New data shows 70% rise in civilian casualties from IEDs around the world in the last three years

There has been a dramatic rise in civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) over the last three years, new data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) shows.

Numbers compiled from English-language media reports show there was a 70% rise in the number of civilian casualties globally from IEDs like car bombs and suicide vests last year compared to 2011. In 2011 13,340 civilians were killed and injured by IEDs. 2013 saw this number shoot up to 22,735.

In total AOAV’s data, which has been compiled over the last three years and is the only dataset used by the United Nations for tracking explosive weapon harm, showed there have been over 60,000 deaths and injuries from IEDs in 2011 – 2013. 81% of these casualties were civilians.

IEDs did not just impact Iraq and Afghanistan. AOAV recorded IED incidents in 66 different countries and territories in the last three years. Of these countries, eight, including Pakistan, Nigeria and Thailand, saw over 1,000 civilian casualties of IEDs.

New trends show that civilians are at greater risk due to the increased use of large vehicle-borne IEDs and the rise in the numbers of incidents occurring in populated areas.

The figures showed that:

• In 2013, 62% of all IED incidents took place in populated areas, like markets and cafes. This is compared to 51% in 2011.
• Civilians are at much greater risk from IEDs in populated areas. 91% of casualties from IEDs in populated areas were civilians, compared to 42% in other areas.
• Car bombs are being used more frequently. The proportion of IED attacks involving car bombs rose from 11% of all IED incidents in 2011, to 33% in 2013. Each car bomb incident caused an average of 25 civilian casualties.
• Over the last three years 34% of civilian casualties from IEDs were caused by suicide bombers. Suicide bombs were reported in 26 different countries, causing over 18,000 civilian casualties in the last three years.

“This huge increase in the number of innocent victims harmed and killed by IEDs is a terrible concern. Not only to those whose lives are transformed in an instant by these pernicious weapons, but to governments who have to bear the costs of the medical and security implications of these attacks. The use of suicide and car bombing as a major weapon is spreading, and fast. Countries that had not seen their use five years ago are experiencing their horrors now,” said Iain Overton, AOAV’s Director of Investigations.

“Governments should wake up to this emerging reality. Explosive munition stockpiles should be better maintained to prevent explosives from being smuggled out. Victims of IED attacks should receive proper medical and psychological help,” said AOAV’s CEO Steve Smith. “And society at large should respond, condemning this rising use, just as they did on land mines and poison gas. Because if actions like these are not carried out then the use of IEDs in populated areas will continue its harmful and bloody ascent.”

AOAV’s data on IEDs is drawn from almost 500 different English-language media sources. It captures only a snapshot of worldwide explosive violence as reported in the news media. As such it presents only a low estimate of the real extent of suffering caused by explosive violence.

AOAV has also produced a film that counters the narratives used by violent extremists to justify suicide bombings. The film can be viewed here.

AOAV has also carried out research on the long term impacts of IED attacks with a detailed examination of the aftermath of the Moon Market bombing in Lahore, Pakistan.

AOAV is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), a coalition of NGOs working to prevent the suffering caused by explosive weapons. UK-based organisations Oxfam International and Save the Children are also members.

This infographic visualises three years of harm caused by IEDs:

AOAV-IGw-3yr-IEDs-FINAL-700x1968

Sudan and China supplying Africa with arms, report concludes.

The Permanent Ambassador of Switzerland to the UN, Olivier Zehnder, said on Monday in New York, that newly produced ammunition was circulating in conflict countries in Africa and the Middle East. He said most of the arms originated from facilities in China and Sudan.

Zehnder, was presenting the findings of the 2014 Small Arms Survey, in which they found that the Sudan Government’s stockpiles were the primary source of weapons for non-state armed groups in Sudan and South Sudan.

Another major finding, according to the survey, was that the value of the global trade in small arms and light weapons has almost doubled between 2001 and 2011. In 2011 the top exporters of arms and light weapons, in descending order, were the U.S., Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, the Russian Federation, South Korea and Belgium. Other countries notable for exports are China, Turkey, Spain and the Czech Republic, Canada, Australia, Thailand, the U.K., and France.

US company invents a bullet proof blanket to protects kids from school schooters.

An Oklahoma company has designed a bullet-resistant blanket that’s meant to protect children and teachers in the event of a school shooting. The Bodyguard Blanket, made by ProTecht, is a bulletproof 5/16-inch pad that the company says is made from the same materials used by the U.S. military. The company estimates that the blanket can provide protection against 90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the U.S.

