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Interview with Elizabeth Minor about casualty recording practice

Professor Spagat interviews Elizabeth Minor of Article 36 on the diverse field of casualty recording and principles of good practice.
Hello again, everybody. I’m here with Elizabeth Minor from Article 36, but who used to work with every casualty world wide, was with us during some important formative years. And in particular, Elizabeth really spearheaded the early project of interviewing every casualty recorder in the world that we could find who was willing to submit to an interview. So perhaps you can tell us a little bit about that project. Yeah, sure. And thanks for having me. So this was a two-year research project which was done when every casualty was part of Oxford research group between 2010 and 2012.
And basically the purpose of it, like you were saying, was to try and establish knowledge about this field of casualty recording and the diversity of practise, and also what these recorders had in common. And I think most of the purpose was for casualty recorders to reflect back their field to them and build up a common feeling of a field and work towards developing standards for that field. And also to demonstrate that this is an area of practise to others, like policymakers and researchers, and to articulate what casualty recording was. So basically what we did was, as you said, we try to identify all the projects that we could across the world and invite them to an interview.
I ended up interviewing 40 casualty recording organisations. These were mostly from civil society. So either NGOs, media organisations, academic projects, or independent research institutes. And also some very small, informal projects– so ones that were just done by one individual. And we also had a couple of international organisations and one state research institute. But we thought that these findings are applicable beyond that group, and we can make some generalisations about what does the field of casualty recording constitute from that. And in terms of who we ended up interviewing as well, it was quite regionally diverse. So casualty recorders from Europe, from Latin America, Africa, different regions of Asia and the Middle East.
And based on your really rather extensive experience interviewing casualty recorders, how would you describe their main motivations for doing the work? Well, I think things were quite varied. So there were a lot of reasons why projects were set up and the goals that they wanted this information to go towards. But I suppose they were all united in some way by the importance of this information for the public interest or some valuing of the truth. So I suppose it varied from, say, academic research projects. Which we’re looking at conflict analysis in certain countries and just wanting to understand things from that perspective.
All the way to identifying the remains of unknown victims for the sake of the right for families to know the truth about their loved ones. For processes of justice and accountability postwar, and for changing the narrative and discourse on casualty numbers and information in their countries. And also during crisis situations to contribute to humanitarian response by providing indicators of areas of need where the international organisations might need to apply their efforts. And so I suppose, yeah, a wide spectrum of reasons of doing this. That is pretty wide. Yeah. Would you say there’s some common core that almost everyone seemed to be interested in doing?
Yeah, I suppose in terms of the actual information recorded, in the definition of casualty recording that we use for this study was included– recording certain pieces of information, right? Including the date and location of an incident, either the numbers killed or the identities of the people. The sources, though you would often be keeping those secret, and also the cause of death or the weapons used. So I would say that was a core of information that all casualty recorders are going for.
Let’s move now from this first project, which is essentially figuring out what the state of casualty recording actually was in the world at that time, to the next project, which is about setting standards for how casualty recording should be done. And you were closely involved for most of that project, I think. So can you describe a little bit about that second project? Yeah, that’s right.
So I think this always an intention from us from the start of doing the research as well, that the research would inform the standards development process with practitioners, and also with organisations that use that data to, again, strengthen practise, but also help casualty recorders have a greater impact and greater credibility with outside organisations who might not necessarily be using that data or understanding them in a correct way. What were the main results of the standard setting process? So there was a document published in November, in 2016, and it included a set of principles and also guidelines for casualty recorders. So it’s aimed at existing recorders, but also those who might be wanting to set up a project like this.
And it had five core principles in it that it identified for casualty recording, which would do no harm, transparency, inclusiveness, consistency, and responsibility. So these were meant to underpin all work. We may have in our audience out here people who are thinking of setting up casualty recording projects. Do you have any advice to give such a person? Yep. So I think the standards are definitely a great place for you to start. We’ve set out in these principles, which I discussed briefly, and also questions you can should consider for different aspects of your methodology, and how you set up your organisation and your projects.
As for the research, I suppose we identified a few key things that you should do from a data point of view setting up, which are to clearly define your scope for your casualty recording project. In terms of what period of time, what area what kind of casualties are you looking at? Define a data model for your project. So what pieces of information will this record? And also what some pieces of information that you have more detail, for example, on location information. You can go all the way from a town down or local streets in terms of detail.
And the third thing was to write yourself a code book, so you have a standard way of dealing with your source material and dealing with that in your methodology. And that should include looking at data security and those kinds of issues as well. And I think we’ve found that casualty recorders can be most successful when they’re very clear about what their project wants to do. And so who are the audiences for it as well, and how would you connect with those people? Is it the general public that you want to know about this? Is it particular agencies? Is this something that an organisation is doing for justice? For a cause?
They all have different considerations of how you’ll set up your work. OK. Thank you very much for coming in and sharing all your insights. Thanks.

In this video I interview Elizabeth Minor of Article 36 about her Work on Casualty Recording.

Elizabeth asked me to post the following clarifying statement about her interview.

“In this interview, Elizabeth describes a study conducted with 40 organisations and individuals that were promised complete anonymity, but also discusses working with members of the Casualty Recorders Network, a public network of over fifty practitioners that can be found at”

At the end of this clip Elizabeth provides advice to people who may be thinking of setting up a casualty recording project. I hope that a few people taking the course are already doing casualty recording and other people may be thinking of setting up a casualty recording project.

If you are doing or thinking of doing casualty recording could you please tell a bit about your activities or plans in the comments section below?

Of course, most of you won’t be casualty recorders or potential casualty recorders. But this is still a great opportunity to ask some casualty recorders about their work.

Upon my request Elizabeth provided the following bio:

Elizabeth Minor is currently an Advisor at the UK-based NGO Article 36, where she undertakes research, policy analysis and advocacy in international forums, focused on strengthening international standards to regulate weapons technologies that cause particular humanitarian harm. Elizabeth was previously a researcher at Every Casualty and Oxford Research Group, where she launched the global Casualty Recorders Network, and was responsible for studies into the methodologies and practices used in the field of documenting and recording the casualties of armed conflict and violence, as undertaken by NGOs, the UN and states. Elizabeth also sits on the Board of the NGO Airwars.

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