The number of Afghan civilian casualties in 2008 – at total of 2,118 – is the highest recorded since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the United Nations says in a new report, which calls on all parties to ensure the protection of innocents.
The number of those killed last year represents an almost 40 per cent increase over 2007, when 1,523 people lost their lives due to conflict, according to the report, prepared by the Human Rights Unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Of the 2,118 casualties reported between 1 January and 31 December 2008, 55 per cent of them – or 1,160 deaths – were attributed to anti-government elements (AGEs) and 39 per cent – 828 deaths – to pro-government forces.
The remaining six per cent – 130 deaths – could not be attributed to any of the parties since some of them died as a result of crossfire or were killed by unexploded ordinance, for example, says the Mission.
“The 2008 civilian death toll is thus the highest of any year since the end of major hostilities which resulted in the demise of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says the Mission. “This disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of civilians.”
According to the report, the majority of the casualties, some 41 per cent, occurred in the country’s volatile southern region, which saw heavy fighting in several provinces.
The 1,160 civilians killed by anti-government elements represent an increase of 65 per cent over 2007 figures. The vast majority – 85 per cent – of them died as a result of suicide and improvised explosive devises.
Meanwhile, air-strikes were responsible for the largest percentage, some 64 per cent, of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces last year, with night-time raids, which sometimes result in death and injury to civilians, a continuing concern, according to the report.
“While pro-government forces have instituted a number of changes to tactical directives, more needs to be done to avoid the loss of innocent lives. Afghans are, rightly, calling for greater accountability as well as precautionary measures to safeguard the lives of civilians,” UNAMA said in a press release.
The report also notes that the deteriorating security situation and drastically reduced humanitarian access intensified the challenge for the humanitarian agencies to address the growing needs of vulnerable Afghans. “By the end of 2008, ‘humanitarian space’ had shrunk considerably.”
The Mission adds that staff from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also become victims of violence and have been killed, kidnapped or received death threats on many occasions. Schools, particularly those for girls, have come under increasing attack thereby depriving thousands of students, especially girls, of their right of access to education.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), attacks on schools and educational facilities rose by 24 per cent, from 236 incidents reported in 2007 to 293 in 2008.
In addition, 38 aid workers, almost all from NGOs, were killed, double the number in 2007, and a further 147 abducted.