There were 13 school shootings in the U.S. recorded in the first six weeks of 2014.

A study in January 2014 found that 28 people have been killed in 44 school shootings since the Newtown tragedy.

 

Why firing squads cannot be seen as humane

A botched lethal injection in the US state of Oklahoma last month has caused a Utah lawmaker to come out and announce that he thinks the firing squad is a more humane form of execution. His musings are worth listening to as he plans to suggest that option for criminals sentenced to death in his state.

Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from the northern Utah city of Clearfield, plans to introduce his proposal during Utah’s next legislative session.

He may well succeed. Utah has a tradition of execution by firing squad. Five police officers used .30-caliber Winchester rifles to execute Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Utah eliminated execution by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention it gave inmates. But those sentenced to death before that date still had the option of choosing it, which explains how Gardner met his end.

Ray reinforced his argument with the observation that drug shortages that have complicated lethal injections.  He and lawmakers in other states also suggested firing squads might be the cheapest and most humane method.

“The prisoner dies instantly,” Ray said. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

But this is not always true.

The following two stories, I hope, illustrate that firing squad – apart from the moral debate of a state taking a life and the possibility of an innocent being executed – is not a 100% surefire way of killing someone.

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Wallace Wilkerson was born in 1834 in Quincy, Illinois, before moving to Utah with his family at the age of eight. At seventeen he worked as a stockman and repeatedly enlisted in the military, one time serving as a drummer in San Francisco. Around 1877, he found himself frequenting a nearby saloon that was tended by a man named William Baxter, who once had to break up a conflict between Wilkerson and another patron by using a revolver to settle them down.

As luck would have it, that same year fate conspired against Baxter when he wound up running into Wilkerson at another saloon and the two decided to play a game of cribbage for money.

As with most stories about card-playing in the 1800s, this one also took a turn for the worse with accusations of cheating. Baxter attempted to back out of the argument, but Wilkerson was having none of it and planted a bullet in the man’s forehead, then his temple. It later turned out that Baxter was unarmed at the time and Wilkerson was tried and convicted for premeditated murder.

The execution date was set for later that same year, and Wilkerson chose his method of death to be execution via firing squad, rather than the alternative options of being hanged or decapitated.

On the day of his death, Wilkerson was permitted to spend his remaining hours with his wife, during which time he must have gotten his hands on some alcohol, according to witnesses who saw him in his final moments. When he was at last taken from his cell, Wilkerson was dressed in black with a white felt hat and a cigar that he kept during the execution. The condemned man was then seated on a chair about thirty feet from the shooters as a blindfold was prepared for him. Wilkerson, however, declined to wear the blindfold, stating “I give you my word . . . I intend to die like a man, looking my executioners right in the eye.” Restraints, too, were eschewed at the word of the prisoner as a small white square was pinned over the man’s heart by a marshal.

Wilkerson took a deep breath and drew himself up straight in the chair in anticipation of the volley. This action, unbeknownst to Wallace, moved the target several inches upward as the executioners fired their salvo at him. One bullet shattered his left arm, while the rest punched into his torso, failing to instantly kill the man. Wilkerson, meanwhile, leapt from the chair and hit the ground screaming “Oh my God! My God! They have missed!”

Four doctors rushed to him amidst concerns that the executioners might have to shoot him again, but Wilkerson bled out from his wounds just twenty-seven minutes after receiving them.

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In Thailand Ginggaew Lorsoungnern was a former domestic for a Bangkok family. Using her familiarity and the trust established with the family that once employed her, she picked up their six year old boy from school and personally delivered him to a Thai kidnap gang, who then demanded a ransom from the child’s parents.

The parents complied, following the plan to hurl the money out of a moving train and close to a designated flag. Unfortunately, because the delivery occurred at night, the parents were unable to properly see the flag and missed the exact spot. Assuming the ransom was denied, the infuriated kidnappers proceeded to stab the young boy to death, at which point it’s alleged that Lorsoungnern flung her body over the boy’s and attempted to shield him. This act, assuming it happened at all, failed to save the boy who was then dumped into a grave. Another sad discovery came later, when the coroner found soil in the child’s lungs, indicating that he was still alive at the time of his burial.

For her role in the boy’s murder, Lorsoungnern was sentenced to death by shooting, an execution in which the condemned was tied to a wooden cross, with their hands bound in a praying position and their bodies facing a wall. Behind them, a screen was set up in which a target was drawn, indicating where the heart was. The executioner remained behind this screen, unable to see the prisoner’s body, and operated a mounted automatic rifle which would deliver fifteen or so bullets to the vicinity of the heart. The sheer amount of bullets striking such a vital region would typically ensure that death came instantly, provided the target did not struggle too much.

