Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hits all time high – UN report

© Ahmad Masood
The number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan in 2015 was the highest in the last seven years amid increased fighting between pro-government forces and insurgent groups, including the Taliban, the United Nations said in its annual report.

According to the UN’s 2015 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the total number of civilian casualties recorded in the last year amounted to more than 11,000, including more than 3,500 deaths and almost 7,500 injuries.

“This report records yet another rise in the number of civilians hurt or killed. The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UNAMA, said in a press release.

“The people of Afghanistan continue to suffer brutal and unprincipled attacks that are forbidden under international law,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein.

The UN also reported a 4 percent increase in the number of casualties from that documented in 2014. Children and women paid an especially heavy price – one in every four casualties was child, and one in ten a woman.

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The number of child casualties rose 14 percent and the increase among women amounted to 37 percent, the report produced by the UN Assistance Mission in the Afghanistan (UNAMA) in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said.

The worst-affected areas are located in the northern and southern regions of the country, where Afghan security forces are fighting the Taliban, particularly in Kunduz and Helmand provinces, the report adds.

At the same time, “in most parts of Afghanistan in 2015, civilian casualties decreased,” Danielle Bell, the director of the UN human rights program in Afghanistan, told a news conference in Kabul.

Sixty-two percent of all civilian casualties were attributed to the activities of different insurgent groups, including the Taliban, which is accused by the UN investigators of using tactics that “deliberately or indiscriminately cause civilian harm, including targeted killings of civilians, complex and suicide attacks, as well as indiscriminate and illegal pressure-plate [improvised explosive devices].”

The actions of pro-Government forces resulted in 17 percent of all civilian casualties, including 14 percent caused by Afghan security forces, “two percent from international military forces, and one percent from pro-Government armed groups,” according to the report, which criticized Afghan forces for their reliance on explosives, particularly in heavily populated areas.

There was a nine percent increase in civilian casualties caused by the actions of the international military forces that was mainly attributed to the US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in October of 2015, which claimed the lives of 42 people and injured 43.

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Among other measures aimed at mitigating the number of casualties and protecting civilians from harm, the UN report suggests conducting “an independent, impartial, transparent and effective investigation of the attack against the MSF hospital” and ensuring “accountability for those responsible.”

The report also demands that all parties to the conflict “cease the use of mortars, rockets, grenades, other indirect weapons, and aerial attacks in civilian-populated areas” and specifically demanded that anti-government elements “cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian locations, in particular, journalists, human rights defenders, judges and prosecutors, civilian Government officers, aid workers, and places of worship and culture.”

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The report also noted a “disturbing trend” of women being targeted and punished for allegedly committing “moral crimes,” resulting in executions or lashings, adding that the UN plans to release a separate report on these incidents.

UN officials also criticized all parties involved in the conflict for negligence resulting in civilian suffering and urged them to show their commitment to remedy the situation through action.

“We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016,” said Haysom.

Since 2009, when the UN started compiling annual reports on civilian casualties, it has recorded almost 59,000 civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan.