The United Nations today underscored the need for all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to ensure the protection of civilians, following reports of a large number of civilian deaths and injuries during a recent incident in the southern province of Helmand.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan Government are investigating the incident in Rege on 23 July during which more than 50 civilians, including women and children, were reportedly killed.
“While the Government and ISAF determine the facts of what occurred in Rege, where reports detail a large number of civilian deaths and injuries, I once again highlight the need for all sides to meet their obligations to protect civilians,” said Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is headed by Mr. de Mistura, added in a statement that it is essential that the investigation is completed in a “thorough, transparent and timely” manner, and that the findings are made public as soon as possible.
UNAMA’s human rights office, which is focused on mitigating the effects of the conflict on civilians, is also gathering information on the matter.
The mission emphasized that all parties to an armed conflict have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians and minimize the impact of their actions on the civilian population and civilian objects – such as schools and hospitals.
A UN report released in January 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. It also pointed to anti-Government elements as being responsible for the largest proportion of civilian deaths, killing three times as many civilians as pro-Government forces.