On the day of her death, January 13th, 1979, Lorsoungnern succumbed to repeated fainting spells, and had trouble standing under her own power. The escorts had to keep reviving her with smelling salts as they approached the execution room while she continued to maintain her innocence in the boy’s murder.

“I didn’t do it, I didn’t kill the boy,” she begged. “Please don’t kill me, I didn’t kill him.” Her desperate words fell upon deaf ears as the escorts finally managed to lead the woman to the cross and began to secure her to it. At last, the gun was loaded and the executioner took aim. A moment later ten bullets were consecutively fired into the screen.

Shortly after the shots were fired, a doctor approached the woman and checked for vital signs, none of which were found. Lorsoungnern was, by this point, bleeding profusely as they untied her body and laid her face down on the floor where she jerked and twitched slightly. Her chest had burst open from the bullets. Her body was moved to the morgue and placed upon a bed as they readied the next person for execution.

It was then, however, that Lorsoungnern began to utter sounds and attempt to sit up. The escorts rushed into the morgue, one of them rolling her over and pushing down on her back in an effort to help her bleed out quicker. Another attempted to strangle her, but was stopped.

She continued to breathe and was ordered to be tied back on to the cross. The escorts became covered in her blood as they tried to hoist her back into position. Finally, fifteen more bullets were put into her body and she was mercifully pronounced dead. The reasons for her unenviable death are as follows: she was not tied tightly enough to the cross, and could therefore wriggle out of position, and her heart happened to be on the right side of her body instead of the left.

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The Pentagon has a plan to halt a Zombie apocalypse.

imagesThis all might seem ludicrous… but it has been revealed that the US Defense Department has a disaster preparation document called “CONOP 8888″.

This is a zombie survival plan, developed to train commanders in the art of preparing for an global catastrophe.The Departmenr of Defence calls it “fictional contingency planning guidance”. The whole plan is called “Counter-Zombie Dominance,” and states, clearly that “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”

Military commanders are, in the scenario, asked how they would “preserve non-zombie humans from the threat posed by a zombie horde,” an unclassified Pentagon document shows.

The “worst case threat scenario,” so the plan goes, would be high “transmissibility,” —legions of the undead infecting humans rapidly, with little way to counter rapidly multiplying hordes of zombies.

Military strategists assigned to Omaha’s U.S. Strategic Command wrote the document in April 2011, as part of game plan to protect citizens against any kindof threat.

Ad agency Ogilvy sells mattresses using image of teenage girl shot in the face

What were they thinking?

Advertising agency Ogilvy has designearticle-2629179-1DDC33EC00000578-977_634x1344d a poster for a mattress company that shows the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai being shot in the face.

It shows Malala, who was 14 when she was shot by a Taliban extremist, falling backwards covered in blood, being attached to a drip and then ‘bouncing back’ to receive an award.

Indian bedding company Kurl-On commissioned a series of three poster adverts from the Indian branch of the British design agency.

Oh dear.

Should Glock and Beretta be arming the Guatemalan police?

cmimg_2158This week the Guatemalan government announced it is going to spend $12.6 million to buy new weapons for their National Civil Police. The Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla declared the intention to buy weapons from three different foreign manufacturers.  He called it an “exceptional agreement.”

The multi-million dollar deal means Guatemala is to buy 14,146 automatic pistols from Italy’s Pietro Beretta company for $5.7 million. Austria’s Glock manufacturer are to supply 3,000 more pistols from for about $6.8 million. They will also purchase 100 sub-machineguns purchased from Israel’s Weapon Industries for $152,000.

The question though that remains unanswered is whether these weapons will be used in human rights abuses by the Guatemalan police forces. A 2013 report by the US Department of State lists a number of concerns.  These include acknowledging that the civilian authorities failed to maintain effective control over the security forces and that members of the security forces commit human rights abuses. These include “widespread institutional corruption”, resulting in “serious crimes such as kidnapping, drug trafficking, and extortion; and societal violence, including often lethal violence, against women”. The report lists “killings of journalists and trade unionists” and host of other ills, untempered by “widespread” impunity.

It is hard to put a figure on all of this because the police force and its Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates security forces abuse, failed to  provide the total annual number of accusations of killings involving PNC agents at year’s end.

