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Last year deadliest yet for Afghan civilians caught in conflict, finds UN report

Last year deadliest yet for Afghan civilians caught in conflict, finds UN report

New statistics released by the United Nations today showed that 2009 was the deadliest year yet for civilians in Afghanistan, with 2,412 casualties recorded – an increase of 14 per cent over the previous year – prompting the world body to call for greater efforts to ensure their protection.

“2009 has proven to be the worst year since the fall of the Taliban regime for civilians caught up in the armed conflict,” said Norah Niland, Chief Human Rights Officer at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), adding that the conflict has intensified and spread into areas that were previously considered safe.

The Mission’s report points to anti-Government elements as being responsible for the largest proportion of civilian deaths, killing three times as many civilians as pro-Government forces.

Of the 2,412 deaths reported last year, 1,630 (67 per cent) were attributed to anti-Government elements while 596 (25 per cent) were attributed to pro-Government forces. The remaining 186 deaths (8 per cent) could not be attributed to any of the conflicting parties as they died as a result of cross fire or by unexploded ordinance, the Mission stated in a news release.

“Suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices caused more civilian casualties than any other tactic, killing 1,054 civilians last year,” noted Ms. Niland. “Civilians are also being deliberately assassinated, abducted and executed if they are perceived as being associated with the Government or the international community.”

UNAMA, along with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called on all sides in Afghanistan’s conflict to uphold their obligations under international law and minimize the impact of fighting on civilians.

“It is vital that determined efforts are now made by the insurgency to put into effect the Taliban ‘Code of Conduct’ that calls on them to protect the lives of civilians,” said Ms. Niland.

The UN mission also voiced concern about the location of military bases that are situated within, or close to, areas where civilians are concentrated, saying that such bases increased the risks faced by civilians.

Ms. Niland underlined that all parties to the conflict have an obligation to avoid locating military assets, including personnel, in areas that put civilians at risk.

UNAMA human rights officers undertake a range of activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the conflict on civilians. These include independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians and analysis of trends to identify the circumstances in which loss of life occurs.