Friday, September 15, 2006

Documenting Casualties

I'm sure almost everyone reading this blog is somewhat familiar with Mirsad Tokaca and the Research and Documentation Center (RDC).

Tokaca has set off to do the difficult and unenviable task of documenting exactly how many people were killed in the Bosnian War and who the victims were (ethnicity, geographical location, civilian or military status.)

I'm not an expert by any means on collecting documentation regarding war time casualties, but this letter of recommendation is convincing with regards to the accuracy and reliability of the Center's findings.

From a layperson's point of view, the biggest strengths of the research are:

1. The large number of primary source documents and secondary sources collected. According to their website, they have collected over 50,000 photos and 3,500 hours of video recordings.

2. The methodology of setting up a computer database to reference and cross reference the victims.

3. The multi-ethnic and international scope of the project. According to the RDC website, their researchers include members of all ethnic groups. Furthermore, the RDC has been working with the Belgrade based Humanitarian Law Center and the Zagreb based Documenta Organizations. Both of these human rights organizations are dedicated to researching and documenting war crimes. The RDC also receives sponsoring from US, Swedish and Norwegian government organizations. As well as working closely with the UN and ICTY.

I've been very impressed with everything I've read about the Center. It appears to have the most accurate and up to date information regarding casualties in the Bosnian conflict, both with regards to the statistical number killed and the break down of the victims.

Of course, it is impossible despite the best efforts or methodology to achieve a 100% accurate number and break down of victims. Specifically with regards to the Bosnian war, where so many people were made refugees, not to mention that over decade since the war ended, there are still finding mass graves. Therefore, there lies the probability that victims have not been entered into the database because the war crimes have not been documented. Secondly, there are the questions of how to deal with war related deaths, such as illness and starvation. Thankfully due the UN there were very little deaths due to lack of medicine or food; but they still did occur, most notably in the isolated "safe areas." How to count these non violent war related deaths also effects the casualty list.

Furthermoere, as Mr. Tocaka noted, "Unfortunately, nationalist politicians continue to manipulate historical truth for their own political purposes throughout this region,” said RDC director Mirsad Tokaca.

“For them it is a numbers game to show that 'their' people are innocent, and that the 'others' are guilty. Our project is made more important by the fact that none of the governments are trying to establish an accurate record of what actually occurred.”
Full Article Here.

It is not just nationalist politicians who use casuality tolls for their own purposes, googling info on the RDC, it is quite apparent that there are a number of individuals selectively using the RDC documentation for their own political agenda.

Despite this, I still believe that the RDC is absolutely essential. I'm not saying that documentating war victims and keeping statistical number of victims will lead towards reconciliationion. But establishing accurate numbers of who was killed and by whom does help prevent people from using the casualties for their own political agenda, or premoting exaggerated casuality accounts for political purposes.

What is your opinion on the notion of documenting casualities? Is is absolutely necessary? Or, do you see problems and potential bumps in the road?
Is there anyway to remedy these potential problems.


Bg anon said...

I think it is key to have a non partisan factually based record of the numbers that perish in a conflict.

I support Tokaca's work, even if its a grim task and at every corner there will be somebody trying to manipulate him to say something agreeable to their cause.

It is so vital to establish accurate numbers to prevent or minimise abuse in potential future conflicts. For example one of the main arguments / justifications used by Serbs in the recent Croatian war was Jasenovac. There is no doubt that tens, hundreds of thousands of Serbs / Jews / Gypsies were butchered but its ridiculous the way the figure was abused by Croatian and Serbian nationalists. One would hope that the final figure for Srebrenica wont be as wide a range as 10,000 by one side and 1 million by another.

Shaina said...

The point about Jasenovic is a good one. That is exactly why it is important to get an accurate as possible account of the death toll and who died. Otherwise, the number will be subjected to manipulations by politicians for their own gain; where they will greatly exaggerate the suffering of their own people, at the expense of the others, and at the same time deny war crimes committed by soldiers/civillians of their ethnic groups.