But there have been some prosecutions that show that there is a cause for concern in the country.  For instance, in the summer days of 2013, a former criminal investigations director of the police was sent down for 33 years for killing three inmates who escaped from the El Infiernito prison in 2005 and seven inmates who escaped from the Pavon prison in September 2006. In May of that year the former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, was also found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 80 years in prison, though this conviction was later overturned.

In all 17 police or former police officers were listed in the US report as having been arrested for child rape, torture, kidnappings or killings. And one suspects this is but the tip of a dirty iceberg because, as the report states, there is a lack of any “effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption… The level of impunity for security forces accused of committing crimes was high”. Put it this way – in the first 10 months of the 2013, there were 1,461 official complaints made against misconduct of police personnel. And this is just the official number listed.

A 2012 Human Rights report echoes these concerns, stating that “police have used repressive measures to curb gang activity, including arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial killings”.

These facts and hard and cold and of concern.

They raise the question: what, if any, limitations are imposed on gun producers from supplying to police forces known to commit extra-judicial killings?  Which other police forces do these gun producers supply to that are also known to commit human rights abuses?  And should there be a greater concern of such sales?  After all, we criticise Russia for suppling arms to the Syrian government.  Why not the Austrians or Germans or Israelis for supplying arms to governments who commit numerous extra-judicial abuses with impunity?

 

Chinese MANPAD production and sales

UnknownThe China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) are the two Chinese defence industry conglomerates that have facilities that produce man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS).

The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), part of CASC, has developed and produced the HN-5 (based on the Soviet Strela-2, SA-7) and the infra-red guided FN-6 MANPADS.

The China Precision Machines Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC) markets these items for export and Aerospace Long March International Trade Corporation (ALIT) also offers FN-6 and FN-16 MANPADS for export.

The Liuzhou Changhong Machinery Manufacturing Corporation is controlled by CASIC and produces the Qian Wei (QW) missile series, comparable to the Soviet Igla-1 (SA-16).

Chinese-produced MANPADS have been identified in the arsenals of several armed non-state groups in recent years, most likely due to post-delivery diversion from the holdings of authorized recipients. For example, Chinese-produced FN-6 MANPADS have been found in the possession of armed insurgent groups in Chad. Since Sudan is the only known sub-Saharan African recipient of these items, it is believed to have been the source. More generally, there are concerns that HN-5 MANPADS have reached armed non-state groups in South Asia via post-delivery diversion and illicit markets. For example, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Myanmar reportedly acquired 100 HN-5 MANPADS in the 2012, although the source is not known.

FN-6 MANPADS are reported to be in the hands of armed non-state actors in Syria. According to rebel forces in Syria, the FN-6 MANPADS were not recovered from Syrian stocks but supplied by an unnamed source.

Some reports have suggested that Sudan is the source of the FN-6 MANPADS used by armed non-state actors in Syria. Sudanese Government officials have rejected the reports.

SOURCES

‘Chinese MANPADS in Syria: does 2+2=FN-6?’, Brown Moses blog, 3 Mar. 2013,
http://brown- moses.blogspot.ch/2013/03/chinese-manpads-in-syria-does-2-2-fn-6.html;

‘First sightings of foreign MANPADS in Syria’, Brown Moses blog, 15 Feb. 2013, http://brown-moses.blogspot.fi/2013/02/first- sightings-of-foreign-manpads-in.html;

Karouny, M., ‘Insight: Syria rebels bolstered by new arms but divisions remain’, Reuters, 26 Feb. 2013.

Chivers, C. J., ‘Arms shipments seen from Sudan to Syria rebels’, New York Times, 12 Aug. 2013.

‘Sudan denies sending arms to Syria militants’, Fars News Agency, 16 Aug. 2013.

Reclaiming activism

I liked these thoughts from Alex Dewaal on the challenges of activism and what to do with regard to engaging as an activist.

First, activism should be undertaken in partnership with affected people, under their leadership. It should facilitate those people defining the problem for themselves – it is only by defining their problem that they can ever be master of it, rather than it becoming master of them. It should be sensitive to their leadership.

Second, activism should seek truth and speak truth. That means being honest to the facts, and doing the hard work of finding out realities, and when required, changing one’s mind accordingly. There should be no sacrifice of uncomfortable and complicated truths for the sake of simple messages that foreign audiences can understand and to which they can relate easily. A central part of activism is the hard intellectual work of understanding.

