Civilian casualties and international humanitarian law: Lessons from Iraq?. Presentation to UEL Center for Human Rights. November 2009. Prof. John Sloboda, PIR, Royal Holloway Oxford Research Group Iraq Body Count. Acknowledgments.
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Presentation to UEL Center for Human Rights. November 2009
Prof. John Sloboda,PIR, Royal Holloway
Oxford Research Group
Iraq Body Count
These sources disagree
Where’s the evidence, and how can it be assessed?
- regarding source types
records violent civilian deaths
in crosschecked media reports
plus hospital, morgue, NGO, official sources
documented in fullest possible detail
constantly updated and open to revision
quantitative documentary research
capitalising on electronic data environment
definite documentary accounts
(e.g. where, when, how many or who)
web-published news media in English (including Arabic translated)
official records (including FOIA-requested)
Figure 1: Top 12 contributing media 2006–2008
IRAQ BODY COUNT
National Iraqi News Agency
Voices of Iraq
Kuwait News Agency
New York Times
best single media source covers just 43% of incidents and 60% of deaths in IBC database
most sources cover only a small fraction of incidents and deaths
all media prioritise larger incidents (with more victims), so have better coverage of total reported deaths than incidents
focus on incident and victim details
along with where & when, weapons data is almost always available for incidents
perpetrator group identified in 25% of cases
incident details are intrinsically valuable, and guard against confusion/double-counting
Figure 2:Incident details extractable 2003–2009
identity is the most important datapoint regarding victims, but rare (c. one in 20)
demographic data is also highly valuable, and more often available
Figure 3: Victim details extractable 2003–2009
Figure 4: IBC vs Iraq Ministry of HR, 2004–2008
Miller McCune 15 Oct 2009 “Iraq’s Official Death Toll supports Unofficial Tally” Michael Todd
Figure 4: IBC vs US Dept. of Defense, 2006–2007
Washington Post Oct 1 2007, “Counting Civilian Deaths in Iraq” Michael Dobbs
ill-suited for indirect (‘non-violent’) deaths
does track violent, weapon-caused deaths
needs an interconnected and active press
needs a working ‘information infrastructure’
not an ‘estimate’ of the total
Lists specific events, and gives an account of the victims
Not inferential statisical presentations (e.g. surveys). Every number can be specifically traceable
complete list of deaths is the final aim
Major universities and experts researching the Iraq conflict or modern conflict in general
WHO, UNAMI, UNHCR, OCHA
IMF and the World Bank
International Criminal Court
Human rights groups and law firms
US and UK governments
Australian government (cited by latter in explaining withdrawal of troops from Iraq)
trend & distribution analyses
civilian impact of different weapon-types – e.g. Hicks et al, NEJM 2009:
parties to conflict may suppress, distort, delay, or exaggerate mortality data for political and tactical ends
scientists and researchers should recognise and root out all biases and obstructions to truth
core values reside in verifiable truths and public disclosure
best journalistic practice shares these values
bias is least present in empirical ‘what-where-when’ reporting
bias is greatest in selection of what to publish prominently, and in commentary
documentary research recovers the factual content – most successfully when this data is essentially quantitative, as in war deaths
Truth is required for reconciliation
International Humanitarian Law
Geneva Conventions of 1949
Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1977
Customary International Law – ICRC Customary International Law Study (2005)
Geneva Conventions now universally ratified and constitute customary international law, possibly applicable to non-international armed conflict
No legal obligation to count the civilian dead or missing.
Primary obligation within IHL is to assess proportionality
Loss of civilian life of the civilian population must be in direct proportion to the military advantage expected
How can this be assessed if there is no accurate recording of the loss of life?
‘Whenever circumstances permit’
the obligation to search for, collect and record the dead and wounded should be as soon as possible and that each party to the hostilities are under a legal obligation to seek regular interruption of the hostilities to search for causalities.
A compilation be prepared of best practice to search for and collect the dead and that in every circumstances include a proper post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death including proper forensic exhumation. The main principles should be that there be a thorough, transparent and impartial system of casualty recording of every civilian and military casualty.
‘Agreements between parties’
Although the basis of international humanitarian law is reciprocity, as with human rights obligations, these obligations should be free standing and not depend on agreement or compliance by the other party.
It is suggested that the missing must be included in any advocacy strategy and support expressed for organisations to take a lead in the search and identification of the missing. The missing can be either civilian or military casualties and both should be dealt with in a similar fashion.
Progressive nations or alliances can
The organisations listed below announce the formation of the first international network of organisations who publicly record the victims of armed conflict as individuals, which has now had its first meeting.We believe that documenting the details of every human killed in war is a moral act based on recognising the value of every human life. We also believe that it is necessary for justice, holding the prosecutors of war to account, as a means to overcome uncertainties about deaths which are only recorded as numbers, and as a way of constructing a lasting historical memory of the dead. Failure to comprehensively record every individual casualty of war can only bring greater pain and suffering. This suffering ranges from the denial of the experience of victims’ families, all the way through to community grievances which stimulate the renewal or escalation of violent conflict through politically motivated claims. The only long term answer to these problems is the establishment of detailed and certain truth. We will collaborate to raise our capacity, visibility and collective strength, thereby enhancing casualty recording activities worldwide. Together we will be better able to overcome the problems we face every day in our work. Our final goal is that the world recognise the need to record every casualty of every conflict wherever it happens.We call on governments and intergovernmental agencies to support the activity of casualty recording worldwide.