A new report from the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group finds that the use of emerging 'remote-control' military tactics – armed drones, autonomous weapons, special operations forces, private military and security companies – poses serious challenges to casualty recording.
Commissioned by the Remote Control Project, the report, Losing Sight of the Human Cost: Casualty Recording and Remote Control Warfare, finds that where these methods of ‘remote-control’ warfare are used, the ability to scrutinise the actions of armed forces and record the casualties they cause has been greatly reduced. The recording of casualties caused by conventional forces itself remains problematic, and far from consistently carried out. But the covert or distant nature of these emerging tactics, as well as their limited oversight and regulation, only adds to the problems faced in recording the casualties of conflict around the world.
The report shows that the merging of intelligence operations with military force is posing a particular challenge to casualty recording efforts in places like Afghanistan, where there is covert use both of drones and special operations forces. Independent efforts to record casualties of these operations have been impeded by a lack of official disclosure of information and difficulty conducting field investigations in the physically remote regions in which they often take place. These factors have led to a reduction in state accountability and created additional barriers for civilians pursuing redress for harm, the report finds.
“To take the example of the US drone strike programme in Pakistan, both the US and Pakistan collect data about casualties, but there is no consistent, transparent release of this information on a strike-by-strike basis. We don’t know how comprehensive this data is, how well the US can investigate incidents given that drones are operated from far away, or the criteria being used to define the status of those killed”, said Elizabeth Minor of the Every Casualty programme. “Others, such as civil society organisations seeking to confirm the facts about these strikes, face restrictions on the information they can obtain. All of this poses a serious challenge to independent oversight and scrutiny of the use of force by states.”
Caroline Donnellan, Manager of the Remote Control project adds,
"This report shows how ever increasing advances in the use of remote-control warfare are creating serious difficulties for recording the casualties of war. It highlights the importance of ensuring that state security issues are reconciled with the need for accountability and transparency. It is difficult to see how the acceptability and effectiveness of the various methods of remote control warfare, or their inherent risks, can be properly evaluated where such gaps in casualty recording exist."
The Every Casualty programme concludes that states must take greater responsibility for transparently recording the casualties of remote-control tactics, including those they themselves use or allow to be used within their territory. They should support and not obstruct the work of independent casualty recorders, including the United Nations and civil society actors. Independent casualty recording needs to be strengthened so that it becomes possible to assess the full human impact of these tactics, enable the rights of victims to be addressed, and uphold accountability.
Remote Control Project:
Telephone: +44 (0)207 549 0298
07545 994 658
Every Casualty programme :
The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by the Oxford Research Group. Remote Control examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare. The project acts as a facilitator for the exchange of information and commissions and publicises work undertaken in the area, aiming to examine the long-term effects of remote warfare.
About Oxford Research Group
ORG is a leading independent UK think tank based in London and has worked for 30 years to promote sustainable approaches to security and non-military solutions to conflict.
The Every Casualty programme at Oxford Research Group is committed to the principle that no individual should be killed in armed violence without his or her death being recorded, and is working to build the political will for this internationally. The programme also works on enhancing the technical and institutional capacity for casualty recording.
* Remote control warfare is defined as strategies and tactics that allow for armed force to be actioned at a greater distance or with a lighter footprint than conventional military deployments. This includes the use of armed drones; the potential development of lethal autonomous weapons; the use of special forces; and the contracting of private military and security companies.
ORG understand ‘casualties’ to include both individual deaths and injuries directly resulting from armed violence. ‘Casualty recording’ strives to achieve the comprehensive, systematic and continuous documentation of individual casualties from armed violence.
About the authors
Elizabeth Minor is the Senior Research Officer of the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group.
Kate Hofstra is the Research and Communications Consultant with the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group.