53rd HRC Work of the UN Human Rights Office on recording civilian casualties-_2
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Edited News , Statements | OHCHR , UNOG

HRC 53 - UN Human Rights Office on recording civilian casualties

Recording casualties in complex and conflict situations is an essential part of the work of the UN Human Rights Office, rooted in the conviction that every single human life matters as does every single human death.

That was the message delivered by senior UN Human Rights official Peggy Hicks as she presented a report by the Office on casualty recording to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Casualty recording is a painstaking, arduous and essential form of human rights monitoring. It entails systematically collecting and verifying information on individual deaths and, also injuries in complex and conflict situations,” Hicks said.

The report outlines the impact of casualty recording on the promotion and protection of human rights. It showcases the profound value of the work in this area since 2007, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ukraine and Yemen.

Hicks, the director of the Thematic Engagement Division at the UN Human Rights Office, described how such work is done and why it matters.

“We establish the facts, as best we are able; we pursue accountability -- and therefore deterrence; and we reveal the true cost of crisis or conflict, including to those who are responsible for their violence and to their sponsors,” Hicks said.

Most of the time, confirmed information about each casualty will include the circumstances and location of the casualty event;  where possible, the alleged perpetrator; and the sex, estimated age, and even the name of each individual victim. These data enable comparisons over time, across regions and between actors, contributing to better understanding of an often tense, volatile and shifting situation.

Hicks said colleagues working on casualty recording may first learn about a casualty event  from open-source material, media reports or information received from a network of community monitors. Subsequently, each piece of information is verified – often with the families of victims, but sometimes with medical and emergency staff, community leaders, officials, human rights defenders, and survivors or witnesses of the event as well. Where possible, photographs or videos are checked and verified.

Francesca Marotta is the Chief of Methodology, Education and Training Section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and has been leading the methodological development of casualty recording.

 

 “We always strive to compile information with a minimum set of data that include the location of every incident, the date and the type of incident and the number of individuals that have been killed or injured. The cause of this, which is also particularly important for analysis purposes to understand, for example, which kind of tactics or which kind of weapons might be causing casualties in each specific context or in each region. Uh, the status of the victim. In most cases, we focus on civilians and as much as possible information on alleged perpetrators,” Marotta said.

 Marotta explained that the Office’s methodology is based on using multiple sources to verify each aspect of each incident where there are civilian casualties.

“It is also based on using a broad variety of sources or diversify our sources in order to ensure an impartial and objective assessment of each incident involving casualties and on the application of our standard of proof, which is usually reasonable grounds to believe that certain facts occurred. Um, and if we are concluding for violations that they also amount to certain violations of international law,” she said. 

Casualty recording is also done for situations of violence and unrest. An example of this is Haiti, where the UN in 2022 recorded the deaths of 160 prisoners, prompting an investigation by the UN Human Rights Office.  This found that the deaths were mainly due to detention conditions, particularly the constant lack of food, medicine, water and proper sanitation. In addition, access to prisons is limited amid gang violence.

 

“The United Nations country team, including UN human rights, advocated for with a national international stakeholder for the prisons to receive supplies, including food and medicines, in a way that could protect the prisoners right to life,” Marotta said.

Casualty recording can also support efforts to ensure accountability for deaths and injuries, helping to build a picture of trends, perpetrators, military tactics and weapons being used, and give context to what has happened, including with regard to holding specific individuals accountable.

Hicks also stressed how the Office’s casualty monitoring can help to build some degree of dialogue and trust, and in so doing, provide a basis for the Office to advocate for mitigation measures, and changes to tactics, operations and policies. 

“In a context of violent conflict that is thick with distrust and misinformation, our stringent verification of casualty counts means they are often recognised by all actors as one of the few reliable sources of information available,” Peggy Hicks said.

“This ultimately leads to better protection of civilians, and the prevention of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. In several circumstances, “no-strike lists” and targeting protocols by parties to a conflict have been revised because of information on civilian casualties that we provided,” she said.

 

For more information and media requests, please contact: 

Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / ravina.shamdasani@un.org or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 marta.hurtadogomez@un.org  Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / elizabeth.throssell@un.org  

 

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Monday 3 July 2023

  1. Exterior shots: Palais des Nations
  2. Wide shot Interior: Room 20
  3. Wide shot: Podium
  4. SOUNDBITE (English)—Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):“Casualty recording is a painstaking, arduous and essential form of human rights monitoring. It entails systematically collecting and verifying information on individual deaths and, also injuries in complex and conflict situations.”
  5. Still picture: Caption: A military vehicle dugout next to the school in Katiuzhanka, Kyiv Region. 29/04/22 ©OHCHR 
  6. Two still pictures: Damaged cars in a yard in Bucha, where local authorities collect all damaged civilian cars and military vehicles. 30/04/22 ©OHCHR 
  7. Still picture: Caption:A destroyed apartment block in Borodianka, Kyiv Region 01/05/22 ©OHCHR 
  8. SOUNDBITE (English)—Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):“We establish the facts, as best we are able; we pursue accountability -- and therefore deterrence; and we reveal the true cost of crisis or conflict, including to those who are responsible for their violence and to their sponsors.”
  9. Various shots: UN mission to Izium, collapsed building 06-12-2022 Izium, Ukraine 
  10. SOUNDBITE (English)— Francesca Marotta, Chief of Methodology, Education and Training Section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “We always strive to compile information with a minimum set of data that include the location of every incident, the date and the type of incident and the number of individuals that have been killed or injured. The cause of this, which is also particularly important for analysis purposes to understand, for example, which kind of tactics or which kind of weapons might be causing casualties in each specific context or in each region. Uh, the status of the victim. In most cases, we focus on civilians and as much as possible information on alleged perpetrators.”
  11. Video of Animation figures on Casualty recording ©OHCHR 
  12. SOUNDBITE (English)— Francesca Marotta, Chief of Methodology, Education and Training Section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “It is also based on using a broad variety of sources or diversify our sources in order to ensure an impartial and objective assessment of each incident involving casualties and on the application of our standard of proof, which is usually reasonable grounds to believe that certain facts occurred. Um, and if we are concluding for violations that they also amount to certain violations of international law.”
  13. Still pictures: Caption: centre carcéral de port au Prince, Haiti 26/06/23 ©OHCHR 
  14. SOUNDBITE (English)— Francesca Marotta, Chief of Methodology, Education and Training Section at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “The United Nations country team, including UN human rights, advocated for with a national international stakeholder for the prisons to receive supplies, including food and medicines, in a way that could protect the prisoners right to life.”
  15. Cut away: room 20
  16. SOUNDBITE (English)—Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): “In a context of violent conflict that is thick with distrust and misinformation, our stringent verification of casualty counts means they are often recognised by all actors as one of the few reliable sources of information available.”
  17. Cut away: room 20
  18. SOUNDBITE (English)—Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures, and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):“This ultimately leads to better protection of civilians, and the prevention of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. In several circumstances, “no-strike lists” and targeting protocols by parties to a conflict have been revised because of information on civilian casualties that we provided.”

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