UN rights chief urges protection amid sharp rise in Afghan civilian deaths

16 September 2008

The top United Nations human rights official has called for ensuring the protection of Afghan civilians, as new figures show an almost 40 per cent increase in conflict-related deaths in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period last year.

The human rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a total of 1,445 civilian casualties in the first eight months of this year, an increase of 39 per cent compared to the same period in 2007, when there were 1,040 deaths.

“I call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and to ensure every effort is made to avoid the killing of civilians,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.

“The Taliban and other insurgent groups must desist from practices that result in huge and indiscriminate loss of life. Efforts must also be made to hold such groups to account. There is a long history of impunity in Afghanistan – and that needs to change,” she added.

While the number of killings by the Taliban and other anti-government forces almost doubled by comparison with the first eight months of 2007, the numbers killed by government and international military forces also increasing substantially, according to Ms. Pillay’s office.

“There is an urgent need for better coordination between Afghan and international military forces to enhance the protection of civilians and the safety and welfare of war-affected communities,” said Ms. Pillay.

“It is also imperative that there is greater transparency in accountability procedures for international forces involved in incidents that cause civilian casualties,” she said, adding that there should also be a rapid and independent assessment of damages and a fair and consistent system of condolence payments to survivors and relatives of victims.

Last month was among the most deadly, with 330 civilians killed, including up to 92 deaths reported during an operation involving Afghan and international military forces in Shindand, as well as the killing of four non-governmental (NGO) workers by the Taliban on 13 August, in Logar province.

The High Commissioner noted that this is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001.

Ms. Pillay also voiced concern at the continued attacks on aid workers. In the latest incident, two doctors working with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) were killed on Sunday, along with their UNAMA driver, by a suicide bomber in the border town of Spin Boldak, bringing the total number of aid workers killed so far in 2008 to over 30.

“Targeted attacks on aid workers are not only atrocious in themselves, they also have far-reaching negative consequences on the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population,” stressed Ms. Pillay.

“In addition to the civilian deaths and injuries caused directly by the conflict, Afghans are continuing to face displacement, destruction of property and other assets, as well as disruption to healthcare, education, housing and other essential services,” she noted.


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