NEW INITIATIVE ON RECORDING CASUALTIES OF ARMED VIOLENCE: NGOs DRAW UP CHARTER ON THE THREE KEY RESPONSIBILITIES OF STATES
London: Thursday, 15 September 2011, 9:30 am at the British Academy.
States have a clear but largely unmet responsibility for full and transparent reporting of those killed in armed violence around the world. This is the central message of a new initiative, the Charter for the Recognition of Every Casualty of Armed Violence, launched Thursday, 15 September, at the British Academy and already endorsed by 37 humanitarian and human rights organisations from around the world.
The Charter’s core demands (full text and signatories below) are few but far-reaching. These are that states ensure every casualty of armed violence is:
- promptly recorded,
- correctly identified,
- and publicly acknowledged.
These calls on states are informed by the experience and insights of a newly-formed international network of NGOs who have been documenting the death toll in past or current armed conflicts and in regions suffering from extensive criminal violence. The Charter has also been endorsed prior to its public launch by a range of charities and NGOs who consider the open, comprehensive and respectful recording of fatalities – including of the forcibly disappeared – from armed violence to be a cross-cutting issue of relevance to their work and in alignment with their humanitarian principles.
Organised by Oxford Research Group, the launch event at the British Academy was chaired by its President, Sir Adam Roberts, and was attended by members of the casualty recording network, members of other signatory NGOs, government representatives, supporters and well-wishers. The Charter will be circulated after Thursday’s event to gather much wider support from the civil society and a broad spectrum of NGOs and other organisations, in order to help bring it more compellingly onto the agendas of states. An important element of the Charter’s potential to influence state actors is that its casualty-recording requirements are firmly grounded in international law – which in effect makes them obligations (particularly – but not only – when states are parties to armed conflict).
Speaking at the British Academy launch, Hamit Dardagan, Co-Director of Oxford Research Group’s Every Casualty programme, which drafted the Charter and researched its legal basis, outlined some of its context and aims:
Armed violence continues to exact its human toll throughout the world, yet all too many of its victims die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, the pain and tragedy of their loss forever missing from the public record. No one understands the difficulties of recording such deaths better than some of the people gathered in this room, because we have been doing the work, and trying to overcome the difficulties. This is in stark contrast to many states, who instead of making every effort to fulfil this obligation have sought every excuse to avoid it, thereby giving themselves license to refer to the full extent of casualties as intrinsically unknowable and to treat the issue as essentially political.
It is highly fitting that this Charter is being publicly introduced at the British Academy, the UK's centre for excellence in the humanities and social sciences, because the domain in which the casualties of armed violence occur is that of present reality, and historical fact. If the simple demands of this Charter are met, then we may finally see this issue more often discussed as a matter of truth – a truth referring to victims who had a name and identity, and a truth as unavoidable to all of us as it already is to the bereaved.
Examples of such documentation work showcased at the launch included the Kosovo Memory Book, 1998, unveiled today by Sandra Orlovic, Deputy Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Serbia, and Bekim Blakaj, Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Kosovo. The book is the first volume in a larger project to tell the story of each victim of the conflict from all communities in Kosovo from 1998-2000, and lays to rest long-standing disputes and mutual mistrust regarding the true extent of the casualties of this conflict.
Speaking at the launch, Sandra Orlovic (Deputy Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Serbia) said:
It remains incomprehensible that even a century after international humanitarian law was born, states fail to register many of those whose suffering prompted the creation of international humanitarian law – victims of armed conflict. They remain unregistered, nameless, their lives forgotten forever and devalued once again, as it was with the act of violence itself.
The 'Kosovo Memory Book, 1998', is a clear and powerful response to this shameful tradition of neglect.
Bekim Blakaj (Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Kosovo) added:
Throughout history, millions of people have been killed and gone missing in armed conflicts. Their families and loved ones will forever remember them; however, to most people they are just statistical data and numbers. It is therefore our obligation, as members of the civil society, to register them, to record in depth their suffering and make it public, in the hope that past mistakes will not be repeated in the future.
The meeting also heard from Wissam Tarif, Executive Director of INSAN, an organisation publishing the results of detailed investigations into the ongoing deaths of Syrian protesters. The Syrian regime has made it very difficult for local and international monitors, including the UN, to document casualties. Tarif presented INSAN’s latest updated death toll, described their investigative methods in Syria, and pointed to good and bad practices, and the effect of the latter on public opinion and political decision-makers.
Speaking at the launch, Wissam Tarif (Executive Director of INSAN and global campaigner for Avaaz) said:
Casualties of armed violence are not numbers, they are real people who had dreams, sorrows, and joys. They left behind families and friends – many who are angry, many who are sad. Recognising the casualties of armed violence is recognising a better future. Throughout our history we have committed all kinds of violence. But the cycle of violence cannot go on forever.
Reconciliation and truth commissions have opened tombs and exhumed the bodies in an attempt to find the truth. This Charter should shorten the agony of not knowing, prevent the postponement of justice, and contribute to ending the denial of truth.
