Recording Casualties in Armed Conflict

A Bosnian Muslim woman prays at a memorial to victims of
the Srebrenica massacre (AFP)

The long-term aim of this human security project is to build the technical and institutional capacity, as well as the political will, to record details of every single victim of violent conflict, worldwide. This represents the next step beyond existing estimation and other aggregate ‘measurement’ of human losses (such as numerical totals) to the identification and documentation of each and every individual who is killed or injured in armed conflicts. Among other benefits, such recording acts as a memorial for posterity and a recognition of our common humanity across the world. Most importantly, it will ensure that the full cost of conflict is known and can be understood to the greatest extent achievable, and become an immediately applicable component, and resource for, conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.

Achieving the aims of this project will require the active participation of states and inter-state bodies (up to and including the United Nations), and such activity may eventually become codified in formal and binding agreements on parties to conflicts. State support will be hastened by strong civil society advocacy, highlighting the moral and practical advantages.

Some conflict documentation is already being carried out, by varied actors with varying methods and varying levels of resource. Projects can be officially sponsored/sanctioned (e.g. the US 9-11 memorial, or the Bosnian Book of the Dead) or they can be unofficial citizen-led activities (e.g. BtSelem for the Israel/Palestinian conflict since 2001, and Iraq Body Count for post-2003 Iraq). A wide range of users and potential users of such detailed information has already been identified.

Progress to date

During 2007 background research was undertaken to inform a consultation document (PDF) which was sent for comment to over 200 experts worldwide. Consultees were selected to cover a wide range of relevant professional expertise: legal, military, humanitarian and methodological. A series of small consultative roundtables were held to refine and develop the concept further and the outcome of these consultations was the setting up of an international advisory group to guide the project through its next stages.

Objectives for 2008-11

With key partners we will convene and co-ordinate an interlocking set of sub-projects falling into four major categories:

  1. Conceptual development. Intellectual and policy work to develop the moral, legal and practical frameworks which will show how conflict documentation down to the level of the individual is consistent with and arises from the wider set of norms, commitments and agreements concerning conflict that already govern the behaviour of responsible international actors.
  2. Practitioner development. Activities designed to bring practitioners together to develop and codify locally-sensitive good practice.
  3. Establishment of standards. Activities aimed at bringing together key institutions and agencies to develop and promote international standards for conflict documentation (possibly through a commission or high-level panel).
  4. Advocacy to states. Advocacy and promotion of the concept among states (or groups of states such as the EU) capable of undertaking “model documentation projects” which exemplify the standards developed and provide a strong example to other states or regions to follow suit.

This project is has received grant support from The Funding Network and The Network for Social Change. The project is co-directed by ORG’s Executive Director, John Sloboda, and Hamit Dardagan, ORG’s Consultant on Civilian Casualties in War.

Advisory Group

The project has an advisory group with the following current membership:

Dr Susan Breau - Reader in International Law, University of Surrey
Dr Eric Herring – Senior Lecturer in Politics, Bristol University
Andreas Kleiser - International Commission on Missing Persons
Richard Moyes - Director of Campaigns, Landmines Action UK
Dr Neta Crawford - Professor of Political Science, Boston Univeristy
Dr Jay Silverstein - Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii
Professor Michael Spagat - Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London
Mirsad Tokaca - Director, Research and Documentation Centre of Sareajevo



Iraq Body Count

Research and Documentation Centre

The Human Security Report Group


Can there be any 'just war' if we do not document the dead and injured?
John Sloboda, April 2008

A Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003-2005
Iraq Body Count and Oxford Research Group, July 2005