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 today (Thursday) at the British Academy and already endorsed by 37 humanitarian and human rights organisations from around the world.
The Charter’s core demands are that states ensure every casualty of armed violence is promptly recorded, correctly identified and publicly acknowledged.
It emerges from 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 now be circulated to gather much wider support from the civil society and a broad spectrum of NGOs and other organisations.
Speaking at the British Academy launch, Hamit Dardagan, co-director of Oxford Research Group’s Every Casualty programme, said: “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 longstanding 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."