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Human Rights Review

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 347–366 | Cite as

Making Civilian Casualties Count: Approaches to Documenting the Human Cost of War

  • Izabela Steflja
  • Jessica Trisko Darden
Article

Abstract

Our understanding of civilian casualties is not based solely on what is reported but also who reports these human rights abuses. Competing interests at the data collection stage have impeded the development of a more thorough understanding of civilian victimization during conflict. We find that current definitions of “casualty” neglect nonphysical forms of victimization and that group-based definitions of “civilian” can obscure the role of different individuals in conflict. We contend that the dominant definition of “civilian casualty” should be expanded to include the full array of harm inflicted on individuals, including psychological harm and what we refer to as multiple casualties of conflict. Expanding our definition of civilian casualties to include different degrees and kinds of wartime victimization would improve both documentation and analysis. We propose several areas for improvement in terms of the documentation of civilian casualties as well as potential solutions to the problems we identify.

Keywords

Casualties Political violence Methodology Cost of War Civil War Genocide 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors are listed in alphabetical order. We thank Lee Ann Fujii, Francesca Grandi, Antoinette Handley, Edward Schatz, Livia Schubiger, and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on previous versions of the article. The authors further thank Stathis Kalyvas, Elizabeth Wood, and participants in Yale University’s Program on Order, Conflict and Violence Speaker Series for their useful feedback on an early draft. Nick Caruana provided helpful research assistance. All errors remain our own. Izabela Steflja gratefully acknowledges the funding support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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