Kosovo Memory Book is one of the most extraordinary projects ever undertaken in the history of casualty recording. This joint work of the Humanitarian Law Center and the Kosovo Humanitarian Law Center seeks to document every single person killed during the war in Kosovo, 1998-2000.
I had the privilege of evaluating the Kosovo Memory Book database together with people at HRDAG, an NGO that works extensively in this field. Here you can see the results of our evaluations together with materials from presentations we made in February 2015.
Using entirely different approaches we both concluded that the database is of exceptionally high quality and appears to contain a virtually exhaustive list of all the people killed in the war. I use the word “virtually” because we will never be able to exclude the possibility that some further victims will be discovered. But we are confident that there cannot be many such cases.
My report spells out a fundamental distinction between documenting war deaths and estimating the number of war deaths. Estimation uses some kind of statistical procedure to try to determine the number of deaths. One such technique is to draw a random sample of households, measure the percent of people killed within the sample and extrapolate this in-sample death rate to the whole population suffering from a war. Most of the deaths covered in such an estimate will not be documented within the sample.
The above example is just a simple version of one estimation technique. We will discuss war-death estimation in more depth in future posts. For now, please just reflect a bit about how different estimation is from case-by-case documentation of deaths.
Also, recall this post which focused on the difference between documentation and counting or war deaths.
Combining these posts and summarizing, you can:
1. Document war deaths one by one, listing key information such as names of victims, dates of deaths, how people were killed etc.
2. Count the number of war deaths. Doing this is an obvious outgrowth of documentation but also has status independent of documentation. You can, for example, count deaths that may be documented to varying standards, e.g., counting unidentified bodies along side identified ones..
3. Estimate the number of war deaths using a statistical procedure.
I am not saying that one approach is the best one. Indeed, my report on the Kosovo Memory Book database shows that in this case there is a nice interplay between estimation and documentation.
The documentation is still ongoing after many years as the two Humanitarian Law Centers seek to provide still more detail about every victim. The estimates were available soon after the end of the war but provide less information and are of less memorial value than the Kosovo Memory Book work is.
Yet the estimates and the documentation reinforce one another nicely in the case of Kosovo.
This is a simultaneous triumph both for memory and for war-death research.