A senior United Nations human rights official today called on international troops fighting militants in Afghanistan to follow directives designed to guard against civilian deaths, drawing particular attention to the plight of children caught up in the conflict.
Last year, some 346 children were killed by warring factions in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters in Kabul.
“One hundred and thirty-one of these were by aerial strikes, 22 by search-and-raid by Special Forces; 128 were killed by anti-Government elements, including assassinations and suicide bombings,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.
“The rest were undetermined perpetrators,” she said in a statement, recognizing the efforts of General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to ensure that the protection of civilians is a part of the military strategy.
Ms. Coomaraswamy noted a “major change in attitude and tactics” on the part of the military since her last visit in July 2008, but stressed that “these ideas and directives have now to be implemented.”
As part of her seven-day visit to Afghanistan to look into the situation of war-affected children, Ms. Coomaraswamy met on Tuesday with President Hamid Karzai, as well as Gen. McChrystal and a number of key Ministers in the Afghan Government.
“I must say that General McChrystal said that he will work with the UN in developing procedures and protocols to try and better protect children,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.
She added that the Government have also shown a political will to deal with issues related to children and armed conflict, and have set up a steering committee in a number of ministries to work alongside UN officials in an effort to shield children from the hostilities.
“With regard to children associated with armed groups, we will engage in discussions with ISAF and the Afghan Army to see what can be done when they encounter children in military operations,” she said. “We hope to enter into a protocol so that those children will be properly released and reintegrated into their communities.”
The Special Representative noted cooperation from the Government and ISAF with regards to children in detention, as well as the issue of sexual violence against children. “I was particularly concerned, from my last visit, on the issues raised by religious leaders about the practice of ‘Bacha baazi’ and the sexual abuse of boys.”
The Minister of Interior confirmed to her that a special unit is being established to investigate violence against girls, boys, and women, and that officers have to be trained with help from the international community.