Third, activism should challenge power. That doesn’t mean abandoning the pragmatics of calculating effort and impact, of calibrating intermediate and strategic goals. But it does require being honest about where the greatest concentrations of power lie, and how that power is utilized, and making that power uncomfortable, at least. Lobbying that merely adjusts the trajectory of super-power policies, in directions that are not uncomfortable for that superpower to shift, is not challenging power, but giving power an alibi.

http://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2013/04/30/reclaiming-activism/

Counting the Cost of Conflict

How new methodologies and mechanisms of casualty recording are redefining efforts to protect civilians in conflict, and provide aid and accountability to victims of violence.

The comprehensive and systematic recording of casualties – including details about what happened, to whom, when, where, and why – is a key tool in protecting and assisting civilians living in conflict: without knowing who the victims of violence are, their needs for material assistance and redress, both during and after conflict, cannot be met.

Yet, in most areas affected by conflict and high rates of armed violence, there is no authoritative record of casualties. As a result, there can be no justice for those killed and injured. Those responsible cannot be held accountable, their family members cannot seek justice or redress, and the international community cannot respond effectively to those still struggling to survive.

More and more, however, states, civil society, and particularly the United Nations are beginning to appreciate the essential benefits of recording the deaths and injuries from armed violence.

On 27th March, states at the Human Rights Council voted for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate possible war crimes and abuses committed by both the state and the Tamil rebels in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. The negative reaction to this from Sri Lanka, which rejected the resolution as a violation of state sovereignty, was foreseeable.

The UN’s engagement with Sri Lanka, both during and after the conflict – which ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) – has been particularly difficult. The 2012 internal Petrie report reviewing UN performance at the end of the war identified a number of failings. One of the most damning findings was the UN system’s failure to effectively use local UN knowledge of mass civilian casualties in northern Sri Lanka to push for action – either from UN Member States or conflict parties – to prevent further harm to the civilian population.

Yet, while it is clear that the UN should have been more vocal about the loss of civilian life at the end of the conflict, ensuring Member States and conflict parties act on casualty data to protect civilians is a challenging task, one affected by political power dynamics often beyond the UN’s control.

Consider Syria, where the OHCHR’s very public reporting of casualty figures throughout the conflict has done little to spur UN Member States to action to protect civilians. As the death toll continues to rise we must ask whether information about casualties collected and reported on by the UN makes any difference at all. Can credible and impartial information on casualties ever really help to protect civilians living through conflict?

Casualty recording and the protection of civilians in conflict
The UN’s experience in Afghanistan shows that when it is used effectively, systematic and credible information about civilian casualties can indeed help save lives. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Human Rights unit (UNAMA HR) has systematically recorded civilian casualties since 2007. UNAMA HR analyses casualty data to identify the tactics and policies that cause the most harm to civilians, and uses it to support evidence-based dialogue – based on irrefutable data and analysis – with conflict parties, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban. By demonstrating the impact on civilians of particular tactics, UNAMA HR’s data has encouraged policy changes that protect civilian lives, including ISAF’s forbidding of the use of airstrikes on civilian dwellings in 2012 (except in exceptional circumstances).

In the wake of its self-identified failures in Sri Lanka, the UN, through the newly introduced Rights Up Front initiative, aims to change the way it coordinates and acts on information about abuses and casualties. The Secretary-General has recommended establishing a common information system covering civilian casualties within the UN. Oxford Research Group’s new report shows that more effective use of casualty recording by the UN would benefit the work of UN agencies and offices in their efforts to protect civilians in conflict and provide more effective humanitarian assistance..

ORG’s research underlines how casualty recording can help the UN and other humanitarian actors to identify effective responses to conflict emergencies, and in the longer-term to act on new threats to civilians – in UNAMA HR’s case for example, the increased use of mortars in civilian-populated areas, and the dangers of explosive remnants of war in old firing ranges. There remains a great deal of work to be done in the UN on this front: in the Central African Republic, for example, there is currently no credible casualty toll, and the UN is not attempting comprehensive and systematic documentation. This work, however, is vital.

In Sri Lanka, a comprehensive record of casualties would have assisted the UN’s post-war humanitarian and relief programme planning. It also would have aided the state with any medical, social, or livelihood assistance that it might choose to give to those affected by the war. With no such documentation available, Sri Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics has – following the recommendations of the national Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission – recently undertaken a household survey that aims to identify the scale of death, injury, and property damage from the entire civil war. The first results are due to be published within weeks – how these will impact on the aspects of post-war recovery identified here remains to be seen.

