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Protecting civilians in conflict zones

Protecting civilians in conflict zones

Research on the measurement of war deaths has influenced the Iraq Inquiry and stimulated debate which led to policy change in the UK.

Professor Spagat’s research and methodological innovations on the measurement of war deaths influenced the conclusions and recommendations of the UK’s Iraq Inquiry (also known as “The Chilcot Report”) and stimulated a policy debate that directly led to policy changes in the UK. This research has also informed advocacy groups and learned societies, leading to improvements in survey standards and casualty recording in war. 

The Chilcot Report

The Chilcot Report, published in 2016, was the product the UK’s official public inquiry into its role in the Iraq War that began in 2003. Professor Spagat’s research informs two key conclusions of this landmark report. First, the Report cites his research and the work of Every Casualty Worldwide, an NGO that Spagat Chairs, in the build up to the primary policy recommendation of the report: that the UK military should systematically record deaths of civilians incurred during its military operations so as to minimize civilian casualties. The Ministry of Defence responded by committing to record details of civilians treated in UK military field hospitals and is considering further such steps.  Second, the Report cited Spagat’s work on child mortality and economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s to undermine the key argument that Tony Blair made before the Inquiry to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

Influencing practice and policy of advocacy groups

Professor Spagat’s methodological contributions and findings have influenced how advocacy groups and stakeholders record casualties and have informed their public campaigns. For example, the International Network on Explosive Weapons, a network of NGOs that campaign to reduce harm to civilians inflicted by the use of explosive violence in populated areas, cites some of the research in its advocacy. Spagat’s research also strengthened, validated and disseminated the work of the advocacy group Iraq Body Count, helping it to consolidate its position as the most credible source on deaths in the Iraq War, a position exemplified by no fewer than 44 citations in The Chilcot Report.

Raising standards in survey research

Professor Spagat’s research has also influenced standards for transparency and the prevention of data fabrication in the survey research industry. His work on data fabrication in a major survey of the Iraq conflict motivated the US State Department to closely scrutinize the work of a survey data provider they were heavily using in Iraq, leading ultimately to an upgrade of methods used to combat data fabrication. The same research, which also highlighted violations to the transparency standards of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, also led to a landmark censure issued by this Association and contributed to a new Transparency Initiative of the Association which affects the practice of hundreds of surveys conducted worldwide.

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