Casualty Recording and Estimation in Times of Conflict-Center for Human Rights Science - Carnegie Mellon University

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Casualty Recording and Estimation in Times of Conflict

The Conference on Casualty Recording and Estimation in Times of Conflict took place from Friday, October 23, 2009 to Saturday, October 24, 2009 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The information that can be found on this web site includes the Program, the List of Papers, and information on the Organizers & Participating Institutions.

We would like to thank the U.S. National Science Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh for their generous support of this endeavor. Complete information about sponsors and participating institutions can be found here.

What follows is a variety of information that we hope will serve as a reminder of the organization of the meeting and provide a shared understanding of what we accomplished. Details about the publication of the edited volume that will result from this meeting will be posted as soon as a contract is in hand.

Statement of Objectives

Recording the casualties of violent acts is an essential activity in any civilized society. Creating such records honors those who have suffered. It is also a step toward ensuring that victims and survivors receive reparations and justice — and that the perpetrators pay for their crimes. Additionally, estimating the number of casualties —including both injuries and deaths — is vital to providing services and to administering justice, as well as for understanding the social processes leading to violence.

In times of conflict, the creation of trustworthy records of individual casualties and reliable estimates of the overall toll is fraught with challenge and controversy. The work must be conducted in perilous conditions, and the results can have serious consequences in the realms of politics, justice, and social reconstruction. The disputes over casualty recording in Iraq and Darfur are two recent examples of the depth of the passions that can surround these issues, and the stakes riding on their resolution.

The organizations performing casualty recording and estimation must grapple with intellectually demanding tasks, requiring expertise from multiple disciplines, sometimes posing problems beyond the limits of known science. Despite the inherent difficulty of the work, collaboration between the human rights and scientific communities has been irregular. Although there are several institutions with distinguished programs in political and legal aspects of humanitarian crises, there is, to the best of our knowledge, no single place where human rights advocates, humanitarian aid workers, and transitional justice specialists can go for scientific assistance and research support.

Specific Goals of the Workshop

  1. To strengthen the network of scholars working on casualty recording and estimation.
  2. To identify the best applications of alternative approaches, as well as research needed to strengthen them.
  3. To produce an edited volume that introduces these approaches to a wider audience, including political decision makers, military personnel, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, academics, activists, and the interested lay public.
  4. To identify ways to advance the theory and practice of casualty recording and estimation.
  5. To improve funding for the development of methods, tools, and programs that enhance casualty recording and estimation.

Meeting Format

As you can see from the program, we will had four 1.5 hour sessions on Friday Oct. 23, and three on Saturday Oct. 24. Each session featured two 15-minute presentations and a five-minute commentary. The final session on Saturday began with an overall appraisal of the meeting by Christian Davenport continued with structured discussion involving all participants.

Guidance for Presentations and Papers

Because the goal of the conference and the resulting edited volume is to provide informed access to the science underlying different approaches, we asked all authors to address the following topics in the context of the case studies they have agreed to talk about at the meeting:

  1. The approach. Briefly describe your approach to casualty recording and estimation in terms that any educated person could understand.
  2. Disciplinary background. If you employ techniques from a particular discipline (e.g., epidemiology, survey design, demography, etc.), briefly define that field and provide some references that provide general points of access.
  3. Data. What data do you use, and how do you obtain it?
  4. Assumptions. What assumptions do you make in the course of your work, particularly regarding data quality?
  5. Domains of application. What are the conditions and purposes for which the approach is particularly well suited – or ill suited?
  6. Clarification. What misconceptions about the approach should be addressed?
  7. Examples. What are some cases in which the approach has been used well (or poorly), along with references providing points of access?
  8. Political sensitivities. What political conditions are favorable to the approach – or make it impossible?
  9. Research needs. How can the approach be strengthened, methodologically and through the investment of research resources?


While we realize that these topics will vary in their relevance to individual authors, sticking to this general outline should improve the dialogue at the meeting and edited volume’s readability and utility. We hope that this volume will lead readers to understand the value of learning about and investing in the best possible science from a range of disciplines for these vital tasks. If you have thoughts about the questions, please let us know, so that we can work with you to achieve the best possible product.

Chatham House Rule

The meeting was conducteded under the Chatham House Rule, whereby “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” (About Chatham House Rule)