An Afghan woman holds a poster with photos of family members killed during a US-led raid in 2008. [Photo: Fraidoon Pooyaa/AP]
On 22 February by the UN security council, in a moment of rare unanimity, all member states agreed on the “need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under their control, on civilians”.
Holding perpetrators to account will require a full and detailed account of what happened. Long before the security council statement, people in the midst of the chaos were taking the initiative to collect and communicate every available piece of information about who was killed, by whom, and in what circumstances.
Websites have sprung up listing details of the dead, brief descriptions of where and how they died, with photos, brief biographies and heartfelt testimonials supplied by friends and relatives. People have used all means at their disposal (including eyewitness and media reports, and information gathered by human rights organisations from hospitals and morgues) to tell the world what has happened to their loved ones. […]
The immediacy and transparency of these citizen-inspired activities should give states such as Britain and the US pause for thought. Open and transparent documentation of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan has never been a priority of either government. Indeed, as recently as September 2010 the Ministry of Defence was telling the parliamentary defence committee that “the UK does not collate, publish, or hold figures of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, because of the immense difficulty and risks of collecting robust data”.
The Afghanistan and Iraq war logs published by WikiLeaks have revealed that detailed casualty data was in fact being secretly recorded by the US military since at least 2004. This demonstrates a lack of transparency rather than a lack of capacity. Yet Britain and America are now among those committed to seeing such transparency achieved in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. [read more]