These are just two of the many projects working to bring public recognition for the ultimate price being paid by so many individuals, predominantly civilian, in armed violence around the world. The Charter is also intended to bring some overdue recognition to their work, which can only benefit from being better understood by states and the wider public.
Note to editors
For further information, or to arrange an interview with speakers or signatories, please contact Vera Evertz, Head of Communications, at the Oxford Research Group office on +44 (0)20 7549 0298, Vera.Evertz@oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk.
The ORG Charter launch event will be held at the British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH, from 9.30 - 11.30 am, on Thursday, 15 September 2011.
Registration and coffee are from 9.30 am. Presentations will begin at 10.00 am. A question and answer session will conclude at 11.30 am. The venue is available from 11.30 am - 12.30 pm for press and media interviews with speakers and Charter signatories.
About Oxford Research Group
Oxford Research Group (ORG) is an independent London-based think tank, which seeks to promote more sustainable approaches to global security. Established in 1982 and a registered charity, it is now considered to be one of the UK’s leading think tanks. ORG engages with civil society, government and media to effect positive, sustainable change in human security worldwide.
Oxford Research Group, Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT, T +44 (0)20 7549 0298 , F +44 (0)20 7681 1668, www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk. Registered Charity No. 299436
A charter for the recognition of Every Casaulty of Armed Violence
This Charter is founded on the principle that no person should die unrecorded, and calls on states to uphold this principle for the victims of armed violence.
It is a universal Charter which applies equally to every person, and encompasses every party to armed violence. Its terms are few, but far-reaching.
Armed violence causes many kinds of harm to people and communities, including some that are indirect, non-lethal or delayed. This charter is for those most immediate and direct victims whose violent deaths, and identities, are all too often forever lost to the public record. It therefore applies equally to all forms and conditions of armed violence where victims are commonly unrecorded, be it due to armed conflict, extensive lethal criminality, or any other breakdown in civil security.
We, the civil society organisations and concerned parties who endorse this Charter, call for resolute action by states to ensure that every direct casualty of armed violence is:
- Promptly recorded;
- Correctly identified; and
- Publicly acknowledged.
States bear particular responsibility for populations under their control or jurisdiction, or who are endangered by their actions. Information on deaths and the identity of the dead must be made public, after first informing bereaved families, where possible. Only when there is a genuine risk of harm to the living should the implementation of these measures be delayed, but never indefinitely.
While accepting that we cannot erase the harm already done to the dead, their families and friends, we are convinced that much good will flow from these measures, as they will:
- Fulfil the rights of victims of armed violence;
- Reduce the additional agony of not knowing the fate of loved ones who are missing, presumed dead;
- Provide a human face to the many nameless, hidden, often distant victims of armed violence;
- Enable more timely, transparent, reliable and comprehensive monitoring of armed violence than has been achieved before;
- Bring states and parties to armed violence into better compliance with the spirit as well as the letter of international law; and
- Support post-conflict recovery and reconciliation, which must always be grounded in truth.
From the moment they begin to be implemented these measures will assert and strengthen the recognition of our common humanity across the globe. In doing so, they may move us closer to a world where armed violence is no longer the scourge it is today.
Pre-launch Charter Signatories
(Correct at 15 September 2011. * indicates expected to be represented at the launch event)
- Action on Armed Violence *
- Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission *
- Afghanistan Rights Monitor
- Article 36
- Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict
- Conflict Monitoring Center Pakistan
- Documenta *
- El Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos (CERAC) *
- Fellowship of Reconciliation, UK
- Genocide Alert
- Handicap International Belgium *
- Human Rights Center
- Humanitarian Law Centre, Kosovo *
- Humanitarian Law Centre, Serbia *
- IKV Pax Christi *
- Informal Sector Service Centre *
- INSAN *
- International Alert *
- International Committee for Missing Persons
- Iraq Body Count *
- Mindanao Human Rights Action Center
- Mozambican Force for Crime Investigation and Social Reintegration (FOMICRES)
- Nato Watch
- NigeriaWatch *
- Norwegian People's Aid
- Oxford Research Group *
- Pakistan Body Count *
- Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies *
- Peace Direct
- Peace Pledge Union
- Scientists for Global Responsibility
- Somali Human Rights Association
- Soroptimist International - UKPAC
- Tamil Information Centre *
- The Puget Sound Nuclear Weapon Free Zone
- The Research and Documentation Centre of Sarajevo *
- Trident Ploughshares
We are seeking support of the Charter from civil society organisations and other interested parties. To add your signature to the Charter, send us an email, stating this, along with your organisations name. These Explanatory Notes are designed to answer your questions on the Charter's purpose and contents.
To read the Charter in full: A Charter for the Recognition of Every Casualty of Armed Violence.
Read more about our Every Casualty programme.
To learn more about the legal underpinning for casualty recording, visit our Making Casualty Recording a Legal Requirement project.
Click here to get information about the ORG facilitated International Practitioner Network (IPN).