The importance of accurate casualty reporting in peace operations

Peacekeepers of MONUSCO in the northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo Peacekeepers of MONUSCO in the northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo © Michael Ali/UN Photo

This article is a brief presentation of the Small Arms Survey’s report on the important role of casualty reporting in peacekeeping operations

In June, Hana Salama from the independent research centre “Small Arms Survey” presented the new report "A Missing Mandate? Casualty Recording in UN Peace Operations" on the counting and reporting of victims currently used in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, in the framework of the Security Assessment projects in North Africa and the Human Security Baseline Assessment for Sudan and South Sudan. The research was primarily based on public data collection and interviews with officials and civil society experts in the UN missions in Mali (MINUSMA), South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). 

The report shows that peace operations are in a unique position to collect accurate data in territories characterized by asymmetric conflicts where local authorities are unable or reluctant to carry out such surveys. In particular, the objective of the study is to understand whether such practices meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.1 "Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere" through the indicator 16.1.2 "Conflict-related deaths per 100,000 population, by sex, age and cause" and to find out what can be improved in order to achieve a more comprehensive and accurate data collection.

The analysis highlights how casualty reporting is crucial in the implementation of the missions themselves, showing some of the most interesting applications of this data in current or potential mission scenarios. Data collection allows contingents to better understand the type of violence - and therefore conflict - that they are facing, reducing their collateral damage and increasing their conflict prevention skills, with an improved ability to recognize new emerging trends. Precisely through the categorization of victims, officials within MINUSMA were able to better understand the trends of the Malian scenario, characterized by intricate fluid relations, heterogeneous actors and conflicts of difficult classification. In the Congolese case, on the other hand, MONUSCO provided technical and logistical support to the investigations of the national courts in order to enable greater accountability of the parties - especially in conflict-related cases involving minors and gender-based violence. 

In addition, in situations where the UN is seen as an impartial actor collecting credible data, the missions can provide better mediation among the parties, showing the effective respect or violation of the agreements. In particular, in the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) the accurate reporting also included the type of weapon used. By disaggregating these data afterwards, it is possible to understand whether there has been effective disarmament or illicit arms trafficking, prohibited weapons use or whether an embargo has in fact been maintained, facilitating dialogue between the parties or at least improving the decision-making process within the mission. In addition, this practice allows for more effective achievement of SDG 16.4 “significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows [...] and combat all forms of organized crime”.

In sum, the author recommends specifying, in the mission’s mandate, a clear and precise account of the victims that generates processable data. While such mandates include the protection of civilians and personnel, the lack of specific expertise and prioritisation makes it more difficult to apply them in individual sections and missions. Thus, there is a need for more systematic cooperation between the different sectors through a more integrated structure and continuous updating of personnel in the field.  Externally, increased cooperation with civil society and intergovernmental agencies is desirable for a proper data collection. Internally, on the other hand, the introduction of a flexible but standardised data collection methodology is necessary, both at the mission’s and central level, to enhance coordination with shared platforms for the exchange of information and practices.

Furthermore, such reforms would be extremely effective but relatively inexpensive considering that the object’s reform is mainly related to coordination procedures and classification training and the current presence of sections that already deal with the identification of deaths and weapons - as in the case of Intelligence of the peacekeepers in uniform. Overall, a more holistic and standardized approach "needs to be in the DNA of a peacekeeping mission" - as stated by a UNMISS official.


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Autore: Matteo Consiglio; Editor: Margherita Curti

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