REMEMBRANCE DAY 2011
The Charter simply calls on Governments to ensure that every human life lost to armed violence, anywhere in the world, is properly documented: that is to say,
- promptly recorded,
- correctly identified,
- and publicly acknowledged.
It is generally taken for granted in all human societies that when someone dies, including violently, their death becomes part of the public record.
But there remains one cause of death whose victims not only fail to be publicly recorded, but predictably occur – and fail to be recorded – en masse.
Why should the victims of armed violence, most often in conflicts and most of them civilian, have their lives violently cut short with little or no effort being made to discover the circumstances, or even the very fact, of their death?
And how can efforts to reduce the incidence and impact of armed violence succeed unless we take genuine measures to monitor and understand the human consequences?
We know that it is possible, although often difficult, to record human losses even in the midst of armed conflict thanks to the efforts of casualty recording practitioners across the world who strive to ensure that the victims of armed violence are not forgotten and do not remain nameless. We also know that without truth there can be no lasting reconciliation, nor a future where the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Every Casualty’s main research programme over the last 4 years has been into the practicality of this demand, and has looked at organisations, mostly from the NGO world, already recording casualties. Many do it as part of wider human rights work, while others concentrate solely on the victims of recent armed conflicts. While all work under difficult, sometimes dangerous conditions, all also prove that where there is a will, the work can be done.
We have formed a network of these organisations to develop, improve and share good practice, and all stand united behind the Charter, as do NGOs less directly involved in casualty recording, but who understand its benefits.
We have also researched the Charter’s legal basis under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and international customary law: the Charter reflects and takes forward some already-existing provisions of the laws of armed conflict (in particular the Geneva Conventions) and human rights law.
Within weeks of its launch the Charter had already gained the support of 50 NGOs. We might recall that the International Committee of the Red Cross was created in similar circumstances, despite originally being considered by many as unrealistic, optimistic and practically impossible.
We believe, and existing examples already show, that the systematic and open recording we are calling for will bring many benefits.
It will make parties to conflict more accountable than they have been heretofore, reducing the space for impunity, providing a real-world check on claims to save or to have done all that can be done to protect civilian lives.
We also know from experience in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere that the respectful recording and memorialising of the dead – all of the dead, from all communities – contributes to post-conflict peace-building and provides a large portion of the truth in truth and reconciliation processes.
Done with the diligence and meticulous care appropriate to any investigation of sudden death, it provides better understanding of the impact of armed violence and the effect of various weapons deployed in and around human habitations;
And it will serve as an essential guide to humanitarian assistance efforts.
The programme has now begun advocacy to NGOs, states and inter-state bodies. I hope you will be hearing more about us as the initiative progresses over the coming months.
I'm going to end by stating something quite obvious.
Before there can be remembrance of a thing, there must first be knowledge of it. We hope to ensure that the knowledge, and memory, of war includes its victims: all of its victims, not only of our militaries, and not just as numbers or statistics, but as individuals, as persons: we need to know who died, not just how many have died. Only then can we speak of a remembrance that is not in itself a form of forgetting.