These Explanatory Notes are designed to answer your questions on the purpose and contents of the Charter for the Recognition of Every Casualty of Armed Violence. It will be developed and updated in response to requests from the Charter's supporters. If you have a question about the Charter that is not covered below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the purpose of this Charter?
To take a first step towards remedying an omission within the international system, which allows people to die from armed violence unrecorded, in a way that would not be acceptable to other causes in peace time. We aim to get wide support from a range of non-governmental organisations in order to persuade states that they must listen to civil society concerns and change their policy and practice.
After speaking of 'recognition' in the title of the Charter, why then do you concentrate on casualties being ‘unrecorded’ and not 'unrecognised'?
We speak of recording, because the recording of a death is where the identification and recognition process begins. It is always the necessary first step for recognition, which can take many different forms, so this is why we concentrate on it.
We use "public acknowledgement" in the body of the Charter to indicate that "recognition" of every casualty must be open and transparent.
The Charter is for the recognition of 'every casualty', but only talks about people who have died, not people who have been injured, who are also casualties. Why is this?
The Charter does specifically concentrate only on deaths from armed violence. Of course every casualty, including the injured, should be recognised. However, not only can the dead not advocate for their own recognition, where the living may be able to, but it often still happens that people’s deaths, once unrecorded, remain so forever. The fact that this is such a grave omission, and the considerable difficulties of defining and recording all injuries, gives this Charter its focus.
Does the Charter apply to combatants, as well as civilians?
Yes, the Charter applies to 'all persons'. This means that there are no restrictions on who should be recognised – “all persons” includes every person who has died from armed violence. This means combatants, civilians, people whose combat status is not known, men, women, children etc. We believe that by saying 'all persons' we remove the need for mentioning all these groups separately. Furthermore, listing groups that are included by the term 'all persons' always risks leaving some groups out of the list.
We also leave this broadly defined so that organisations with particular focuses, or emphases on particular categories of persons, can simply consider their work included. For example, the recording of civilian casualties, which is a key area of work and a serious gap in state practice compared to the recording of military casualties, is included by this term.
Does the charter apply to acts of terrorism?
Yes, the Charter applies to all armed violence as defined by the WHO and further articulated in the context of international discussions on armed violence. We give the examples of 'armed conflict, extensive lethal criminality, or any other collapse in civil security' to demonstrate the spectrum of armed violence within which recording is likely to be inadequate. As such, the Charter does apply to every violent death from any act of armed violence.
Can you elaborate the core demands? How prompt? How does one correctly identify?
Prompt recording must include not just the bare fact of a death but its cause, with delays only being permitted if there is a real risk of further harm: The process of documentation must be resumed once it is safe to do so. Identities should be established at the level of the deceased person’s name, which should be withheld from public knowledge no longer than necessary to first inform bereaved families or, when this is a genuine concern, to safeguard the living from harm. Public acknowledgment must include publication of this information in language and media accessible to the communities in which the victims lived.
I don’t think my organisation can support the Charter: We cannot agree that every casualty should be 'publicly acknowledged', because sometimes this information needs to be kept confidential, even if there would be no physical danger in doing this. We ourselves would not release it.
Your organisation can support the Charter – there is a caveat in it that identities should be withheld from public knowledge, if this is needed 'to safeguard the living from harm'. Harm does not just mean physical harm, but can include the harm that could arise from a breach of any promised confidentiality.
I want to add some items to the list of the good that can flow from taking these steps – I do not believe that yours is comprehensive.
The list is not supposed to be comprehensive, but illustrative. Some of the key benefits of recording casualties are listed here, but not all. We believe it is very important to keep the Charter short and simple, and we believe that this list demonstrates the kind of benefits of recording casualties without attempting to provide an exhaustive list of specific benefits.
Your Charter applies not only to states but also to 'every party to armed violence'. Is it really feasible to ask non-state parties to armed violence to record casualties?
We state that this Charter is universally applicable. However, our call for action is upon states, who we believe have the primary responsibility to implement this within their territories and any armed violence that they are involved in outside their territories. States, and the inter-state organisations they work through, are the only parties capable of agreeing and implementing measures which have the universal reach and application that we seek. While the focus of this Charter is on the actions of states, in principle, our call is on all engaged in armed violence. As such, the Charter in no way absolves non-state actors from their grave responsibilities in specific local situations of armed violence.
It should also be noted that there have been some positive results from engagement with non-state armed groups in relation to human rights and humanitarian law, for example, the Geneva Call’s successes with rebel groups committing to reject anti-personnel landmines.
How will you deal with the response from states that it is not feasible for them to do this (in terms of time, money, danger to their security forces, for example)? This objection is not covered in the Charter.
This Charter is just the starting point for a process to remedy the lack of recognition for every casualty of armed violence, and NGOs will need to work together to develop this process and resolve the practical, legal and policy issues. But there are already many ways to answer such reservations from states. For example: It is clear that this work is already being done by many NGOs on very limited budgets, and an option for states wishing to fulfil the demands of this Charter would be to fund such organisations. In terms of armed conflict, many militaries already do collect information on civilian and combatant casualties, but just do not share it publicly. However, these issues are not raised in the Charter, as they are matters for the dialogue, advocacy, and policy process that will follow it. The Charter declares core requirements, all of which are achievable.
What is the basis of this Charter?
The content and wording of this Charter is based on consultation with and inspiration from organisations and experts working in the field of recording casualties which has taken place over the past four years of the Every Casualty Programme of Oxford Research Group. The many legal issues related to casualty recording are discussed in a recent study of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, which informs this Charter. At its core is the simple moral principle stated at the beginning of the Charter: "No person should die unrecorded."
About these Notes
These Explanatory Notes are intended to elucidate the Charter for the Recognition of Every Casualty of Armed Violence.
The Charter will be launched publicly on 15 September 2011 at the British Academy in London. For more information on the launch please click here.
This document was last amended on 10 August 2011