Casualty recording and victim assistance
In other contexts, casualty recording both during and after conflict has already been seen to be key to the provision of victim assistance and to accountability procedures, including trials for war crimes and human rights abuses.

After decades of conflict, the Colombian government passed Law 1448 in 2013, known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. This law provides for financial reparations and social services for victims, recognising their right to truth and justice, and allowing for the possible return of land lost during the conflict.

Through this law, the Colombian government appears to have recognised that peace is not achieved simply by negotiating a peace treaty, but by ensuring that people’s claims for truth, justice and reparation are properly addressed. By providing victim’s names and other relevant data, casualty recording is the cornerstone of this process.

As of 1 March 2014, the Register of the Colombian Victims’ Unit, charged with ensuring the implementation of Law 1448, had recorded over 6,000,000 victims of the conflict in Colombia since 1985. While the vast majority (over 5,000,000) are those displaced by the conflict (the country now tops the list of Internally Displaced Persons), 700,000 were victims of homicide. In instances where the direct victim of the conflict was killed, the law recognises spouses, long-term partners, and immediate family members as victims themselves. This approach reflects international developments around the concept of ‘victim’ that move away from a definition that considers exclusively the ‘direct’ victim of violence towards a more comprehensive approach that also includes families and communities.

Having identified over 6,000,000 victims is in itself a laudable undertaking, but what will ensure the success of the initiative is the proper implementation of the law, requiring financial capacity, properly trained staff, and perhaps most importantly, political will. For while knowing the identity of people affected by conflict is an essential first step to assisting victims, how governments and the international community respond to these facts is what truly has an impact.

Despite Colombia’s impressive efforts to create an accurate accounting of conflict, victims, most states are less interested in transparency and often actively attempt to subvert efforts to gather accurate casualty data.

In Sri Lanka, it is now evident that UN staff had a deeper understanding of the numbers of civilians being killed at the end of the war than they initially let on. The Petrie report analysing the UN’s failures to protect civilians points to “the [Sri Lankan] government’s “stratagem of UN intimidation”, including “control of visas to sanction staff critical of the state”. UN officials have since confirmed that casualty records were not divulged at the time because “the organisation’s staff felt bullied by the Sri Lankan government, and that there was a “genuine fear” for their safety”.

Action on Armed Violence’s (AOAV) recent research into states’ practices to record casualties found similar dynamics occurring in southern Thailand. While protests in Bangkok make front-page news, very few are speaking up about the on-going conflict in the south where explosive weapons are used daily and over 14,000 people have been killed and injured since 2004.

Although casualty figures are regularly published by local organisations that receive their data from daily reports provided by the army and police, experts interviewed by AOAV point to the fact that international journalists are forced to renew their visas every few months, drastically limiting their access to the region and their ability to report on the death toll. Consequently organisations reporting on casualties are almost entirely reliant on figures issued by state controlled forces. Considering the rather obscure criteria used by the police and army to determine whether a violent incident was the result of the insurgency or simply common crime, it becomes highly difficult for any external actor to use the data in order to understand the dynamics of the conflict or to inform their approach to address the violence.

Casualty recording and post-conflict accountability
One area where the international community has reacted strongly to evidence of casualties is in criminal tribunals and post-conflict accountability processes. Indeed, the use of casualty records to try individuals for war crimes is often a driving force behind a state’s reluctance to take a formal accounting of victims.

In Guatemala, forensic evidence provided during the trial of the ex military leader José Efraín Ríos Montt ensured that he was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in May 2013, responsible for the massacre of indigenous people in 1982 and 1983. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court later overturned the ruling due to procedural issues, the casualty records that helped condemn Ríos Montt remain valid and are now being used to seek a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In the case of Slobodan Milošević, evidence of mass casualties was used to dismantle the arguments used by his defence team. Using commissioned research on the patterns of death and migration in Kosovo, the Office of the Chief Prosecution found that the Yugoslav forces were indeed responsible for a systematic campaign of killings and expulsions, resulting in numerous deaths among the civilian population.

It is clear that in Afghanistan, Colombia and Southern Thailand, just as in Sri Lanka, casualty recording is, and continues to be, a necessary and vital aspect of any serious effort to address conflict and support long-lasting peace. Yet the numbers alone will not be sufficient. How this information is used, whether to address the rights of victims, serve as evidence in criminal trials, or spur international action relies not only on the proven evidence but also on our collective political will to respond to conflict and atrocity, reinforce our commitment to protecting civilians in conflict, and halt the spiralling victims of violence.

