NEW: Casualty recording is now a human rights issue in the UN

July 7, 2020

On 1 july 2020 Rachel Taylor, a consultant researcher working with AOAV, wrote that for the first time “Casualty recording has been recognised as an essential component of human rights at the highest international level”. The topic is too important for just a reference, so here long excerpts:

Casualty recording was explicitly mentioned in three resolutions passed by 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: the biennial thematic resolution on Prevention of Genocide; the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; and the resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria.

[A bit more on this UK-based NGO: Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) central mission: to carry out research and advocacy in order to reduce the incidence and impact of global armed violence.It does research on the harm wrought by explosive weapons. AOAV carries out research and advocacy campaigns to strengthen international laws and standards on the availability and use of conventional and improvised weapons, to build recognition of the rights of victims and survivors of armed violence, and to research the root causes and consequences of armed violence in affected countries. It publishes Global Explosive Violence Monitor, as well reportsn on manufactured weapons, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and guns.]

In the early months of this year, AOAV worked with diplomats to ensure the importance of casualty recording was recognised within the Council’s agenda.

The importance of civil society-led casualty recording, alongside initiatives by states and/or internationally mandated organisations, is acknowledged in the Prevention of Genocide resolution. Similarly, the resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar includes casualty recorders alongside human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others for whom the right to access and share information publicly merits special protection. This strengthens high-level recognition of the validity of casualty recorders’ work and its legal relevance. It also supports casualty recorders’ demands for access to official information on casualties which states may be reluctant to share.

The Myanmar resolution cites casualty recording as a component of victims’ and survivors’ right to an effective remedy. This is reinforced in the Prevention of Genocide resolution which recognises the contribution of casualty recording towards ‘ensuring accountability, truth, justice, reparation, [and] guarantees of non-recurrence’. These rights are universal, non-derogable and legally binding under international human rights law. The incorporation of casualty recording as a component or contributing facet of these rights paves the way towards its recognition per se as a specific legal obligation of states.

The resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arabic Republic draws a link between casualty recording and states’ obligations under humanitarian law to search for and identify missing persons in armed conflict. It also calls upon parties to the conflict to enable communication with families during the recording process. This supports families’ rights to demand information and transparency from state authorities concerning the death of a loved one. Elsewhere, the Syria resolution notes that the absence of casualty records can affect inheritance and custody rights, particularly for women and children. This is important recognition of the gendered impact of inadequate casualty recording, which links the issue with the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda as well as efforts related to the rights of children in armed conflict.

For many years, casualty recording has been promoted as a humanitarian tool rather than a human rights principle. This was misguided. Although there is clear evidence of casualty recording obligations in international humanitarian law, the link between casualty recording and human rights is far more pertinent. There can be no effective right to life, to truth, or to accountability without casualty recording, to name just a few.

Bringing new concepts and terminology into Human Rights Council resolutions is never easy. Semantic battles over virtual synonyms can rage for weeks. States seem to be – by default – often opposed to things that may place new or more stringent obligations upon them. Many arguments are used to push new issues away from the Council’s agenda and onto a different body whether this be humanitarian, development or security-focused.

Effective humanitarian responses rely on rapid production and transmission of rough, ‘good enough’ data. This is far removed from the comprehensive and meticulous investigation, identification, and documentation of individual deaths which casualty recording entails. These initiatives take place over many years, often alongside judicial or pseudo-judicial processes, long after humanitarian actors have left the field. In short, casualty recording is not a humanitarian issue. It is an essential element of the human rights regime.

The 43rd session of the Human Rights Council recognised this and has taken the first steps towards international recognition a legal obligation on states to respect, protect and fulfil the right to comprehensive and individualised casualty recording. This is only good news.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/getting-it-right-casualty-recording-human-rights-issue-un-has-now-shown

In the same context also a reference to the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG – slogan: “We are statisticians for human rights“) analyzes the patterns and magnitude of large-scale human rights violations. Together with local partners, HRDAG collects and preserves human rights data and helps NGOs and other human rights organizations accurately interpret quantitative findings. HRDAG statisticians, programmers, and data analysts develop methodologies to determine how many of those killed and disappeared have never been accounted for – and who is most responsible. HRDAG is one of the pioneers for the calculation of scientifically sound statistics about political violence from multiple data sources including the testimony of witnesses who come forward to tell their stories. It describes methodologies that HRDAG analysts have developed to ensure that statistical human rights claims are transparently, demonstrably, and undeniably true. See: http://(http://www.hrdag.org/

I should furthermore declare my interest in the topic of documenting human rights as one of the founders of HURIDOCS in 1982, see: https://www.huridocs.org/who-we-are/

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