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Press Release: Systematically Recording the Casualties of Armed Violence Can Help Save Lives

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Action on Armed Violence and Oxford Research Group
16 April 2014


LONDON, 16 APRIL - Recording and analysing data on the casualties of conflict and armed violence can improve the protection of civilians and save lives.  This is the conclusion of two reports released today by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and the Oxford Research Group (ORG).

The reports, Counting The Cost: casualty recording practices and realities around the world (AOAV) and The UN and Casualty Recording: good practice and the need for action (ORG) reveal that the rigorous, transparent and routine recording of deaths and injuries of armed violence, by both states and the United Nations, can improve humanitarian responses, allow for redress for victims, and reduce civilian casualties in conflicts. They do so by providing critical data that can result in action from conflict parties and others to protect civilians.

The research also shows that despite the evidenced benefits of such, neither the UN, nor most states, systematically record the casualties of armed violence.

“When the UN does conduct rigorous and routine casualty recording – as they have done in Afghanistan – it’s clear the resultant data can be used to help save lives,” said ORG report author, Elizabeth Minor. “Despite this in the Central African Republic, for example, there is currently no credible casualty toll and the UN is not attempting comprehensive and systematic documentation. There is an urgent need for the UN to move effectively to improve how it deals with information about violations and casualties in order to better protect civilians in conflict.”

Where states systematically record deaths and injuries of armed violence, the research demonstrates they are better able to support victims’ rights with, for instance, compensation and redress.  They are also able to reduce incidences of armed violence, particularly gun violence. In the Colombia city of Cali, for example, homicide rates dropped by 14 per cent partly as a consequence of the government using data on casualties from gun violence to help create evidence-based legislation.

Transparency in the recording and sharing of casualty data was also found by both reports to be rare, despite proven benefits. “There is a major need for countries and UN agencies to increase transparency on casualty figures and the methods they use to gather them,” said AOAV report author Serena Olgiati. “Transparency makes it clear that this data is not a political weapon used to accuse opponents, but rather a practical tool that allows states to recognise the rights of the victims of violence.”

A lack of political will is often cited as the main deterrent to collecting comprehensive information on the casualties of violence.  Other challenges include limited resources and lack of access. States and the UN should take steps to overcome these limitations, and should work towards introducing and applying casualty-recording standards, developing casualty data management systems, and increasing their monitoring of both deaths and injuries from armed violence.




AOAV and 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.

AOAV’s report draws on research and interviews with local actors from 33 institutions recording the casualties of armed violence in the following countries: Colombia, Indonesia, Liberia, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, Burundi, the former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Iraq, Jamaica, Nigeria, Somalia, the UK, the USA and Venezuela.

ORG investigated practice and perspectives on casualty recording within the United Nations. ORG interviewed 24 UN staff working for different agencies and offices in New York and Geneva. ORG also undertook a case study of the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), for which 13 individuals within and outside UNAMA were interviewed.

About the authors

Elizabeth Minor is the Senior Research Officer of the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group.

Serena Olgiati is the Head of Advocacy at Action on Armed Violence.

About AOAV

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) is a UK-based charity that works to reduce the incidence of armed violence and its impact on vulnerable populations around the world. AOAV has a successful track record in developing international law, global civil society networks, and local programmes for weapon control, armed violence reduction and civilian protection. 

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.




For Oxford Research Group:

Kate Hofstra


Telephone: +44 (0)20 7549 0298


For Action on Armed Violence:

Serena Olgiati


Telephone: +44 (0)75 45601698


Read AOAV and ORG's joint summary of findings

Knowing the true costs of armed violence is essential to addressing the rights and needs of those affected. However, in many, if not most, areas affected by conflict and high rates of armed violence, there is no authoritative, comprehensive and detailed record of casualties. 

This paper summarises the joint findings and recommendations of new research by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and the Every Casualty programme at Oxford Research Group (ORG) into states' and the United Nations' practices in casualty recording.









Read AOAV and ORG's full reports

















Read AOAV's report: 'Counting the Cost: Casualty Recording Practices and Realities Around the World'

Read ORG's report: 'The UN and Casualty Recording: Good Practice and Need for Action'


Further reading and multimedia

'Counting the Cost of Conflict': Article on openSecurity by report authors Elizabeth Minor and Serena Olgiati, on value of casualty recording in Afghanistan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Thailand

'Civilian Casualties: What Counts?': Article on TransConflict by Norah Niland, former head of the Human Rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, examining the role of the UN in recording civilian casualties

'Casualty Recording and the Law of Armed Conflict': Blog on everycasualty.org by Susan Breau, ORG's legal consultant, analysing the recommendations of AOAV and ORG's reports, and exploring how casualty recording ensures Member State compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict

Podcast on everycasualty.org interviewing the authors of AOAV and ORG's reports

AOAV and ORG's joint summary of findings: 'Casualty Recording: Assessing State and United Nations Practices'

AOAV's report: 'Counting the Cost: Casualty Recording Practices and Realities Around the World'

ORG's report: 'The UN and Casualty Recording: Good Practice and Need for Action'



Front page image: A woman prays at a commemoration for the disappeared in Sri Lanka. © Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai 2006.



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