Counting the Cost of Conflict
How new methodologies and mechanisms of casualty recording are redefining efforts to protect civilians in conflict, and provide aid and accountability to victims of violence.

The comprehensive and systematic recording of casualties – including details about what happened, to whom, when, where, and why – is a key tool in protecting and assisting civilians living in conflict: without knowing who the victims of violence are, their needs for material assistance and redress, both during and after conflict, cannot be met.

Yet, in most areas affected by conflict and high rates of armed violence, there is no authoritative record of casualties. As a result, there can be no justice for those killed and injured. Those responsible cannot be held accountable, their family members cannot seek justice or redress, and the international community cannot respond effectively to those still struggling to survive.

More and more, however, states, civil society, and particularly the United Nations are beginning to appreciate the essential benefits of recording the deaths and injuries from armed violence.

On 27th March, states at the Human Rights Council voted for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate possible war crimes and abuses committed by both the state and the Tamil rebels in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. The negative reaction to this from Sri Lanka, which rejected the resolution as a violation of state sovereignty, was foreseeable.

The UN’s engagement with Sri Lanka, both during and after the conflict – which ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) – has been particularly difficult. The 2012 internal Petrie report reviewing UN performance at the end of the war identified a number of failings. One of the most damning findings was the UN system’s failure to effectively use local UN knowledge of mass civilian casualties in northern Sri Lanka to push for action – either from UN Member States or conflict parties – to prevent further harm to the civilian population.

Yet, while it is clear that the UN should have been more vocal about the loss of civilian life at the end of the conflict, ensuring Member States and conflict parties act on casualty data to protect civilians is a challenging task, one affected by political power dynamics often beyond the UN’s control.

Consider Syria, where the OHCHR’s very public reporting of casualty figures throughout the conflict has done little to spur UN Member States to action to protect civilians. As the death toll continues to rise we must ask whether information about casualties collected and reported on by the UN makes any difference at all. Can credible and impartial information on casualties ever really help to protect civilians living through conflict?

Casualty recording and the protection of civilians in conflict
The UN’s experience in Afghanistan shows that when it is used effectively, systematic and credible information about civilian casualties can indeed help save lives. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Human Rights unit (UNAMA HR) has systematically recorded civilian casualties since 2007. UNAMA HR analyses casualty data to identify the tactics and policies that cause the most harm to civilians, and uses it to support evidence-based dialogue – based on irrefutable data and analysis – with conflict parties, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban. By demonstrating the impact on civilians of particular tactics, UNAMA HR’s data has encouraged policy changes that protect civilian lives, including ISAF’s forbidding of the use of airstrikes on civilian dwellings in 2012 (except in exceptional circumstances).

In the wake of its self-identified failures in Sri Lanka, the UN, through the newly introduced Rights Up Front initiative, aims to change the way it coordinates and acts on information about abuses and casualties. The Secretary-General has recommended establishing a common information system covering civilian casualties within the UN. Oxford Research Group’s new report shows that more effective use of casualty recording by the UN would benefit the work of UN agencies and offices in their efforts to protect civilians in conflict and provide more effective humanitarian assistance..

ORG’s research underlines how casualty recording can help the UN and other humanitarian actors to identify effective responses to conflict emergencies, and in the longer-term to act on new threats to civilians – in UNAMA HR’s case for example, the increased use of mortars in civilian-populated areas, and the dangers of explosive remnants of war in old firing ranges. There remains a great deal of work to be done in the UN on this front: in the Central African Republic, for example, there is currently no credible casualty toll, and the UN is not attempting comprehensive and systematic documentation. This work, however, is vital.

In Sri Lanka, a comprehensive record of casualties would have assisted the UN’s post-war humanitarian and relief programme planning. It also would have aided the state with any medical, social, or livelihood assistance that it might choose to give to those affected by the war. With no such documentation available, Sri Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics has – following the recommendations of the national Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission – recently undertaken a household survey that aims to identify the scale of death, injury, and property damage from the entire civil war. The first results are due to be published within weeks – how these will impact on the aspects of post-war recovery identified here remains to be seen.

Casualty recording and victim assistance
In other contexts, casualty recording both during and after conflict has already been seen to be key to the provision of victim assistance and to accountability procedures, including trials for war crimes and human rights abuses.

After decades of conflict, the Colombian government passed Law 1448 in 2013, known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. This law provides for financial reparations and social services for victims, recognising their right to truth and justice, and allowing for the possible return of land lost during the conflict.

