What is Casualty Recording?

Kamloops Residential School Memorial, May 30th 2021

Kamloops Residential School Memorial, May 30th 2021

Casualty recording is about more than just fatality statistics. It is about recognising the rights and dignity of every individual affected by armed conflict.

Casualty recording typically involves the systematic logging of specific details relating to individual deaths caused by armed violence. The process takes a victim-centric approach and seeks to establish and document the name, age, sex, and other relevant demographic details of every casualty. The broader details of the incident such as date, location, the number of people killed, the means of violence used and the responsible party are also noted.

Who does it?

Credit: Photo by Anja Niedringhaus/AP/Shutterstock (7117141b) Iraqi Mahdi Nawaf shows photographs of dead family members during a funeral ceremony in Ramadi, Iraq. Mahdi said they were were killed when a U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party near the border with Syria killing more than 40 people. The photographs show: Iraqi father Mohammed Al-Rikad, right, his wife Morifa, left, and their children Saad, 10, Fasila, 7, Faisal, 5, Anoud, 6, Kholood, 4 and three year-old Inad.

Community based and non-governmental organisations are often the ones conducting casualty recording – such as the organisations who make up our Casualty Recorders Network.

Sometimes UN missions or commissions of inquiry also conduct or use casualty recording as part of their broader work.

States have legal obligations to ensure people who die or go missing in armed conflict are accounted for. However, public services normally involved in recording deaths (such as health-workers, coroners and police forces) are often unable to function effectively, especially in conflict situations. In addition, there can be political reasons why state authorities do not publish or share information on conflict related deaths.

How is it used?

Casualty records provide valuable evidence that support a number of aims including:

  • Enabling survivors to know the fate of their loved ones
  • Accountability in international criminal prosecutions for war crimes
  • Compensation and reparations for victims’ families
  • Public memorials for victims
  • Informing media reporting through accurate statistics and details
  • Protecting civilians by reducing the unintended consequences of military activities and improving humanitarian response planning

Casualty recording is intricately linked to a variety of humanitarian and human rights concerns. Effective casualty recording can help protect civilians in conflict areas and uphold the rights and dignity of survivors for generations. 

The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Israel
Victims of the Holocaust – Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Israel