the age of 25. (Source: Ulster University fact sheet.)
A lasting commemoration
The stories of the men, women and children who lost their lives as a result of the Troubles are recounted in the extraordinary book ‘Lost Lives’. First published in 1999 – a year after the Good Friday agreement was signed – it serves as an example of how casualty recording highlights the human impact of armed conflict; transforming anonymous numbers into real people’s lives. The book chronologically documents the circumstances of every violent death resulting from the Troubles, memorialising and naming each of the individuals.
For over 20 years a Church in Dublin has read out the list of names every Easter weekend, in a three-hour ceremony. The most recent commemoration took place this Good Friday, 7th April. Victims and survivor groups have also advocated for the book to be made freely available in schools, colleges and libraries, however the books surviving authors are opposed to having the book reprinted as they don’t want to leave it ‘open to political influence.’
From page to screen
Lost Lives has now also been made into an award-winning feature length film of the same name, released in late 2019. During its initial release in Belfast, screenings were sold out for five weeks. In post-screening Q+A sessions, audience members from all sides of the political spectrum spoke about their personal experiences of bereavement caused by the political violence. The film was also discussed, and screened, at the national parliament in Dublin. Lost Lives has won several international awards and been shown around the world as part of the official selection at film festivals including Hot Docs (Toronto) and the BFI London Film Festival. It has also been broadcast on television in the UK.
Remedy and reparation
Over 10 years in the making, Lost Lives is widely regarded as a defining text, with some recognising that never before has conflict anywhere in the world been subjected to such meticulous scrutiny. As such, we made sure to highlight the book as an example of good practice in our recent submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) ahead of their upcoming report on the importance of casualty recording for human rights.
It is clear that effective casualty recording helps States’ to fulfil their obligations under international law. Indeed, one of the most important impacts of casualty recording can be the hardest to measure – fulfilling victims’ rights to remedy and reparation.
We are acutely aware that Lost Lives – alongside the other examples we cite in our submission – are predominantly led by civil society. These are brilliant initiatives being carried out by extraordinary people and organisations. Yet, it is important to recognise that these do not absolve States from their obligations to record the casualties of armed conflict.
At Every Casualty Counts we believe that the way we remember, and respect, our dead is central to our humanity. Lost Lives shows us what this looks like in practice.