Through this law, the Colombian government appears to have recognised that peace is not achieved simply by negotiating a peace treaty, but by ensuring that people’s claims for truth, justice and reparation are properly addressed. By providing victim’s names and other relevant data, casualty recording is the cornerstone of this process.

As of 1 March 2014, the Register of the Colombian Victims’ Unit, charged with ensuring the implementation of Law 1448, had recorded over 6,000,000 victims of the conflict in Colombia since 1985. While the vast majority (over 5,000,000) are those displaced by the conflict (the country now tops the list of Internally Displaced Persons), 700,000 were victims of homicide. In instances where the direct victim of the conflict was killed, the law recognises spouses, long-term partners, and immediate family members as victims themselves. This approach reflects international developments around the concept of ‘victim’ that move away from a definition that considers exclusively the ‘direct’ victim of violence towards a more comprehensive approach that also includes families and communities.

Having identified over 6,000,000 victims is in itself a laudable undertaking, but what will ensure the success of the initiative is the proper implementation of the law, requiring financial capacity, properly trained staff, and perhaps most importantly, political will. For while knowing the identity of people affected by conflict is an essential first step to assisting victims, how governments and the international community respond to these facts is what truly has an impact.

Despite Colombia’s impressive efforts to create an accurate accounting of conflict, victims, most states are less interested in transparency and often actively attempt to subvert efforts to gather accurate casualty data.

In Sri Lanka, it is now evident that UN staff had a deeper understanding of the numbers of civilians being killed at the end of the war than they initially let on. The Petrie report analysing the UN’s failures to protect civilians points to “the [Sri Lankan] government’s “stratagem of UN intimidation”, including “control of visas to sanction staff critical of the state”. UN officials have since confirmed that casualty records were not divulged at the time because “the organisation’s staff felt bullied by the Sri Lankan government, and that there was a “genuine fear” for their safety”.

Action on Armed Violence’s (AOAV) recent research into states’ practices to record casualties found similar dynamics occurring in southern Thailand. While protests in Bangkok make front-page news, very few are speaking up about the on-going conflict in the south where explosive weapons are used daily and over 14,000 people have been killed and injured since 2004.

Although casualty figures are regularly published by local organisations that receive their data from daily reports provided by the army and police, experts interviewed by AOAV point to the fact that international journalists are forced to renew their visas every few months, drastically limiting their access to the region and their ability to report on the death toll. Consequently organisations reporting on casualties are almost entirely reliant on figures issued by state controlled forces. Considering the rather obscure criteria used by the police and army to determine whether a violent incident was the result of the insurgency or simply common crime, it becomes highly difficult for any external actor to use the data in order to understand the dynamics of the conflict or to inform their approach to address the violence.

Casualty recording and post-conflict accountability
One area where the international community has reacted strongly to evidence of casualties is in criminal tribunals and post-conflict accountability processes. Indeed, the use of casualty records to try individuals for war crimes is often a driving force behind a state’s reluctance to take a formal accounting of victims.

In Guatemala, forensic evidence provided during the trial of the ex military leader José Efraín Ríos Montt ensured that he was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in May 2013, responsible for the massacre of indigenous people in 1982 and 1983. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court later overturned the ruling due to procedural issues, the casualty records that helped condemn Ríos Montt remain valid and are now being used to seek a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In the case of Slobodan Milošević, evidence of mass casualties was used to dismantle the arguments used by his defence team. Using commissioned research on the patterns of death and migration in Kosovo, the Office of the Chief Prosecution found that the Yugoslav forces were indeed responsible for a systematic campaign of killings and expulsions, resulting in numerous deaths among the civilian population.

It is clear that in Afghanistan, Colombia and Southern Thailand, just as in Sri Lanka, casualty recording is, and continues to be, a necessary and vital aspect of any serious effort to address conflict and support long-lasting peace. Yet the numbers alone will not be sufficient. How this information is used, whether to address the rights of victims, serve as evidence in criminal trials, or spur international action relies not only on the proven evidence but also on our collective political will to respond to conflict and atrocity, reinforce our commitment to protecting civilians in conflict, and halt the spiralling victims of violence.

This article is by Elizabeth Minor, the Senior Research Officer of the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group and Serena Olgiati, the Head of Advocacy at Action on Armed Violence. ORG and AOAV have published the results of a wide-ranging study into the casualty recording practice of states and the UN: http://ref.ec/joint.